Would you believe if I said 131,000 people gathered in a stadium to watch a game of football in India? As strange as it may sound, 13th July 1997 was the day when Mohun Bagan; the Kolkata derby; played their arch-rivals East Bengal at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata for a place in the final of the Federation Cup and the largest crowd ever recorded in India’s sporting history gathered to witness this epic clash.The rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal is almost a century old. Like many of the great footballing rivalries, this too is steeped in socio-political history. Mohun Bagan represents the native people from western part of Bengal; whereas East Bengal used to represent the migrant population from eastern part of Bengal after its partition under the British.Established in 1889, Mohun Bagan is one of the oldest football clubs in Asia. Back then, the club was known as “Calcutta”, and had prominent British influence and was largely supported by the sophisticated class of Bengal. The “Mariners” as they are called by the fans, was the premier club in India. In 1921, a club named Jora Bagan played a match against Mohun Bagan where they did not play their best defender Sailesh Bose, who hailed from the eastern part of Bengal. This infuriated a wealthy businessman by the name of Suresh Chandra Chaudhari, who also hailed from eastern Bengal and he decided to establish a new club to challenge the dominance of Mohun Bagan, and hence, East Bengal was born. The rest, as they say, is historyOver the course of time, these two footballing powerhouses of India have played some extraordinary matches. Both the clubs have very loyal and fanatic fan base; and with fans, comes the integral part of any derby - fan clashes. 1980 saw the worst of the fan clashes which resulted in the death of 18 fans. Umakanto Palodhi, a die hard Mohun Bagan fan committed suicide after the Mariners were humiliated 5-0 by the men in “Red and Gold”.These two clubs face each other at least thrice a year, twice in the I League and once in the Kolkata League. The people of Bengal refer to this fixture as “Boro” which means the big match. “Boro” is like a festival for the people of Bengal. The stadium is always packed to its capacity, the noise level cannot get any louder, the passion among the fans is no lesser than any FIFA World Cup match and FIFA has recognised this derby as one of the “Classic Rivalries”.
Kolkata derby is unlike any other football fixture in India. In a country where the sports culture is heavily dominated by cricket, Kolkata derby has it's own place in the hearts of Indian sports fanatics.