East Bengal had become the first Indian club outfit to win an international tournament on foreign soil when they defeated BEC Tero Sasana 3-1 in the ASEAN Cup final on 26th July, 2003.
A decade has passed since then and the Red and Gold faithful gathered in different corners of the city on Friday to celebrate the biggest triumph in the club's history.
"East Bengal the Real Power (EBRP)", the oldest fan club of East Bengal visited Kalyani, where the pre-season residential camp of the side is being held. Alvito D'Cunha, Dipankar Roy and Shylo Malsawmtluanga, the three players from the ASEAN Cup winning squad, who are still part of the team, cut cakes and became nostalgic while recalling the historic moment.The Red and Gold Lovers Fans' Club (RGL) were also not behind as they organized a programme in the evening, where a number of officials and ex-players of East Bengal were present. The biggest attraction of the program was the ASEAN Cup itself which was displayed on the stage. Top East Bengal officials including Swapan Ball, Kalyan Majumder and Amit Sen were present to grace the occasion, along with other renowned footballers like Sasthi Duley and yesteryear star Parimal Dey.
Amit Sen, the UB Group representative at the club, remarked that East Bengal could have cashed in on the famous win which should have led to increased attendance from fans on matchdays in the I-League.
"Yes, this was certainly a path-breaking victory. But, according to me, we failed to encash on this achievement. This win should have paved the way for more victories in the future. Also, I see the number of supporters present during the matches is waning every day. The supporters must understand that the club gets a major revenue from the ticket sales and attending a match helps the club financially.”
Goal had earlier criticized the East Bengal fans a couple of months back, after just a paltry number turned up for the high-profile AFC Cup clash against the Yangon United, though the stadium was chock-a-bloc a few days later for the Kolkata derby.
Douglas Silva, who was the playmaker in the ASEAN Cup winning team, was full of praise for the fan groups when Goal contacted him on Friday evening. "Yes, I know both EBRP and RGL. I think they are great because they have devoted some part of their lives for the club. I know it's hard in India to continue to do things without any sponsor for this long.”
Douglas also added that if he were a player of East Bengal, he would have done something to help the fan clubs. "I am sure that if this happened in my time, I would do something for them. I like to help people, especially those who can do such things for the club," he added.
The midfielder shared some of his memories of his time with the Kolkata club and said,” I know they are playing for East Bengal now. I used to call Tulunga ‘my son’ since he was so young back then. Alvito was my first friend in India and he helped me in the early days, since he was the only guy to know Portuguese. Also in the field, we could communicate in that language, making it easy for us," he recalled.
While such events organized by fan clubs are certainly welcome, it remains to be seen if the club can draw the supporters to the ground on matchdays.
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