For the past 13 years, the 'National Club of India' have been celebrating the anniversary of being the first Indian team to beat an English one. This one was the grandest yet...The 29th of July was as politically significant in the history of Bengal as it was athletically significant in the history of Mohun Bagan. When they beat the East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 to win the IFA Shield in 1911, it was a major realization that the British were not, in fact, invincible and breathed new life into the struggle for Independence. So for the past 13 years the club's administration have been commemorating the day as Mohun Bagan Day.
This year's celebration was probably the grandest yet, held to a full house at Kolkata's Netaji Indoor Stadium. The stadium floor had a stage set in the middle, bedecked in, what else, green and maroon with a giant screen in the middle. The evening began and ended on a musical note, kicking off with both classical and contemporary Bengali tunes as one by one the celebrities and guest of honour began to arrive.
There was a smattering of applause for legends of Indian football Chuni Goswami and P.K. Banerjee as well as for the highest officials of the Cricket Association of Bengal, including president Jagmohan Dalmiya, who came in accompanied by club president Swapan Sadhan, or as he is affectionately known 'Tutu' Bose and General Secretary Anjan Mitra.
The applause was much louder for Gullit's cameo appearance coming into the stadium before he was whisked away to behind the stage. Yet another round followed for the entrance of popular Bengali singer and die-hard Bagan fan Babul Supriyo who had once even composed a song for the club.
But surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly, the largest round of applause was reserved for the entrance of Jose Ramirez Barreto, their hero who called it quits from Bagan at the end of last season.
After the music died down, the officals and the guest of honour took their seats on centre-stage with Gullit seated right in the middle. The Dutchman was then felicitated with a sash of green and maroon draped on his shoulders. Bose jokingly told the audience that on the flight to Calcutta he had asked Gullit why he has cut his hair from the famous dreadlocks style that had made him so iconic throughout the eighties. He had replied, "It's good to have hair like that as a footballer, but not as a coach if you want players to respect you."
Afterwards, it was Gullit who took the microphone and addressing the city, he had this to say, "I'm really overwhelmed and very very honoured to be here. I didn't expect so much when I came in or for so many to attend."
Speaking of Mohun Bagan, he then said, "I've read about the history of this club and it is really wonderful. Today is a day celebrating how the game is also a symbol. It is important to know and remember that football can be important in life."
Talking about his friendship with Nelson Mandela, he said, "When I won the Ballon D'Or in 1988, I dedicated it to Nelson Mandela. Back then, I didn't know how significant that would turn out to be. I am extremely honoured as a sportsperson to know him."
This was followed by the awards ceremony and official unveiling of the new Mohun Bagan jersey, covered extensively here.
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