All roads lead to the Salt Lake Stadium

The other day, an old school pal, a NRI presently employed in one of the World’s leading software organisations in England, called to check whether he would be able to catch the Kolkata Derby online.

The chat evolved around memories; memories of many a match where we, some two decades back (or even more), had been a part of the clash from different sections of the gallery. Results varied and everyday we had all gone back Home with our hands up – either on the head or in the air – either in agony or ecstasy.

But the to and fro journey had always been together. A day prior to the Kolkata Derby, the first in the 2012/13 season, you gather, two decades hasn’t taken away anything. The smell in the air, the buzz, the tension – the charm stays the same.

The colossal Eden Gardens has always stayed evidence of the buildup. It will even narrate you many an experience of even hosting the Derby till the 1980s. And on Friday, even as it hosted a Test match, the jam outside wasn’t a cricket jam; rather a football jam. The two clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal stay a stone’s throw away from the Gardens.

The Youngest Youth Coach of the World, India U-22 Coach and presently coaching Pailan Arrows, Arthur Papas can’t wait any longer for the Derby to kick-off. At the Pailan Arrows’ practice on Saturday morning, Papas enquired about almost everything.

“I’m looking forward to the Derby for long. One hundred thousand people for a football match! What a craze,” he shakes his head. “I have heard a lot about this match. It’s just a day away.”

National Coach Wim Koevermans who has been travelling to all the I-League Centres to select a “shadow-team,” will also be there at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday (December 9). “I know about it. It’s a Big Derby. I stay eager to watch it,” Koevermans maintains.

History and Nostalgia defines the Derby to all. In Bengal, as they say, none can stay neutral on the day; not even the womenfolk. Folklore can narrate you so many stories. One more waits to be stitched.

The rivalry between the hosts East Bengal (it’s their Home-match) and Mohun Bagan has a lot to do with the socio-cultural aspect. The match has always been seen as a ‘Derby’ between Bangals and the Ghotis.

The partition of the Country had forced many an individual to leave their place and move over. Post 1947 (or even pre-independence), all those who moved from Bangladesh, stay Bangals. They root for East Bengal. While, all those who have stayed the natives in West Bengal for ages are referred to as Ghotis. They root for Mohun Bagan. The best part stays the rivalry stays concentrated to just the field – for those ninety minutes. The to and fro journey from residence to stadium, stay together.

The Salt Lake Stadium awaits! After all, it holds the record (unofficial) for attendance foe any Derby match – the Federation Cup semifinal in 1997 when 134,000 stayed inside – a match synonymous with Bhaichung Bhutia. One remembers how black marketers had made a fortune over the match, a 10 rupee ticket sold for more than Rs. 300 that time.

Hands, as ever, will be up – either on the Head or in the air; either in agony or ecstasy. Let’s not dig deep into analysis at the moment. It’s East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan. Everything else stays immaterial.