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Kolkata Derby Special : The Derby That Divides, The Game That Unites

Friday, 10 February 2017|Abhranil Roy

The movie “Gunday” was nothing more than a regular Bolly masala flick, with loads of improbable stunts, cheeky dialogues and the same old dance routines every now and then. However, the movie had one line, a line which is probably the best way to explain the love and passion Indians in general, and Bongs, in particular have for the game of football. The line goes as this, “ Jis Bangali ko football pasand aata nehi, uspe kabhi bharosa maat karna”(Never trust a Bong who doesn’t love football). And this mad obsession with the game reaches a fever pitch whenever there is a local derby around, a football match between two of India’s oldest and most successful clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

Origin and History

If you were an outsider, you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder what the fuss is all about: After all, here is a football game played between two clubs in a country which is languishing at the 130th position in the FIFA rankings, with no international relevance at all. 

In fact, the nation’s national team often ends up playing international fixtures without having proper conditioning camps, it’s manager predicts the death of football in the country very soon due to lack of proper infrastructure. 

The AIFF, the body which is supposed to administrate the growth of the game in the country are busy filling their own coffers, and yet, people go in thousands to see every derby game, wearing their club colours, shouting slogans and unleashing a torrent of expletives at the opposition every now and then. 

To understand this then, you will have to realise that this addiction, this madness, this love for the club and the crest is no less than the famed rivalries between Manchester United and Liverpool fans, between Real Madrid and Barcelona fans, between Rangers and Celtics fans, and just like those rivalries, this one too has it’s roots far, far beyond football.

East Bengal’s founders came from the land of Bangal i.e. modern day Bangladesh. For obvious reasons, they have always enjoyed the support of the people from those part, who are also colloquially known as “Bangals”. 

Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, became the club supported by the “Ghotis”, the original inhabitants of West Bengal. In fact, as the story goes, Mohun Bagan refused to share it’s ground with East Bengal back in 1924, and they even protested Bengal’s claim to be able to play in the First Division, which clearly shows that daggers were drawn at the first sight.

However, as the years went on, and both clubs became increasingly successful, both claimed to be recognised as India’s best football club. On one hand, East Bengal displayed their sensational set of trophies, won at all levels, regional, national and international, while on the other hand, Mohun Bagan underlined the fact that it is Asia’s oldest football club, and played a critical part in India’s independence struggle as well, like the 1911 IFA Shield win over the-then British opposition. 

Radios back then, televisions and the social media now, all mediums have embraced this rivalry, and keep finding new ways to promote and enhance it. As the games between the two are never short of drama, hence the media is never really bored of writing and analysing more and more about them.


There are some decisions you just have to make if you grow up as a Bong, like you have to choose between “Rasogolla” and “Lal Mishti”, “ Ilish” or “Chingri” and “East Bengal” or “Mohun Bagan”. This derby has truly become a part of Kolkata’s folklore, as families get divided, localities turn into battle zones and even offices and shops are split up into two warring factions, and it simply shows no sign of waning despite being almost a century old. 

The prices of “Ilish”(Hilsa) fish soar if the “Bangals” win as celebratory meals are cooked, while “Chingri”(prawn) prices hit a new high if the “Ghotis” clinch it. In fact, in 1997, this clash had seen the biggest attendance at a club football game ever, as the attendance figures crossed one lakh and thirty thousand officially.  

The two sides have played some iconic games over the years, which include a 5-0 victory to the Red and Gold Brigade in the 1975 IFA Shield and the 4-0 win in the Calcutta Football League in 2015. The Mariners have also registered some phenomenal coups, like the 5-3 win in October 2009 and the superb 4-3 in 2007.  Cult heroes have been born in these fixtures, which includes Do Dong Hyun, Yasub Yukubu and Chidi Edeh. 

Sometimes, bad things happen when a side loses : like in the 1980 Derby, where 16 people lost their lives in a colossal fight, or the way in which some Mohun Bagan players had to hide after losing the aforementioned IFA cup final 5-0 to East Bengal as their supporters threatened to kill them for subjecting them to such a loss of face. 

In the 2012 Derby, the wild crowd pelted stones at the referee for giving a decision, and it in turn hit Rahim Nabi, a Mohun Bagan player who had to be stretchered off and as a result, the game was cancelled. In 2016, the Mariners abandoned a Calcutta League game after their demands were not met by the IFA and that resulted in a default win for the Red and Gold Brigade.

All said and done though, few other countries can boast of having a ferocious derby on this scale, especially in a game that has always been side lined in the national scenario. There have been several attempts to manufacture this sort of rivalry, especially in the ISL, but nothing, nothing can ever come close to matching it, for although the game divides a city, it unites a community like no other, and as old-timers will tell you, there is nothing quite like watching and feeling a derby form the galleries.

Stat Attack:

This Sunday will see these two face each other for the 312th time in officially registered tournaments, with East Bengal winning 119 of them and Mohun Bagan 86, while the rest of the matches were draws or walkovers. 

The first official Derby was played on 28th May 1925, which East Bengal won 1-0 thanks to a Nepal Chakraborty goal.

The first National League ( now the I League) Derby was played on 6th January, 1998 and was won by Mohun Bagan 2-1.

Bhaichung Bhutia is the highest scorer in Derby history, with 19 goals. Jose Ramires Barreto is the next in list, with 17.

Bhaichung Bhutia and Chidi Edeh are the only two players to score hat tricks in the Derby, with the latter netting 4 in one game in 2009.


This Sunday, these eternal nemesis will lock horns at the Kanchenjungha Stadium in Siliguri, West Bengal on 12th February in the 40th match of the I-League season 2017. East Bengal currently top the table, while Mohun Bagan are a close second having played one match less. The town is already heating up as supporters arrive from all parts of Bengal and one can expect fireworks to go off on the pitch as well once the whistle goes off.

Stat Courtesy: Hariprasad Chatterjee