From Chittaranjan (CR) Park to the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi, the legacy of East Bengal (EB) in India’s national capital has only grown with time.
“East Bengal is the only team ever to do the Delhi double – winning the DCM and Durand tournaments in the same calendar year in 1952. It is a unique record. In independent India, East Bengal won the Durand Cup (1951 and 1952) before Mohun Bagan did (1953),” says football historian Novy Kapadia.
According to noted coach Anadi Barua, a former international, the presence of East Bengal in Delhi has been big. “My community is known to be big supporters of East Bengal. Most of them came from the middle class and found a platform to make a statement on their love for football by cheering for EB. I have bought tickets for ₹1 to watch EB matches at the Ambedkar Stadium. In later years, I had the fortune of playing with Surajit Sengupta, Gautam Sarkar, Bhaskar Ganguly, Krishanu Dey.”
Sadly, East Bengal does not have an organised base in Delhi. Driven by passion, the supporters converge at the Ambedkar Stadium in scattered groups. “Most of them have the background of coming from East Pakistan (Bangladesh today) after Partition. They settled in what was then called the East Pakistan Displaced Persons (EPDP) Colony. It became CR Park later. East Bengal has a huge presence in Delhi and their fanatical support is to be seen to be believed. It reminds me of their huge following in Kolkata,” said Barua.
In recent times, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan encounters have become a rarity. The last time the two clubs met in the national capital was in the 2004 edition of the Durand Cup when East Bengal won 2-1.
Among the iconic East Bengal-Mohun Bagan encounters in Delhi is the memorable thriller of 1957 in the Durand Cup. Trailing 1-2 at half time, the East Bengal camp received requests from different quarters not to lose the match to Mohun Bagan. Giving their best in the second half, the East Bengal players slammed three goals to emerge a glorious winner.
Another unforgettable East Bengal feat came in the 1973 DCM final when it won against Dok Ro Gang from North Korea. For two days, the teams played a draw before the Korean club opted out of playing for a third day in succession. As Kapadia points out, “East Bengal has won the DCM tournament seven times. Best by any team.”
For player-commentator Ghaus Mohammad, the culture of football in Delhi has been enriched by East Bengal’s “magical” performances. “East Bengal is part of Delhi’s football history because of the huge following the club has. The club has an enviable history of achievements in the DCM and Durand Cups and has remained one of the most popular clubs to play in the capital.”
Says Nilanjan Datta, a long-time football watcher in Delhi and now media director at the All India Football Federation, “Post-partition, the migrants who came over to India from Bangladesh settled either in West Bengal or in Delhi. A substantial percentage preferred to move to Delhi as it was the capital of India. Understandably, their allegiance lied with East Bengal, the name symbolising their past, their roots, and was all about nostalgia. Most of them stayed around Chittaranjan Park, the home of the Bong (Bengali) community in Delhi. But with time, the newer generation couldn’t really identify themselves with their ancestral roots in East Bengal, and with the club actually being based in Kolkata, the percentage of support started to decrease a bit in the capital.”