With The Kolkata Derby less than a day away, Khel Now takes a look at why it’s a part and parcel of every Bengali’s life.
The Kolkata derby is just around the corner as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are poised to take on each other in the second Kolkata derby of the I-League season, with the latter looking to keep up with the leaders Minerva Punjab in their hunt for their first I-League title. This historic fixture is one which is in the blood of every Bengali and not only are the players pumped for it, but the fans are equally passionate in cheering on their respective clubs.
Now the Kolkata Derby is unlike any other in the country because it’s not only a battle between two teams but one between two sets of fans and forces fighting for their pride. It is something which has been in the DNA of every single football-loving Bengali for the past decades and will remain in their culture for the rest of time. So Let’s look at the 10 Reasons Why The Kolkata Derby Is Part Of Every Bengali’s Culture.
10. East Bengal’s Formation Giving Bangal’s Hope
Mohun Bagan is India’s oldest football club having been formed in 1889 but when they played Jora Bagan in 1920, things started to change among the Bangals (aka those who immigrated from Bangladesh). Bagan not playing their star half-back Sailesh Bose irked the club’s vice-president Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri who was livid by the decision and went to form his own club, which is now known as East Bengal.
This not only formed a club which would go onto rival the Mariners later on, but it was a symbol of hope for the Bangals to fight against the Ghoti (the natives) who often used to mock them for being part of Bagan. This also sparked the start of a rivalry which would become legendary a few decades into the future and most of the Bangals still cheer on for their beloved East Bengal to fight against the Ghotis.
Watch our special video on the cultural significance of the Kolkata Derby
9. Geographical Difference
The reason for the legendary status of the Kolkata Derby and its importance is because it is a stage where the Bangals and Ghoti’s fight it off to determine who is the “superior being” for the period of time. There’s a real geographical difference between both the sets of followers, with the Ghotis originally being part of India and having affections towards Mohun Bagan.
The Bangals, on the other hand, are the ones who immigrated from what was East Bangladesh before Independence and finding a new club in East Bengal in 1920. This difference in both sets being from different parts of British-rule India is what triggered the rivalry between the two, which got even heated after the Independence. Most of the people who were forced to migrate from East Pakistan after Independence pledged their allegiance to East Bengal, which triggered for this rivalry to become even more personal.
8. A Matter Of Pride
A Bengali Football lover may not follow each and every match of their respective sides, but the fire in them lights up when the Kolkata Derby is around the corner. It’s almost like a fight between the fans themselves, as they try to put their energy into their players to make sure they win this crucial match. Even more than a matter of a win or of three points, the Kolkata Derby has shaped up to have come to a matter of pride for the Bengali’s everywhere.
It almost hurts the reputation and spirit of the fans themselves when their team loses to their counterparts, with many fans going into hiding to avoid the mockery of their rivals’ fans. It’s because of this battle of pride is why we see the derbies being absolutely packed whenever or where-ever they take place, with the fans almost putting their own reputation on the line for their team.
7. Football: A Game For The Middle-Class
While Cricket may be called the “Gentlemen’s sport”, Football has always been a sport for the middle class because of how it favoured to everyone. Unlike cricket for which one needs to spend some money to buy various types of equipment for a proper game, one only needs a ball and a place to play in Football. India wasn’t even recognized for playing the game with boots at first and adapted to it a few decades ago only.
Hence the game being one pandering to the middle, lower-middle class as well has attracted more people to it and the same can be said about football in Kolkata. Therefore almost every Bengali is attached to the sport from their youth and tends to select their sides in Mohun Bagan or East Bengal when they fall in love with the game at a young age. This factor has created an ever larger fan-base for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and encouraged more people to get engulfed into engrossing fandom for the Kolkata Derby.
6. Mohun Bagan’s Win Against The Britishers
Mohun Bagan is the oldest club in India having been formed in 1889, but their real breakthrough came many years after the formation of the club. It would come in the year of 1911 when the Mariners would shock everyone and defeat the East Yorkshire Regiment in the 1911 IFA Shield final, making them the first Indian club to do so. This was not only a victory for 11 barefoot men trying to oust the Britishers but that of every Bengali in the Pre-Independence period.
Mohun Bagan, playing with 10 men on bare feet beat the team of Britishers in 1911
One could say that Mohun Bagan’s popularity spiked after that point and football became part of every Bengali’s life after that inspirational victory. The fact that these men could oust the British at their own game encouraged many to take up football as a passion which has kept on lighting in the hearts of Bengali’s to this day.
5. The eternal Competition Between Bangals and Ghotis
Ever since football can be remembered in Kolkata, there has always been a competition between the Bengals and the Ghoti for who is the better of the two. The Bangal’s are those from East Bengal(East Bangladesh now) who immigrated to the country, while Ghoti are the natives. The reason for the Bangal’s getting mocked by the Ghoti is why East Bengal was created in the first place and this ego battle to determine who is the “better” community encourages everyone to place their stake in the Kolkata Derby.
It’s a topsy-turvy battle which keeps on swinging to the advantage of both sides of supporters and the anticipation of winning over their “rivals” is what propels the Bangal’s and the Ghoti’s to be so engrossed in the Kolkata Derby. This never-ending battle only sparks up whenever the Kolkata Derby takes place and the satisfaction of getting over their rivals is what makes football the part of a Bengali’s culture.
4. Bragging Rights
The thrill of getting one over your rivals is something every football fan can understand, but that thrill is taken to another level when Mohun Bagan and East Bengal fans get to win over each other. There’s a lot at stake at each and every Kolkata Derby because of how the winning side can enable their fans to tout themselves as the “better team” for at least a certain matter of time.
The Bragging Rights enables the fans to be even more enticed into the games as it’s not only a matter of points, but a win could also allow the winning teams’ fans to boast in the face of their rivals. Even if a Mohun Bagan fan and East Bengal fan are good friends in real life, the win of one over the other can propel them to even forget their friendship and gloat over the losing teams’ fan. This “thrill” of being able to brag themselves as the “better team” is what makes the Kolkata Derby even more important for a Bengali.
3. Controversial Incidents Over The Years
The thing which makes sure that the “spark” of the Kolkata Derby never goes away is how controversial the match has been for many decades now. Things started to really heat up between the two sides in the 1970’s when an infamous incident took place after East Bengal defeated Mohun Bagan 5-0, with the players having to hide inside boats in the Ganges to escape the wrath of the livid supporters.
Despite many precautions and efforts, the fans seem to continue their bloodshed
An ardent Mohun Bagan fan even committed suicide and swore to be reborn as a Mohun Bagan player to take revenge upon East Bengal in his suicide note, proving just how personal the rivalry is. There have been more incidents with the infamous 1980 fixture, where the teams played out a 0-0 draw which frustrated the fans to the point that they started fighting with each other and resulted in the death of 16 poor souls. There’s been small violence even after that which keeps this derby so world-famous and makes sure every new generation of Bengali’s are a part of it.
2. The Fight Between Hilsa And Prawn
While the fans of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan celebrate their victories in grand fashion after the Kolkata derby, the element without which the special celebration is incomplete for them is topping it off by eating Hilsa(for the Bangals) and Prawn(for the Ghotis). Hilsa is a special kind of fish which has always been a favorite for the Bangals, while Prawn is something which the Ghotis love to devour.
There’s quite a lot of history to this battle because of Hilsa being a favourite among the East Bengal(now East Bangladesh) people before Independence and this tradition carrying on with the generation. The same goes for Prawn for Ghotis, with the Mariners often loving to top off a victory with a Daab Chingri while the Red and Gold Brigaders love their Iilish Maccher Curry. These two fishes have become symbolic for the Ghotis and the Bangals and the Kolkata Derby’s result is vital in determining whether The Bangals will celebrate their win with Hilsa or the Ghotis top off their celebrations with Prawn.
1. Who is the National Club?
This is a question which has plagued the rivalry of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan for years now, as they both often see themselves as the “National Club” of India. Now Mohun Bagan’s case for it is somewhat believable regarding that they are the earliest football club in India and brought football to the limelight with their infamous IFA Shield win in 1911. But East Bengal has enjoyed a lot of success themselves after forming and was dominant for quite some-time in the 1970’s, 1980’s.
This is a question which could probably never be solved, because nor FIFA, not the AIFF have ever officially awarded either of these clubs as the “National Club” of India. Mohun Bagan’s case is still more relatable because of their impact in the pioneer stages of Indian Football, but this fight for remaining as the “national club” of the country is something which has made their rivalry so fiery and gotten the fans so enticed into the Kolkata Derby over the decades.