Giving up Maachh (fish) and Mangsho (meat) to cut down their expenses, 85-years old Pannalal Chatterjee and his wife, 76-years old Chaitali Chatterjee live on a shoestring budget. The sacrifice is to save for their World Cup kitty – something that the elderly couple from a middle-class family in Kolkata cannot compromise with. Starting with the 1982 Spain World Cup, the city’s senior-citizen super fans have watched 10 editions of the FIFA World Cup magic, live from the stands, the 2018 Russia World Cup being their latest.
Hit by a financial crisis, the couple does not have sufficient money this time to buy Qatar World Cup tickets for more than three matches, so they have written to the FIFA authorities for more tickets. FIFA hasn’t responded yet, but Kolkata hopes that Pannalal and Chaitali will get the tickets because this might be Pannalal’s last World Cup as he turns 90 when the football spectacle will be held in Qatar in 2022.
A lot of people go the extra mile for their passion, but when it comes to football, the city’s high-octane love for the game is indomitable. In fact, you might have heard that football is not just a passion, but religion in Kolkata.
The History of the World-Famous Kolkata Derby
Played between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, the historically significant and fiercely competitive Kolkata Derby is nothing short of a mass hysteria that goes beyond the pitch to homes, to tea stalls, and even the fish market. Depending on the match result, they say, the market rate for prawns and Hilsa fish fluctuates – for a Mohun Bagan fanatic, prawns are the way to celebrate the victory of the team, whereas, for an East Bengal fan, it is Hilsa.
Founded in 1889, Mohun Bagan is one of the oldest clubs in Asia. The club’s historic victory in 1911, when they played barefoot against the East Yorkshire Regiment, was the first time an Indian side defeated a European club, putting an end to years of British domination over the game. Mohun Bagan’s win on July 29, 1911, is a major event that played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence.
The rivalry began when Mohun Bagan’s manager left the club and founded East Bengal, frustrated about the club’s management not choosing a star player for a crucial match. He took the player with him and formed East Bengal in 1920.
The native population of Kolkata tends to follow Mohun Bagan, while immigrant communities from the erstwhile undivided Bengal support East Bengal. At the heart of the Kolkata Derby is this political and social rivalry that divides the football population of Bengal between the yellow and red of East Bengal and the green and maroon of Mohun Bagan.
But, Sports in Kolkata Is Not Just About Football
Kolkata has produced iconic sports superstars like India Cricket Team Captain Sourav Ganguly, Tennis Grand Slam Champion Leander Adrian Paes, 1998 Asian Games Gold Medallist Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, Chess Grandmasters Dibyendu Barua and Surya Sekhar Ganguly, Olympic Medallist Dr. Vece Paes, and PGA Golf Champion Arjun Atwal.
Other prominent sports personalities from Kolkata include Mr. Universe Monotosh Roy, the World Amateur Wrestling Championship Gobor Goho, Guinness Record holder Mihir Sen – the first Asian to swim the English Channel in 1958, and not to forget, Mr. World, Manohar Aich to name a few.
Kolkata’s Historic Association With Cricket
The Calcutta Cricket & Football Club (CC&FC), founded in 1792, is the oldest cricket club outside the British Isles. However, in recent times, major cricketing activities are governed by the Cricket Association of Bengal, which manages the Bengal Ranji team and organizes various cricketing tournaments across the state.
Eden Gardens, the largest cricket stadium in India, and the second largest in the world, behind the Melbourne Cricket Ground, is the city’s prized possession. Established in 1864, the magnificent sporting arena has witnessed some of the finest moments of Indian cricket.
The Eden Gardens is also the home ground of the Kolkata Knight Riders, Kolkata’s very own cricket team that competes in the prestigious T20 tournament, the Indian Premier League.
The City’s Tryst with Badminton and Table Tennis
The Bengal Badminton Academy (BBA) aims to provide coaching and infrastructure facilities to badminton enthusiasts in the state. The BBA runs state-of-the-art coaching centres at various locations, including Mahadevi Birla Girls School, North 24 PGS Dist. Sports Association, Ordnance Club, Hastings, Sri Sri Academy, and Garfa Sabuj Sangha in Kolkata. The academy receives wholehearted support from badminton legends like the All England Champion, Padmashree Pullela Gopichand, and Prakash Padukone, a name that needs no introduction in the badminton scene.
Since its inception in 2005, the West Bengal Table Tennis Association (WBTTA) has been fully committed to promoting table tennis through schools, colleges, and clubs in different districts of the state. Affiliated with the Table Tennis Federation of India, WBTTA nurtures young talents and helps them perform at national and international competitions.
The Sports Clubs in Kolkata
Among the elite clubs in the city which uphold the legacy of the colonial era, there are a few sporting clubs that reflect the strong affinity for sports in Kolkata.
One of them is the Bengal Rowing Club, which was established on August 25, 1929. The club, in 1936, imported 18 rowing boats from London at a total cost of £125.10. Since then, the club has surged forward to become one of the premier sporting and social hubs of Kolkata, with its legacy getting richer with every passing day. Other rowing facilities in the city include the 1858 Calcutta Rowing Club, and the Lake Club Kolkata, established in 1935.
“Everyone will be glad to learn that the Lieutenant Governor has sanctioned the construction of the Calcutta Swimming Club on the site selected near Chandpal Ghat,” the club cites the 1887 Statesman report on its official website. The Calcutta Swimming Club, as we see today, has the best swimming facility in the city. The club’s star attraction, its open-air swimming pool, is the largest pool not only in the country but in Asia as well. In 1964, the Maharaja of Cooch Behar became the club’s first Indian member, and in 1976, Late P.T. Basu was elected as the first Indian president. The illustrious history and glorious past of Calcutta Swimming Club, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1937, and Centenary in 1987, is Kolkata’s pride.
When we talk about golf courses in Kolkata, the first that comes to mind is the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Located on Golf Club Road, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club is the country’s oldest golf course and the first golf club in any country outside Britain. King George V, and his wife Queen Mary, during their India visit, inaugurated this famed golf course, characterized by 18 holes. The club’s fitting female counterpart, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club graces the Maidan.
Another well-known golf course in the city is in the Tollygunge Club. Founded by Sir William Cruikshank, in 1895, the charm of this golf course is its 14th hole, known as the Hydrophobia Hole. Golfers have to achieve this hole by crossing a stretch of water, hence, the name Hydrophobia Hole.
Now the citizens of Kolkata have another team to support as their own in the Indian Super League football championship — ATK. These varied infrastructures provide a huge impetus to the enthusiasm for sports in Kolkata.
Fanattic Sports Museum in New Town, Kolkata
Kolkata now has its first sports museum in New Town, in the form of Fanattic Sports Museum. Conceived by veteran sports historian Boria Majumdar, the Fanattic Sports Museum in Kolkata houses an intriguing collection of souvenirs across 15 sports. What sets this museum apart from other Indian sports collections is that it celebrates not only cricket, football, and hockey, but also sports such as chess, badminton, golf, and swimming. Brazilian football star Pelé’s signed jersey of 1970 FIFA World Cup, the 100th-century bat of Sachin Tendulkar, PV Sindhu’s Rio Olympic jersey, Beijing Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra’s gloves, and caps signed by tennis superstars Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are some of the museum’s main attractions.
The legacy of Kolkata as one of the premier sports cities of India is indisputable. And that’s not just because of the umpteen sports facilities strewn across the city; that’s because of the rich sporting culture that is steeped deep into the soul of this city.