Special Bagan-East Bengal Derby Should Showcase Banter, not Violence

East Bengal and Mohun Bagan Fans
East Bengal and Mohun Bagan Fans (Source: X)

Indian football’s premier club rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal mirrors the oppositional identities, social differences and emotional commonalities inherent in Indian society and culture. While the roots of the origin and consolidation of this football rivalry lie in social and sub-regional differences of contemporary Indian society, its playing out in the last 25 years can only be meaningfully explained in terms of club loyalty, fan culture and commercial transformation.

This was borne out yet one more time on September 3, 2023, the last time the two teams met in Kolkata in the Durand Cup final. While the East Bengal fans all said the team had played well and they were now confident of competing with Mohun Bagan in the ISL, the Mohun Bagan fans considered it the perfect revenge within a week of having lost to East Bengal. The players, too, were consumed by fan passion. Soon after he scored the deciding goal, Dimitri Petratos ran towards the Mohun Bagan stands and was not willing to resume play for at least five minutes. His gesture was pushing the fans more and it was no surprise that both sets of supporters came hard at each other once the match was over. There were unconfirmed reports of fan violence and it is time the law enforcement agencies clamped down on such behaviour.

Some East Bengal supporters were attacked and abused at the end of the contest and there were rumours that a couple of them were seriously injured. While there was no confirmation on this except for some videos floating on social media, suffice to say that clashes did take place and flare-ups did happen. This is where things get ugly. As a Mohun Bagan fan myself, I think such incidents are deplorable. A true fan will never attack another fan, and by doing so, the fans are bringing disrepute to their own club. It is time the fans find grace in both winning and losing, for only then can Indian football progress.

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And that’s my worry for this evening on Derby day. Not a ticket is available and the stadium will be filled to capacity. East Bengal, unlike in September, are a much better team and carry the Super Cup-winning momentum into the Derby. Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, look better with the return of all the national team players, and with most of their key foreigners back on the pitch having recovered from injuries. In every sense, it is a mouth-watering clash. Can East Bengal make it two in two on the back of the Super Cup win or can Mohun Bagan get back to winning ways?

Whatever the outcome, my only request to fans from both sides is to ensure that things don’t go out of control. There is no need for fans to turn violent, stop matadors carrying rival supporters, hurl stones and other objects at them and then get physical. Such acts are acts of cowardice. To tear a club jersey is the worst thing for a fan to do. The jersey, whichever club it may belong to, is sacred and to tear it is no act of bravado. Each time the two teams have clashed in Kolkata in the last year or so, we have heard of similar incidents of violence. In a society that is hugely intolerant, such violence is actually a sign of the times. A deeper malaise that supporters of the two clubs would do well to combat and stay away from. The truth is, without East Bengal, there is no Mohun Bagan and vice versa. You need the ardent fans to make this rivalry what it is, and when sections resort to violence, they end up doing harm to their own club.

Violence isn’t an act of bravado. Rather, it is cowardice. It is venting frustration in the worst possible manner. Causing bodily harm to a fellow supporter is the last thing that sport stands for, and that’s what fans from both sides should remember in the aftermath of the Derby. All I will say is may the best team win and may the supporters have the best banter, which should all be done with by the time they leave the confines of the stadium. We need to celebrate, and not mourn. And that can only happen if there is no violence.

Also Read: Shyam Thapa’s Bicycle Kick and Other Kolkata Derby Days

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