The raging rivalry Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal
How much can you love a football club? To what extent will you go to make sure your favourite team prospers the most? Will you donate your one-month salary to them or take out a mortgage under your name to help that club retain a player just so they can perform well? Or come home bloody with injuries because the rivalry of your club is too much of a sensitive issue? Most won't but the fans of some football clubs, in simple terms will scale that magnitude.
Almost a hundred years ago, two football clubs were born from the ashes of those who wanted to create something that would last forever, something that the people of this country and beyond would cherish and find unadulterated joy in. India, still fighting to get out of the yoke of the British, was given a gift that brought to life a dream many couldn't imagine then. Mohun Bagan FC and East Bengal FC are the names of the clubs and the purpose they serve was simple – Unity.
The ever so famous Old Firm derby played between the Scottish giants Rangers and Celtics or the Spanish El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona are some prime examples of derby matches. Essentially, a derby match is a game played between two teams from the same region or area. Regarded as one of the oldest derbies in the world, the Old Firm Derby is often compared with the derby played right here in India- Boro, played between Mohun Bagan FC and East Bengal FC. A game so thrilling, so full of passion – it fills you with pride even before it starts. The match demands the crowd's attention and they happily oblige. 'Boro' in plain terms means big in Bengali because that is exactly what the derby is. It is larger than life and sometimes even borders insanity.
Born in the lap of the City of Joy, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal share the something very similar – the raw authenticity of the city. A city that once held tremendous importance being the British capital of India, a city that has an archaic charm of its own and most importantly a city with the kind of people who will probably just about do anything for football. The thing about Kolkata and West Bengal, in general, is that everything there holds enormous value in its own right. Both these clubs were founded when India was not in its strongest element, we were vulnerable and in some terms even weak. The people needed something to rejoice about, something that brought them closer and made them feel that they were still 'Indians'.
Mohun Bagan was first established in 1889 by Bhupendra Nath Bose, an important politician of the era who served as the club's first president. The oldest existing club in the history of Indian football Mohun Bagan, without any doubt, is one of the most successful ones, too. The most memorable match that MB played was in 1911 against the East Yorkshire Regiment, which saw their victory and led them to win the IFA Shield Cup, one of the most prestigious titles in Indian football but more importantly – Indian natives beat Englishmen at their own game. The sail-boat crested club has played against the likes of Pele, Olivier Kahn and Ze Roberto and enjoys the one of the biggest and the craziest fan-base that there is in the Indian football scene.
Three decades later came East Bengal FC founded by Suresh Chandra Choudhari. The name of the club reflects the area where it was born in – East Bengal now commonly known as Bangladesh but the fan following in India remains one of their strongest. East Bengal was one of those dark horse clubs – coming almost 30 years after the phenomena that Mohun Bagan was. Trumping all odds, EBFC became one of the top ticket clubs in Indian football beating clubs like Mohun Bagan and Mohammeden SC – both considered the best clubs in India. In all the 97 years of its existence, East Bengal FC has won 28 IFA Shields, 16 Durand Titles, 10 Rover Cups and 3 I-League trophies and of course, has managed to create an equally ardent and adoring bunch of fans. This, however, is not to say that the fan following both these clubs enjoy is not fluid. People from all over the Bangladesh like to support Mohun Bagan and vice versa.
Their rivalry started the day EB came into being. Both wanted to be the best club in India and both of the clubs knew exactly how to achieve that. They had to win everything and they did. For the longest time, EBFC and MBAC won all that there was to win, they had their legs spread out in every tournament this country had to offer and because they were the only ones capable of winning it all, realistically speaking -- the competition was much harder than it was let on. The reason this derby is so important to people is because it represents people culturally and geographically. The tussle between the ghotis (native of West Bengal) and Bangals (natives of East Bengal) was represented by the derby so well that it has now become a pivotal part of their lives. These two clubs were like two step-brothers trying to prove to themselves that they control the reigns of the house but at the end of it all they knew what they were. They were family.
One of the major reasons why the rivalry between the two is so vital is because in a country infatuated with cricket these two clubs have managed to breathe life back into football. Come every derby day, if it's a home game for EB, the entire city is lathered in gold and red and if it is MB's turn, then as far as your eyes see, it's all maroon and green. It's not just the fans; the players understand just how important the Boro is. The famous tiff between Subrata Bhattacharya and Chima Okorie is well known to the world. The players understand the responsibility of stepping onto the field in front of thousands of people who have come to support just one cause and they have just one desire -- for their club to win.
The players will do almost anything in their power to score that winning goal or to stop that winning goal to hit the back of the net and most of the times that end up in an on-field brawl which the fans love. This derby is the end all, be all for many, especially for the fans. One of the key examples of the massive scale of this derby is when the Salt Lake Stadium was full to the brim with 131,000 people in attendance for the IFA Shield Semi Final back in 1997; a match where Baichung Bhutia, captain of the Indian National Football team scored a beautiful hat-trick for East Bengal as they triumphed a 4-1 victory over MBAC to move onto the finals.
All of this is useless unless you understand that this rivalry is not limited to just your Sunday night games. It's embedded in the ethos of being a Bengali. It's a personal sentiment that people don't let out. It's almost like a beautiful secret that they protect with all their might. After a point, the players and the coaches become irrelevant. All that is left behind is the badge you wear on your chest. Many consider the Indian Super League (ISL) to be the turning tide in the history of the marvel that this rivalry is but in reality there's no tide high enough to engulf the fire that is Mohun Bagan AC versus East Bengal FC. It is a fierce reminder for the EBFC fans of what they left behind with the partition, something they cling on to and for the Mariners, it is a blessed memory they hold close to their hearts. This rivalry fulfils the term 'Boro' in every sense that exists.