• Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

Illish vs Chingri and East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan Derby!

Bengali diaspora revives traditional Kolkata maidan’s rivalry with IFA Shield in UK

When the epic song ‘Saab khelar sera bangalir tumi football’ (Bengali’s football is the best amongst all sports) was sung by the legendary singer late Manna Dey exactly half a century back, little did he know that the song would not only make the movie ‘Dhanni Meye’ a super hit in its time but would also create what is still today the most romantic and passionate ethos of all the Bengalis world over, that is football and along with it the eternal rivalry of East.

Bengal and Mohun Bagan or illish vs chingri !

Kolkata maidan’s century old legacy of the friendly enmity between the two giants of Calcutta Football League truly brings out the vibes and the essence of ‘bangaliana’ amongst not only the Bengalis in the city of joy but also amongst a group of Bengali diaspora in UK, so much so that they have come up with this unique event of organising the Indian Fans Alliance (IFA) Shield UK this year on 15 th August in London. The theme is none other than ‘play football the Bengal way’, reminiscing the above song in its spirit and flavour. Needless to say that the fun-fare of day long football would be complimented by delectable spread of illish and chingri delicacies likely to be arranged by the group members only.

It’s heartening to see this group of like minded Bengalis in UK from different walks of life and profession are united by the spirit of ‘bangal and ghoti’, when the advent of consumerism, sponsorships, investors and mergers have taken away the unbridled love of Bengalis from the Kolkata maidan. It’s also refreshing to see the tradition and heritage of old Kolkata in sporting rivalry is reliving in UK. Being the brain-child of  Anirban Mukhopadhyay,a die-hard EB fan and who has been a noted name amongst the Bengali diaspora in UK first conceived this unique
idea of reviving the traditional football rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan on the banks of Thames, far away from the mecca of ‘bangalir’ football and the Ganges way back in 2018, when the first edition of the IFA Shield UK was held. It was a runaway hit, with the theme song sung by none other than Babul Supriyo who was also the non-playing captain of the Mohan Bagan team in the shield; with his counterpart of rival East Bengal being Chima Okerie.

This year the organiser, Heritage Bengal Global (an all women not-for-profit organisation in UK) under the Presidentship of Milly Basu, has decided to hold the event on 15 th August, after the unlocking of the covid restrictions by the UK government and the time couldn’t have been more appropriate keeping up with the fervour of the recently concluded Euro and Copa America 2020 last month.
Bhaskar Bhattacharyya, who is heavily involved in the orgnisation of the tournament right from year 1 in 2018, has been instrumental in getting the FA accreditation for this year also- ‘ the FA accreditation gives us a different status and set of rules to follow, as a tournament- we are thankful to FA to recognize our efforts’.
Dipanjan Nandi another co organizer from Harrow, has been the liaising person for the Kolkata related activities like jerseys, fan clubs interaction and promotion.

Interestingly IFA Shield 2021 theme song has been sung by the renowned Bollywood singer Shaan, with music given by the upcoming Bollywood Music Director Sunjoy Bose- the song has been penned by Abhra Malakar, an avid EB supporter from Kent who is also donning the red and gold jersey in the tournament this year. Organising the event needs a huge amount of coordination, of getting the jerseys, the actual shield, and general promotion.

Help came in the form of Subhojit Ghosh Chourdhury of Belghoria to Debashis Ghosh from Jadavpur, who worked as the interface with Kolkata- Kaushik Ghosh, the famous artisan from Kumartuli designed both the shield for men and women.

Speaking at the launch event on 1st August, 2021 which coincided with the foundation day of East Bengal Mr. Mukhopadhyay reiterated the basic objective of organising this event. “During the unprecedented covid pandemic for last one and half years, everybody has gone through difficult times and this event is basically a symbol of surviving against all odds and getting back to life in a healthy way,” reminding that this event has been able to bring the Bengali community out onto the football field on few occasions in last one month. As the old
Bengali saying goes, health is wealth, this year also several doctors from NHS- UK are supporting the tournament and many would be seen on the pitch in respective EB-MB jerseys.
Incidentally the launch event also commemorated the Mohun Bagan Day, which was on 29 th August to celebrate the 1911 triumph of the club over Yorkshire regiment. A gala cake-cutting ceremony was held at a prime venue in London attended by supporters of both the clubs and Heritage Bengal members, following covid norms as applicable.

Not just limited to sports and health, the event has also put its baby steps in the Bengal British Business corridor, with Anirban’s alma mater, South Point School ex-student’s business body, the Pointers Business Forum, coming up in full support of the initiative and also forming a link of the Small and Medium Businesses of the two sides.

IFA Shield UK 2021 would be played at the Slough Borough Council’s astroturf ground following regular football norms, as for the second time this tourney is recognised by the FA authorities under their community football league after the inaugural edition in 2018. The tournament comprises of the regular men’s shield which would be played between the best EB and MB teams after a round robin ‘derby’ league of three EB and three MB teams
named after their respective Fan Clubs in Bengal. The EB Teams are ‘Prabashe East Bengal’, ‘Red & amp; Gold Warriors’ and BADGEB; and the MB teams are ‘Mariners Base Camp’, ‘Andul Mariners’ and ‘Rokte Amar Mohun Bagan’.

This year Smt. Lakshmi Chopra memorial shield would be the trophy for the eves, to be played by the women folk teams donning EB and MB jerseys, a first of its kind, in memory of the late mother of renowned Indian realtor and educationist Mr. Pradip Chopra who is also a Director of the Heritage Bengal Foundation, a not for profit organization registered in UK and India.

The grand finale would be the final match of the men’s IFA Shield to be played between the best EB and MB teams emerging out of the round robin derby league, who would play for the most coveted Men’s IFA Shield 2021, which is a replica of the IFA Shield of Kolkata Maidan in shape and size.

This year also the star attraction of the one day tournament on the 15 th August would be Mr. Chima Okerie, who would be present as the chief guest. 

Chima Ephraim Okorie is a Nigerian former professional football 

striker who was renowned for his goal scoring prowess in the Indian leagues.He went on to score 131 goals for East Bengal in three seasons, becoming the top scorer in the history of East Bengal crossing K. P. Dhanaraj who had 127 goals, until it was crossed by Bhaichung Bhutia.

It is expected to be a fun-filled Sunday extravaganza for the large community of Bengali diaspora in UK comprising of the ever enthusiastic football lovers, their families, children and the aura of the age old traditional heritage of bangal-ghoti rivalry to establish the supremacy of either of ‘red-and-gold’ or‘green-and-maroon’ as much on the field as on the gallery, to relive the Kolkata maidan’s ‘derby’ memories which were so much part of growing up of our generation of the last century.

By Pratyusha Mukherjee

Pratyusha Mukherjee, a BBC Journalist based in Kolkata

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