Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I hate the derby, I love the derby!

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
On one side, you have Abhra Mondal and Soumik De – maybe a couple of others. That’s the ‘Bengal’ part of East Bengal. Sangram Mukherjee and a handful of others in Mohun Bagan. That’s the sum total of the Bengal presence in the Great Calcutta Derby today. Even in the sidelines, one team is coached by a Moroccan and the other by a Belgian. And that’s the match we are so excited about.

Forgive me, I am not a good Bengali. A Bengali from Calcutta, as I am, should be obsessed about the derby. I am not. Yes, I do want East Bengal to win, as I always have, being a true-blooded Barishal Bangal. But come off it. There is nothing remotely romantic about this encounter.

There was a time in the 1980s when an East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan encounter was important. Krishanu Dey, Bikash Panji,Tarun Dey, Swarup Das, Prashanta Banerjee, Shishir Ghosh, Sudip Chatterjee, Krishnendu Roy, Aloke Mukherjee...and of course, the two mascots – Manoranjan Bhattacharya and Subroto Bhattacharya. And the goalkeepers: Shibaji Banerjee, Debashish Mukherjee, Tanumoy Bose, Atanu Bhattacharya...and East Bengal’s favourite goalkeeper – Bhaskar Ganguly, brilliant for East Bengal and under the crossbar for Mohun Bagan when East Bengal pumped in those Famous Five.

Yes, there was the odd African and Iranian. Yes, a few players from other parts of the country were also coming to Calcutta. But the matches were strictly between Bengalis. That was when Bengal was still the number one centre of excellence for football in India. Kerala, Punjab, Goa and Maharashtra were threatening, but Bengal was still number one. And the best club football was also played in Bengal. In Calcutta.

Of course, I understand that foreigners and non-Bengalis will come in. That is the essence of club football. And yes, in England or Spain or Italy or in Latin America, die-hard fans still fight for the crumbs when ‘their’ team plays. Even if there isn’t a single kid from their part of the country playing for their team. I understand that. But I can’t do it myself.

I can’t get obsessed about a match where the goalscorers’ list is likely to have the names of a Sikkimese, a Nigerian, a Ghanaian, a Manipuri, a Goan, and so on. Why should I be bothered?

Now then – all this is true only because I suspect Mohun Bagan is a better team than East Bengal and have an edge. Everything I have said so far is essentially my defence in case East Bengal fail to go past Mohun Bagan into the Fed Cup final. If East Bengal win, as I will be praying they do, who cares if there isn’t a single Bangal in the side? Who cares if a Ghanaian is the best striker in the team? Who cares about anything at all? It’s the best possible end to the year – East Bengal is better than Mohun Bagan. End of the discussion.