Calcutta : The Hub of Asian Football over the years


Since the inception of the Indian Super League, Atlético de Kolkata won two of the three editions that have been frisked in the tournament’s history. As the ISL has splurged many of the youngsters to believe that India’s history in football is insufficient, we look into how Calcutta (now Kolkata) has been the plethora of Asian Football over the years.

The game was introduced to the Calcuttans(then the capital of India) by the British soldiers in the Nineteenth century. Very few would know that Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhakari, known as the Father of Indian Football forced his classmates into playing the game at his schools compound. Attracted by the enthusiasm of the boys in the school, the European teachers of the school and adjacent colleges encouraged Nagendra Prasad and his companions to promote the game among students surrounding Calcutta.

Calcutta FC( now CCFC) was the first club to be formed in Asia in 1872 by the British army who later merged with the Calcutta Cricket club due to lack of members. Sarada FC was another club to be formed in the same year becoming one of the oldest clubs in Asia. Later, Nagendra Prasad formed a string of football clubs in Calcutta in the 1880s, one of the first being the Wellington, which had to be dismantled by 1884 due to protests from other members of the club as he was believed to be from a lower cast. A couple of years later he was the one to find the Sovabazar Club believed to be the fifth oldest club in Asian history.

In 1889 India’s oldest current team Mohun Bagan A.C was founded as Mohun Bagan Sporting Club. This was the first club to be under the rule of the army as both Hindu and Muslim players played in it. In 1888 the Durand Cup was founded by then India’s Foreign Secretary, Mortimer Durand. The Durand Cup is the third oldest football competition behind the FA Cup and the Scottish Cup. It was initiated, as a recreation for British troops stationed in India. Royal Scots won the first edition of the cup by beating Highland Lights 2–1 in the Final. In 1893 the IFA Shield was founded as the fourth oldest trophy in the world. Calcutta soon became the hub of Indian football. Apart from that, tournaments like the Gladstone Cup, Trades Cup and Coochbehar Cup also started around this time.

The Indian Football Association(IFA) was the governing body of India as it was affiliated to the Football Association of England, but after the formation of the All India Football Federation(AIFF), they were handed over the administration job in India.

In  1911, eleven bare-footed Indians, who played their hearts out against a fully geared-up Englishmen of the East Yorkshire Regiment, and defeated them in the finals of the IFA Shield by a 2-1 margin. This was the first time that a club with only Indian players had won the shield, and the victory harboured a lot of nationalistic sentiments back then, greatly influencing the National Movement in Bengal. Legendary Indian footballer, PK Banerjee quoted as saying in Forbes:

It galvanised Bengalis like never before and fuelled their nationalistic pride. Football was seen as a powerful tool against the British.

On 28 July 1920 Mohun Bagan were scheduled to play Jorabagan in the Coochbehar Cup. Jorabagan sent out their starting eleven but with the notable exclusion of defender Sailesh Bose who was dropped from the squad for reasons not disclosed. The vice-president of Jorabagan, Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri, asked for Bose to be included in the line-up but the club coaches did not listen. Chaudhuri left the club due to this and along with Raja Manmatha Nath Chaudhuri, Ramesh Chandra Sen, and Aurobindo Ghosh, formed East Bengal on 1 August 1920. Something similar to how Liverpool FC was formed after a spat with Everton in England.

Mohun Bagan and East Bengal went on to become the biggest rivals in Asian history and has been listed to be in the top-10 fiercest derbies in the world. In the first eight league competitions in India, starting from 1996, the year the National Football League(NFL) was formed, all the editions were won either by Mohun Bagan or East Bengal apart from two seasons when JCT and Salgaocar were handed the title. Apart from that, the Durand Cup(the third oldest tournament in the world) was been won by Mohun Bagan and East Bengal a combined 32 times, a record that will take a lot of time to replicate by another club.

Calcutta has always been the home of Indian football since the nineteenth century and history vocalises how Calcutta is the hub of Asian Football over the years.

Do you have any story to share surrounding football in Calcutta? Comment below.


Photo by pabak sarkar

Photo by Soumyadeep Paul