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Kolkata Derby: What the East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan rivalry means

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As far as local sporting rivalries go, few on this planet can compare to the one between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, commonly known as the Kolkata Derby

The two giants hailing from the same city, Kolkata, have been at each other’s throats since East Bengal’s inception a century and some change ago on August 1st, 1920, and their rivalry has scripted the most glorious chapter in the history of Indian football.

The two teams are not just two football entities but represent two sets of inhabitants of the state of Bengal, who simply cannot stand losing to the other side. Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal evokes passion unlike another sporting contest in the country. So ahead of the Kolkata Derby in the Indian Super League, we take a brief look at the rich history of the rivalry.

Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal: Head-to-head record

Over the past 100 years, the two giants have met each other on 371 occasions, and the Kolkata Derby record gives East Bengal FC the edge with 129 wins compared to Bagan’s 119. The two sides first met in the semi-final of the Cooch Behar Cup in 1921, which ended in a 0-0 draw, forcing a replay which Bagan won comfortably by a 3-0 margin. Later that year, East Bengal scored their first win over Bagan in the final of the Khagendra Shield, beating their to-be eternal rivals 2-1.

Neither team was at the forefront of the Calcutta Football League, but that changed in the late 1930s when Bagan captured their maiden league title, which started their ascend to the top of Indian football.

East Bengal won their first title in 1942 and the two teams then traded the league title between themselves for the next four years, with Bagan winning two straight in ’43 and ’44 and East Bengal re-capturing and defending it in ’45 and ’46.

Such has been the stronghold in the Calcutta Football League that only two teams - Mohammedan SC and Peerless FC - apart from Bagan and East Bengal have won the title since the 1940s. With only their city rivals truly challenging for the league title, not winning it all was seen as nothing short of disastrous for the fans of either side.

Bagan’s dominant 60s and East Bengal’s golden era in the 70s

Bagan enjoyed a stellar period of dominance in the 1960s. They won six Calcutta Football League titles, five IFA Shield titles as well as four Durand Cups, usually pipping East Bengal on route to each trophy.

The 70s, on the other hand, belonged to the other club. who captured six straight CFL titles from 1970-1975 and another in 1977, making it seven titles in eight years at the expense of Bagan. They also won six IFA Shields and three Durand Cups during that spell, much to the ire of Mohun Bagan and their fans, who simply weren’t used to being bullied by their local rivals.

Bagan finally recaptured the league title in 1978 and then defended it in 1979, ending East Bengal’s foothold in the competition. The league was suspended in 1980 and Mohammedan captured their last title in 1981. Between 1982 to 2019, only Mohun Bagan or East Bengal won the Calcutta Football League title.

In all, East Bengal’s total trophy count stands at a whopping 129 titles (including domestic and international honours), while Mohun Bagan’s total trophy count stands at 101.

Fan deaths and injuries during the Kolkata Derby

The rivalry between the two clubs has led to some violence among their supporters over the years.

The most infamous incident occurred on August 16th 1980, when fans of the two clubs started a riot in the stands of the Eden Gardens Stadium in Kolkata, which led to a stampede, taking the lives of 16 fans.

In the aftermath of the incident, the CFL season was suspended and 16th August has since been celebrated as Football Lovers’ Day to commemorate the lives that were lost on that fateful day.

In 1975, a Mohun Bagan fan named Umakanto Palodhi took his own life in the aftermath of their 5-0 loss at the hands of East Bengal, the heaviest margin of defeat in the history of the Kolkata Derby, and vowed in his suicide letter to avenge this loss as a Mohun Bagan player in his next life.

Famous players for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal

The two footballing powerhouses have been home to some of the finest Indian football players.

Current Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri spent three of his teenage years at Mohun Bagan before playing for East Bengal in the 2008-09 campaign. He also had a second stint with Bagan in the 2011-12 I-League season.

One of the sport’s most recognisable names in India and former national team captain, Baichung Bhutia has also spent a number of years at both clubs in multiple spells. He started his club career with East Bengal in 1993 and spent two years with the side before moving to JCT FC in 1995. He made a controversial switch to East Bengal in 1997 and after two successful seasons, he moved to England, signing for Bury FC.

He returned to India in 2002 with Mohun Bagan and moved to East Bengal the following season. He spent three seasons at East Bengal before switching back to Bagan in 2006. He then had two shorter spells at East Bengal and concluded his career at the club.

Bhutia is the top-scorer of the Kolkata Derby with 19 goals, two more than Brazilian striker Jose Ramirez Barreto who scored 17 goals for Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata Derby.

Other famous players who have played for both teams are ‘Indian Maradona’ Krishanu Dey, legendary Indian striker I.M VijayanGoutam Sarkar, Prasanta Banerjee, Dulal Biswas, Renedy Singh among many others.

ISL 2020-21: A new battleground for an age-old rivalry

After spending 13 seasons in the I-League, the eternal rivalry made its debut in the Indian Super League in the 2020-21 campaign.

East Bengal played under their own name while Mohun Bagan, having merged with the defending champions ATK, took on a new identity albeit with the same core, known as ATK Mohun Bagan.

The eternal rivals had a new battleground, but the zest, the passion and the hostility remained the same between the nation’s oldest and most successful teams.

The two teams crossed paths twice in the Indian Super League 2020-21 season, and it was ATK Mohun Bagan that came out on top in both matches, winning 2-0 and 3-1.

Feature image courtesy: AFP/ SportAsia

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