Indian football: Reliving East Bengal’s origin story on their centenary foundation day
Indian football is experiencing a milestone event on Saturday as millions of East Bengals fans get together, whilst staying apart, to celebrate the club’s centenary day. Exactly 100 years ago, the foundation stone was laid for one half of the famous ‘Bengal Giants’.
The origin story encapsulates what the club stands for – a club with a unique identity born out of resilience against discrimination.
On July 28th Mohun Bagan was to face Jora Bagan in Coochbehar Cup and star half back Sailesh Bose and Nasha Singh were excluded from the latter’s side. Jora Bagan’s vice-president and chairman Suresh Chandra Chaudhari requested for their inclusion but his request fell on deaf ears and so, he severed all his connections with the club.
Both these players were from the eastern part of Bengal and Suresh was also from the same region. It did not take him much time to connect the dots and he parted ways with the club immediately.
He went on to form a new club alongside Sailesh, Nasha, Shri Tait Bhusan Roy, Manmatha Nath Roy Chaudhari and Aurobindo Ghosh. Thus, on August 1, 1920, East Bengal was born.
Success followed almost immediately as the Red and Golds eased to the Hercules Cup, a seven-a-side tournament, in the same month. The club’s authority dreamed big and took measures accordingly. They appealed to the players of Eastern Bengal descent to sign for the club and things began to fall in place.
East Bengal gained acceptance to be affiliated with the Indian Football Association (IFA) and were soon playing the second division. Manmatha Nath, the Maharaja of Santosh, was an influential figure and played a key part in making it happen. It is worth mentioning here that the Santosh Trophy was named after him.
In 1924, East Bengal along with Cameroon’s B team, became joint champions of the second division. Given, Cameroon A were already playing in the first division, the B team could not be promoted. This paved the way for the Red and Gold brigade to march on, despite resistance from Mohun Bagan and Aryans.
Only two slots were available for Indian sides in the top divisions and those were occupied by the above-mentioned sides. The inclusion of East Bengal in the top division was hence, a massive milestone for Indian football at that time.
After being given the thumbs up, the Red and Gold brigade never turned back. In the very next year, they bettered rivals Mohun Bagan 1-0 in the first Kolkata derby ever played. 50,000 fans in the stadium were sent into a frenzy and a new religion was born in Bengal.
However, it took close to 10 years for the club to land coveted silverware. East Bengal won their first Calcutta Top Division football league in 1942 and went a step ahead by conquering the IFA Shield Trophy for the first time. In 1945, they did the double and gradually went on to establish themselves as the powerhouse of Indian football.
The Red and Gold brigade have managed to conquer the test of changing times and maintain its legacy as one of the biggest clubs in India. Players from the top echelons of Indian football history such as Tuslidas Balaram, Ahmed Khan, Bhaichung Bhutia, Sudip Chatterjee, Peter Thangaraj and several others have donned the famous Red and Gold .
The legendary PK Banerjee won 30 trophies at the club as manager and was the man behind their domination in the 1970s. 100 years since their foundation and East Bengal have won the IFA Shield a record 29 times, the Calcutta Football League a record 39 times, the National Football League thrice, the Federation Cup eight times and many other trophies.
East Bengal invokes a lot of passion in Kolkata and among the Indian football fraternity as they celebrate 100 years of a truly special institution.