This is a memorable time for football in India and especially Bengalis. Football as a sport has always occupied a special place in the hearts of Bengalis, with Kolkata even being touted as the Mecca of Indian football, owing to the great emotions it evokes amongst the Bengali populace.
100 years ago, the foundation stones were laid for one of the most iconic football clubs in the history of the country. East Bengal, one of the biggest football clubs of India, which originated in Bengal, is gearing up to celebrate its centenary day. They form one half of the mammoth duo in Indian football known as the “Bengal Giants”. To mark this truly momentous occasion, millions of fans from both sides of the now divided Bengal are coming together in spirit even as the COVID pandemic continues its rampage.
Let’s recount the history of this illustrious club on the glorious occasion of its birth centenary.
A proud history: Inception and the achievements that followed:
The story of how the club was founded bears testimony to the true essence and spirit of the club and reflects its ideals. They have been a club like no other, always looking discrimination in the eyes.
The date was July 28th, 1920. Jora Bagan and Mohun Bagan were facing off in the semi-final match for the Coochbehar Cup. Two specific players were not included in the team for Jora Bagan, namely Nasha Singh and the incredible Sailesh Bose who graced the halfback position. Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri, the then vice-president, and chairman of Jora Bagan pleaded with all earnest to let the two play. However, his pleas were readily ignored.
There was one factor common between these three men. They all were sons of the Eastern part of Bengal. Mr. Chaudhuri did not waste any time taking the hint and broke up his ties with Jora Bagan for all intents and purposes.
An entirely new club was formed by Chaudhuri with the likes of Sailesh, Nasha, Shri Tait Bhusan Roy, Manmatha Nath Roy Chaudhari, and Aurobindo Ghosh. India witnessed the birth of a new giant called East Bengal on the 1st of August, 1920.
As they took to flight, they only soared higher and higher. Within a month they had claimed the seven-a-side tournament for the Hercules Cup. Soon players from Eastern Bengal were called to join the club by the ambitious authorities, and the wheel started rolling in earnest.
Soon after, the Indian Football Association granted affiliation to East Bengal, and the club began playing second division matches. The Maharaja of Santosh, Manmatha Nath used his influence to make this a reality. It was in his tribute that the prestigious Santosh trophy was named.
Fast forward to 1924. Both East Bengal and Cameroon B team are joint champions of the second division. The Cameroon B team couldn’t be promoted as their first team was already playing in the first division. East Bengal had a smooth road ahead, although there were occasional speed bumps in the form of Mohun Bagan and Aryans.
These two teams occupied the only two slots allotted for the Indian sides in the top divisions at the moment. So, East Bengal entered the top division and created history for football in India, as a result.
Once they took off, the sky was the limit for this Red and Gold brigade. Soon afterward, in the next year, the very first Kolkata derby took place between East Bengal and their arch-rival Mohun Bagan. East Bengal won this match 1-0 as the stadium with a 50,000 strong crowd erupted with euphoria! There was a new God in the pantheon of Bengali football, and its name was East Bengal.
In 1942, 22 years after the establishment of the club, they won their first Calcutta Top Division, the football league. They planted another milestone by cinching the IFA Shield Trophy for the first time. The double was what awaited them in 1945, as their position and prestige were forever sealed in the Indian football’s hall-of-fame.
The glorious saga continued well after independence, with East Bengal becoming the first Indian club to defeat the mighty Pas Tehran FC, a football club from Iran, in the IFA Shield Final in 1970. The Asian powerhouse suffered a resounding defeat in the hands of the ‘Bengal Brigade’ on the 25th of September 1970, in front of a rejoicing 80,000-strong audience in the Eden Gardens at Kolkata.
The legacy continues:
East Bengal as a club has been flexible and adaptable, enabling them to maintain their performance and legendary status over the passing years. Some of the best players known to Indian football, like Tulsidas, Balaram, Ahmed Khan, Bhaichung Bhutia, Sudip Chatterjee, Peter Thangaraj, and more, have graced the fields in East Bengal colors.
Under the management of the legendary PK Banerjee, the club went on to win 30 trophies. Their absolutely stellar performance during the 1970s was all thanks to the leadership of this man. In the one century of its existence, East Bengal has won the IFA Shield 29 times and the Calcutta Football League 39 times. These both are record numbers, yet untouched by any other. They have also won the National Football League thrice, the Federation Cup eight times, and many more trophies.
For the football lovers of Kolkata and by extension India, East Bengal is a very dear name. The football fraternity of the country rejoices as this beloved club completes 100 years of passionate legacy.