ATK Mohun Bagan: From ‘barefoot’ ball to let’s football

On July 10, the board of ATK-Mohun Bagan decided to retain the iconic green and maroon jersey which has become synonymous with the 131-year-old heritage of the football club. The name of the club will now be changed to ATK-Mohun Bagan. However, the logo will have the iconic Mohun Bagan boat (pal tola nouko) with the addition of 'ATK' to it.

In this article, Free Press goes down the memory lane to trace the roots and the routes Mohun Bagan has taken from inception. More than a club, the concept called Mohun Bagan means a lot to India soccer…

July seems to have many nostalgic moments and all the ingredients to make Indian soccer fans euphoric. To be precise, July 29, 1911 will always remain special. Similar what has probably been felt by cricket fans on different occasions, such as after the emphatic win in 1983, July 29 too seemingly has the power to bring fans of warring football rivals from Calcutta (now Kolkata) -- East Bengal and Mohun Bagan -- together.

On this day, India achieved what some may call one of its greatest ever victories against those who ruled or rather “over-ruled” us. In a match against a regiment of the British Army, the “natives’ team”, Mohun Bagan, won against the Goras (Englishmen).

Unfortunately, few fans know of the seemingly forgotten soccer match in which Bagan stubbed the British Raj's stubborn arrogance. In a real life script akin to the reel life portrayed in Lagaan, Mohun Bagan defeated the East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 in the IFA Shield final in 1911 — a time when the Uprising for the Freedom movement was raging all over the country.

Mohun Bagan was invited in 1911 to play the prestigious IFA Shield. By then, of course, Bagan had attained a huge and remarkable status, and their victory became a much-talked about “achievement” for the Indians fighting hard to free the motherland from the Britishers. The team was coached by legendary Sailen Basu.

When one thinks about the conditions these great players faced, it can be said that they were nothing less than heroes for their valiant on-field efforts. Imagine a team whose players couldn’t even afford a pair of boots -- which in those days had a price tag of Rs 7. But with or without the required gear, this was a team that had all the guts and potential to make it.

Fan Following

As the word spread, hundreds and thousands of Indians travelled by all means to Kolkata via train from the nearby districts and even from the neighbouring states. The zeal and camaraderie was so intense that East Indian Railways had to run a special train and additional steamers (or steamboats) were pressed into service to ferry fans to the venue.

Th Calcutta Football Ground was sardine-packed with a crowd-strength of around 10,000. Those who couldn’t make it to the ground, took to treetops, lamp posts and even rooftops of homes to catch a glimpse of history in the making.

The match had stopped the city. The match had brought everyone together.

Kites as ‘social media’

In the absence of means of communication, kites were flown to keep fans updated with the results written on them.

The historic triumph shattered the imperial pride at a time when Bengal was seething with anger after the British Raj’s ploy to Partition it six years earlier in 1905. Mohun Bagan’s win gave the Freedom Movement additional impetus, and it almost became synonymous in magnitude to the rallying cry of Vande Mataram.

With this, the Swadeshi movement too gained momentum and finally on December 11, the same year, at the Imperial Coronation Darbar held in Delhi, His Majesty, King George V standing on a Royal Pavilion declared the transfer of the seat of Government of India from Calcutta to Delhi. By another announcement by His Majesty, the partition of Bengal made in 1905 had been revoked.

The grapevine has it that the public sentiment that came with Bagan’s victory was so intense that a story did the rounds that the Union Jack flying high over Fort William (the British headquarters in Calcutta) would be lowered if Bagan won the Shield again. And interestingly, the historic club won it (the IFA Shield) AGAIN in 1947…!

Moments of Glory

After the IFA Shield win in 1947, Bagan went from strength to strength. They garnered and showcased trophies galore. On occasion, they might have fallen behind arch-rivals, East Bengal, in the first half of the seventies, but they managed to win the Rovers Cup thrice in 1970, 1971 and 1972, becoming only the second Indian club to achieve this feat.

After a downhill decline in 1975 when they lost 5-0 against East Bengal in the Shield final, the team was handed over to the legendary P.K. Banerjee, and how efficiently he led them is part of folklore.

Arrival of Cosmos

On September 24, 1977, came 1970-World Cup-winning captain Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia and the Black Pearl – Pele. The New York Cosmos had travelled to play a friendly match against Bagan. Shyam Thapa and Mohammed Habib scored for the Aloke Das-led team, while Alberto and Chinaglia scored a goal each. Drawing 2-2 with the New York Cosmos catapulted Bagan to global fame.

Pretext to arch rivalry: Bangal-Ghoti Tussle

Bengalis whose ancestors were from Bangladesh (erstwhile Purbo Bongo) are known as Bangals. During Partition, they came over to India. Locally, known as ‘Udbastu’, Bangals had witnessed and been a part of many struggles to restructure their lives.

Ghotis, on the other hand, are the locals who have been in West Bengal for generations, including their forefathers. In comparison to the Bangals, Ghotis had a much more secure and settled lifestyle.

The Foodie Bong

Bangals’ food habits are pretty different than the Ghotis. While Bangals can’t think of meals without spices in their lunch and dinner dishes, Ghotis preferred sweet flavours over everything else.

According to a popular parlance, “Ghotis put sugar syrup in every dish they prepare!”

Too Maach

It must be kept in mind that when we discuss Bengalis, the discussion is not complete with having a dash of Fish… it’s never Too Maach (fish) for Bengalis.

The battle basically represents the continuous Ghoti vs Bangal fight where Hilsa is upstaged by the Bangals and the Ghotis seek out the prawn route.

Let's Football

After we are through with the food and fish explanation…football can’t be far behind. East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are the two oldest football clubs of Bengal and their rivalry is the classic example of the Ghoti-Bangal scuffle.

Despite having exceptions, in most of the cases, Bangals are stern supporters of East Bengal and Ghotis tend to chant for Mohun Bagan during the Derby matches.

The legacy of the club is rich with achievements worth expounding in golden ink. No matter what form it adopts in terms of a formal structure as a club, it will continue to cast its mark in the history and rule the hearts of millions of fans like always.

On the Sidelines:

Mohun Bagan was established in 1889 by three famous aristocratic Bengali families of North Kolkata. Bhupendra Nath Bose was the first president of the club. The team won its first trophy in 1904, when they lifted the Coochbehar Cup.

Film on 1911

To celebrate the momentous achievement of 1911, director Arup Roy even made a film, titled Egaro, The Immortal Eleven, in 2011 in tribute to these heroes.

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