The saga of East Bengal

Print edition : August 29, 2003

THE East Bengal Club, which was established on August 1, 1920, was the result of a clash of egos inside the Mohun Bagan. Club. On July 28, 1920, Mohun Bagan was scheduled to play Jorabagan in a Coochbehar Cup tie. When the Jorabagan team dropped its star half-back Sailesh Bose, Mohun Bagan's vice-president and noted industrialist Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri pressed for Bose's inclusion in the Mohun Bagan squad, a plea which the club authorities refused. Chaudhuri walked out of the club, and set up a new team with Sailesh Bose, Ramesh Chandra Sen and Aurobindo Ghosh. They named the club East Bengal, after the region from which they hailed. Red and gold became the club colours, symbolising ambition, and a flaming torch became the emblem, denoting a fiery desire to be the best. The chief patron of the club in its early years was the Maharaja of Santosh, after whom the Santosh Trophy is named.

Subhas Bhowmick (right), East Bengal coach, with an official outside the club premises.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

The club made its debut in the 1920 Hercules Cup, a seven-a-side competition, which it won. East Bengal then entered the Indian Foot Ball Association (IFA) league's Second Division and immediately announced its arrival by finishing third. Having established itself as a team to contend with, it began the hunt for a ground to set up tent and practise. And here, ironically, the club with which it would have to share a ground, would be its arch-rival Mohun Bagan. With Mohun Bagan's former partner, National AC, going defunct, East Bengal sought the permission of the authorities concerned to take its place on the ground. Despite Mohun Bagan's protests, permission was granted and, in 1922, East Bengal took possession of the half of the ground that was towards Red Road.

In 1924, East Bengal became joint champions of the Second Division with Cameroon B. Since Cameroon A was already playing in the First Division circuit, it was East Bengal's chance to be elevated to the First Division league. But, under British rule, differential treatment for British and Indian clubs existed. According to the rules laid down by the Governing Body of the IFA, not more than two Indian clubs were allowed to play in the First Division league. Since Mohun Bagan and Aryans, two Indian teams, were already in the elite league, it became all the more tougher for East Bengal to secure a place. Petitions were made for a change in the existing rules, and in the subsequent IFA Governing Body meeting, East Bengal was granted a place in the premier division. Ironically, while the nine British clubs agreed to the inclusion of East Bengal, it was Mohun Bagan and Aryans that opposed East Bengal's promotion. It was East Bengal's efforts that led to the abolition of the oppressive rule of restricting Indian teams to just two in the First Division, which earlier denied great teams like Kumartuli and Town to participate in the premier league despite being Second Division champions.

In 1925, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan clashed for the first time and East Bengal won 1-0. In the return match, Mohun Bagan avenged itself. Even today, 78 years later, this rivalry persists.

In 1942, East Bengal club secured its first league triumph, and the following year it won the IFA Shield. The club has never looked back since. In 1945 it won both the First Division league and the IFA Shield. The same year, the team thrashed BCCI Railways 11-0 in a Rovers Cup tie, the highest ever victory margin in its history. In the same match East Bengal's legendary Anglo-Burmese centre-forward Pagsley scored eight goals, establishing a record for the number of goals scored by an individual in a match. The following year, in the IFA Shield, East Bengal's S. Nayar established another record by scoring 36 goals, which still remains unbroken.

In 1951, East Bengal became the first Indian team to win the IFA Shield three times in a row (1949 to 1951). For this achievement, the English FA annual almanac of 1951-52 adjudged East Bengal the best Indian soccer club. Following this, on invitation, East Bengal became the first Indian football team to tour the Soviet Union and Romania. The club also has one of the best records of good performance against foreign teams. In 1948, East Bengal defeated the Chinese Olympic XI 2-0; in 1951, it was the Swedish FC Gothenburg that lost, 0-1; and in 1956, the Chinese Olympic XI lost again, 1-3. One of the most outstanding achievements of East Bengal was its 1-0 victory over PAS Club of Iran in the 1970 IFA Shield final. At the end of the match, over 80,000 fans of East Bengal lit up Eden Gardens by holding up flaming torches high over their heads. This was a glorious time for East Bengal, when it won the Calcutta football league for a record six times in a row, from 1970 to 1975.

When talking about East Bengal's successes, one has to mention those who have managed the club and guided it over the years. In the post-Independence period, three names stand out: J.C. Guha who was in charge from 1948 to 1969; Dr. Nripen Das, from 1970 to 78; and Dipak (Paltu) Das, from 1984 to 2000. It was during Paltu Das' tenure that the modernisation of the club took place. He raised substantial funds, roped in sponsors and scouted for foreign players. It was during his time that the football section of the East Bengal Club became a private limited company - United East Bengal Football Team Private Ltd - when it entered into a partnership with liquor baron Vijay Mallya's United Breweries group in 1998. The team was then renamed Kingfisher East Bengal. Paltu Das was the managing director of the company until he passed away in March 2001.

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