The football Mecca in India is considered to be Kolkata because of the footballing culture and the rich history it possesses. Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, and Mohammedan Sporting Club, all Kolkata clubs, were considered to be the trinity of Indian football till the 80’s. These clubs dominated Indian football and won all the tournaments among themselves. These Kolkata clubs were the reason India could see many stalwarts from Bengal shine on the national stage. Sadly, Mohammedan Sporting, a century-old club that commanded a huge fan following all across India is now struggling to stay afloat. Now only Mohun Bagan and East Bengal remain the pride of Kolkata with fan following, emotions, drama, and history which can be compared with the great clubs from the world. There are no past or current Indian footballing greats who have not worn the colors of either one of them. Both the clubs have given many proud moments to Indian football and stalwarts who have led India to international trophies in the past. India’s largest and most famous football stadium The Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata has seen crowds thronging the venue for almost a decade to witness the great rivalry between these clubs. Mohun Bagan Established in 1889, Mohun Bagan is the oldest and most decorated football club in India. They were awarded the distinction of being the National Club of India by former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the All India Football Federation in 1989. This was during the club’s centenary celebration and in commemoration of the club’s famous victory over East Yorkshire Regiment during the 1911 IFA Shield final, which made them the first Indian club to beat a British side to lift the prestigious title. Mohun Bagan is the most successful Indian club winning 246 trophies to date, which is the highest by any Indian club East Bengal East Bengal, who are Mohun Bagan’s arch rivals are the other big giants from Kolkata. Founded in 1920, East Bengal Football Club will soon hit the century mark in 2020. With the start of the National Football League in 1996, East Bengal was one of the original teams to have participated in the league and is the only team to have remained in the top flight of the country since then. The club has represented India the most number of times in the Asian competitions also winning the ASEAN Club Championship in 2003. The Kolkata Derby The Kolkata derby locally known as the ‘Boro’ (which means big in Bengali) match is one of the biggest derbies in Asia and among the two oldest and biggest football clubs Mohan Bagan and East Bengal in India.
One of the top 50 derbies in the world with a million plus fan base.
The match between the Kolkata rivals attracts 65000-120,000 spectators consistently. The two clubs meet at least thrice in a year, twice in the I-league and once in the Calcutta Football League. Often these two also meet in other competitions like the Federation Cup, IFA Shield, and the Durand Cup. The rivalry between the two is almost a hundred years old and features in FIFA’s classic derby list. Both the Kolkata superpowers have a huge fan base across the country and both the clubs represent a specific class of Bengali people, Mohun Bagan represents the people existing in the western part of Bengal while East Bengal is primarily supported by people hailing from the eastern part of pre-independence Bengal province (now Bangladesh). Culturally, the derby is very similar to the Scottish Premier League’s Old Firm derby, since a majority of the Mohun Bagan supporters form the native population (similar to Rangers FC) and a majority of the East Bengal fans represent the immigrant population (similar to Celtic FC). The most memorable Kolkata derby of all took place in 1997 when a remarkable crowd of 131,000, a record attendance for any sport in India, filled a heaving Salt Lake Stadium. Baichung Bhutia, India’s most recognizable footballer, scored a hat-trick as East Bengal triumphed 4-1 to reach the semi-final of the Federation Cup.
The atmosphere is just “indescribable”- Chuni Goswami (Former India and Mohun Bagan player)
CHALLENGES FACED BY INDIAN CLUBS Numerous dramas, stories, riots, etc. that dominated the Indian football scene till the 80s made Kolkata football hugely popular all across India. But as times moved ahead in the footballing world the clubs in India didn’t embrace professionalism and continued to rely on raising funds from influential members of the clubs rather than on marketing initiatives.
The potential for these two clubs to be one of the top clubs in Asia is huge considering the fan base it commands and its history
Though the fan base is huge clubs have failed to connect proactively with its fans and thus it is not consistently attracting the best capacity in their home games except derby matches. The inception of the National League in 1996 changed club football in India but most traditional clubs have failed to adopt the modern structure, which was expected from these clubs. The AIFF licensing system helped these clubs to adopt certain professionalism and structure but still, these two clubs are lagging behind in terms of professionalism, structure, and management as compared to bigger clubs abroad. Whatever the weaknesses these two clubs have there is a possibility to make a quick turnaround to make these two clubs a very strong fan-connected brand if these two clubs can hire professionals and adopt a modern football structure.