The derby weekend is approaching fast and it is of no surprise that the Indian football fraternity will turn their heads to two high voltage matches, happening in two different parts of the globe, with eager anticipation and excitement. Surprising, though, is the contrasting nature of these two matches.
The Manchester derby will witness football rivalry at its level best, with world-class players ready to showcase their potential. Our 169th ranked country, along with the whole world will avidly wait for the outcome. The other one, the Kolkata derby, played between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will not be anywhere near its Premier League counterpart if we are taking into consideration the quality of football, but will not be far behind in terms of excitement and local media coverage. Supporters of these two teams wait throughout the season for this match. Winning this match alone can make up for all failures that the team has suffered over the season. To sum it up, the bragging rights allure the fans more than anything.
Over the last decade, however a major portion of the Indian youth have turned away from football played in the country. As the foreign football leagues have crept into the drawing room of the common man, Indian football has seen waning crowds. Quality football actually got the better of the mediocre game, which had kept generations engrossed.
As a result, many youngsters now give more importance to the foreign leagues than the domestic one. The lackluster television coverage of the local matches has also played a part in it.
However the derby is a different ball game altogether. Its popularity and enduring nature has ensured that each time these two arch-rivals meet; it attracts the attention from those football cognoscenti with a global view. Such is the caliber of the local derby that it attracts more than 80,000 people on a regular basis. It has even seen a record crowd of 1,31,000 in 1997.
The derby divides the whole Bengali population into two groups. Nothing can match the atmosphere inside the stadium. Sayantan Ghosh, an ardent Manchester United and East Bengal fan opined, “I will choose a Manchester United match any day over an East Bengal match, unless it is the derby. The derby is so enthralling. Moreover, it is the main component of our football heritage.”
East Bengal represents ‘Bangal’s belonging to the eastern part of Bengal, whereas most of the Mohun Bagan supporters are ‘Ghoti’s, generally hailing from the western part of Bengal. Though the traditional enmity has subsided, the passion and rivalry remains the same. Another great feature of the 87-year old Kolkata derby is the fact that both the teams share the same home stadium. Naturally this derby witnesses juxtaposition of rival fans in almost equal numbers, much like the Milan derby. The dominance has ebbed and flowed over the time period, making the fixture more unpredictable and tense.
However there are a set of football fans for whom what matters is only the quality of the game. They are also quite disappointed with the level of pandemonium that surrounds the organization of a derby. Arijit Das, a Bayern Munich fan told, “The kind of football that is played here does not attract me. I have never been to a derby, and to be honest, the experience gained from my few visits to the stadium does not inspire me to go out and watch one. I would rather be happy to sit on my couch and enjoy the Manchester derby, though I support none of the teams.”
As the D-day approaches, even the tea-stalls are abuzz with livelihood and anticipation about the game. It continues to draw attention of most of the youngsters, though improvements are needed in almost all aspects.
The local derby is all about the heritage of the society one lives in. You find your roots in one of these teams. For that matter even flying to Manchester and watching the game at the Etihad still won't give you the full experience. Truly experiencing a local derby is when you are part of that society, when you are taught about the rivalry ever since you can remember and pledged allegiance to one side. It's involving yourself in that atmosphere and seeing it escalate in the weeks leading up to the derby. Then when that whistle blows, all that passion that's been building up within all those ardent fans spills over and even effects the players. When you feel that buzz in the stadium after being part of the background is when you truly enjoy the experience of a local derbyThe local derby, in any case, will live long!
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