One of the most iconic fixtures in Asian fixtures will see no fans in attendance as it makes its ISL debut.
I went to my first Kolkata Derby when I was in school. What caught my eye were the sea of red-and-yellow, and an equally enormous swarm of green-and-maroon. You could barely see an odd one out in these animated crowds of particular colors, and that odd person was usually overshadowed by the hoots, whistles and chants.
The flavor of a Kolkata derby is unmatched. Period.
Trucks from several parts of the state of West Bengal were full of fans who wore their clubs on their hearts and sleeves, literally. For a show of 90 minutes or a little more, groundwork for Kolkata Derby begins at least a month before the first whistle. There’s madness, there’s raw power and there’s desire – a desire to support their club and win.
Since that first derby to this day, 12 summers have passed and a lot has changed in Indian football. A new ‘big club’ has come into existence, a new league was brought to existence and these two century-old heavy-weights are now featuring in it.
For the first time ever in the history of Indian football, SC East Bengal and ATK Mohun Bagan will face each other in the Indian Super League. Normal services are resumed – big players, massive emotions and intense pressure of both teams to deliver the ‘first’. However, one thing that brings the biggest charm to this star-studded affair is the fans. With the COVID pandemic, they take a massive chunk out of it as well.
Let’s be honest, a handful lucky few maybe able to watch their heroes combat for the 90-odd minute battle in the Kolkata Derby, but most of the world will be stuck in front of the television, wearing their favourite jerseys and hurling abuses at home at every missed pass, or a poor clearance. Inversely, this same fan would, at every good forward ball and goal, jump in elation.
With Robbie Fowler and Antonio Lopez Habas, SCEB and ATKMB have two fierce managers at the helm who are synonymous to winning. The former is a serial winner as a player, while Habas has won two ISL titles during his time in India and is known for his not-an-inch-spared kind of football. However, with Shree Cement coming in the fray, East Bengal have also managed to put together a mean squad, with former Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington set to put the stage on fire.
A question that still lingers in the air is – will the Kolkata Derby be the same between SCEB and ATKMB sans the fans?
Situations, at times, put things beyond our control and COVID has done that to the entire world. The derby, however, will be equally celebrated at ‘parar addas’, local screenings and at get-togethers. Needless to say, both SCEB and ATKMB might feel a little less intimidated with no fans dangling at the opponent’s throats, but it might take an edge out of the competitiveness.
Interestingly, a war on social media has been on ever since both clubs came to be associated with ATK and Shree Cement, and both fan bases have been shooting potshots with unhindered regularity. With a ‘first Kolkata derby’ in ISL in sight, it remains to be seen how it all explodes on November 27, beginning 7:30 PM.