BY ATANU MITRA (@Atanu00)
Indian football is in a sorry state. There are many prevailing theories which try to explain the spiral downward journey of the much-loved sport in our country and one of the most logical ones stress that the world's most popular game has been confined to a handful of states. However, the fact remains that even in the areas where it had good fan following, the interest about local football has gradually waned with time.
This will once again be on display on Tuesday as teams from Bengal and Goa lock horns with each other thrice on the same day. But, at each of the venues, only a meagre attendance will witness Indian football's most exciting inter-state rivalry. Over the course of the day, Goa and Bengal face off at Nagpur in a Santosh Trophy final round clash, while the I-League fixtures in Goa - involving Salgaocar-East Bengal and Sporting Clube de Goa-Mohun Bagan are expected to grab a few more eyeballs.
The golden days, however, were much brighter. These two states were home to very different football cultures, because of being dominated by two different European nations for decades. However, the seeds, in both regions were sown by people of the same origin. While the Kolkata maidan and the suburbs were learning the basics of the game from the British Regiment, the Goans had to wait for a certain Irish preist Reverent Fr. William Robert Lyons, who came to Goa from Karnataka to recover from health issues before the Portuguese also joined the party. They continued to follow the legacy that they inherited, as the Bengali sides played a more direct brand of football, while the state on the western coast became home to countless flair players.
The most authentic of history books inform that the first match in Kolkata was played on the Saturday afternoon of 13th April, 1854 at the Esplanade ground while Boys Social Club, the first football club of Goa was formed in 1905. On the other hand, Trades Club (later named Dalhousie Athletic Club), the first football club of the country was established in Kolkata in 1878.(1)
While Bengal picked up the game early, they also took bigger strides since the game started playing a big role in the nation's freedom movement, with the Eastern state being one of the epicenters of the revolt. The biggest succes story was obviously that of Mohun Bagan, who thumped a British team playing barefoot and won the IFA Shiled in 1911 to wave the tri-colour high and instill a rare sense of self-belief in the youngsters. It was not co-incidental that India's capital was shifted to Delhi from Kolkata less than six months after that historic day.
Goa, on the other hand, got its first football hero in Neville D'Souza, who scored a hat-trick in the Olympics of 1956 to rewrite the history books and earn India a berth in the semi-final. A few years later, a week before the Christmas of 1961, the Portuguese soldiers left the state and Goa was later allowed to take part in the Santosh Trophy.
While Bengal has been home to greats like Sailen Manna, P.K.Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Subrata Bhattacharya, Subhash Bhowmick et al, Goa has given birth to football talents like Andrew D'Souza, Neville, Bruno Coutinho and Mahesh Gawli. Bengal schooled Goa in most of their Santosh Trophy encounters but the Goan clubs started making their mark in Indian football in the eighties, with the last decade seeing them reach the pinnacle.
Armando Colaco was the pivotal reason for Goan club football's surge, as Dempo SC, coached by their club legend, won the national title five times. The big two of Kolkata failed to catch up with the Golden Eagles, and when they were not winning, the likes of Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar FC were bringing home the laurels. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal's foray into the western region often saw them being hammered, with the Mariners 5-0 loss against Dempo SC in 2011 and Salgaocar's 4-0 win against the Red and Golds in 2011-12 standing out as symbolic score-lines.
Over the last eighteen months, however, Bengal has covered much of its lost ground. Mohun Bagan's I-League win was accompanied by Dempo being relegated to the second division, while Atletico de Kolkata's semi-final win against FC Goa also added salt to the wound. The Goan clubs have struggled in the I-League this season as well, with Sporting Clube de Goa being their only glimmer of hope.
So when the Bengal team, having known faces like Ashim Biswas, Imran Khan and Manish Maithani take to the field against a much stronger Goan outift in Nagpur, in the Santosh Trophy, they will know that the Kolkata clubs are more than potent to avenge any humiliation that they suffer. The Goa squad has stars like Tyson Caiado, Beevan D'Mello, Milagres Gonsalves and Velito D'Cruz in the squad and start the tournament as one of the favourites.
Bengal's sheer dominance in the competition goes back to the 1940's and the 31-time champions have played 42 finals in total, while Goa have managed to win it on only five occasions. Bengal won consecutive six titles between 1994-1999 with the last four of those summit clashes played against Goa. The last of those was a 5-0 victory in 1999, when goals from Basudev Mondal, Carlton Chapman, Bhaichung Bhutia, Dipendu Biswas and Raman Vijayan routed the Goa side.
Basudev, a former India international who opened the scoring that afternoon, will be on the Bengal bench in Nagpur playing assistant to Aloke Mukherjee. Alvito D'Cunha, a key membet of that Goan team, will be present on the East Bengal bench as the manager on Tuesday. They are the ones who will soak themselves again in the fierce rivalry that the two states enjoyed in the last two decades.
It will be interesting to know whether the same goes for the newer fans of Indian footballs.
Note: 1) The Calcutta Football Club (later merged with Calcutta Cricket Club and known as CCFC now) was established in 1872, but practiced only rugby football in its early years.