Calcutta Football League 2013-14
As the football season across the world gathers momentum, quietly but surely, so does the local football league in Kolkata, India. The once much-coveted title has lost its glory days but still presents some age-old enigma of its own. Debojyoti Chakraborty reflects upon it
Come the weekend and every football lover will cherish a sporting extravaganza – football leagues around the world will showcase some nail-biting matches, some charismatic display of brilliance, and sometimes a few controversial incidents. In a nutshell, this is a masala entertainer to top the charts. But closer home, we have something which began its journey before most of these popular (and of course, world class) leagues started.
Calcutta Football League (CFL) is the oldest league in Asia dating back to 1898. 157 teams contest in this six-tier league structure. In Europe, regional football leagues primarily feature some amateur players, some youngsters who are often scouted by clubs playing in professional / national football league environment. But CFL is quite distinct in this regard. Indian Football Association (IFA) masterminded the league five years after its inception and for more than a century established it as the most glamorous, attractive and fiercely competitive competition in India. Before the advent of any national football league in India, CFL was the most sought-after league title in the country. This is primarily due to the fact that Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) has been the Mecca of football in India. Players could come into national recognition and be worshipped by thousands only if they made a name for themselves by playing in this part of the country.
The league is dominated by two clubs – Kingfisher East Bengal and McDowell Mohun Bagan – who have shared the honours since 1982. Another club Mohammedan SC, part of the Big Three in Kolkata football circuit, has faded over the years and is currently undergoing a rebuilding phase. United Sports Club, who complete the representation from Kolkata to the I-League had formed a strong team but unfortunately is going through tremendous financial crisis. 16 more teams battle it out in the CFL qualifying for 8 remaining spots to join these four super powers of Kolkata in the Super 12 of CFL 2013-14.
East Bengal have won the title for last three seasons in a row and they start the tournament again as one of the favourites. They have a settled team which is playing together for last few seasons and to the credit of the team management, they have been able to keep the core group intact. But one major change comes in the form of new team manager. After three immensely successful years with the club, fan favourite Trevor James Morgan from England decided to call it a day and his post has been taken up by Brazilian Marcos Falopa. This is the first season in India for the much travelled coach and it will be interesting to see how he stamps his authority in the club.
East Bengal generally favour a 4-1-3-2 formation. Uga Okpara from Nigeria marshals the defence and has been rock solid since he joined the club in 2010. Mehtab Hussain, the club captain, is the engine room for the team, as he sits in front of the back four and dictates the play. The Nigerian Penn Orji used to be the playmaker for the Red and Gold brigade playing in the hole behind the strikers. This year, his position would be taken up by the Japanese player, Ryuji Sueoka. And up front it would be another Nigerian, Chidi Edeh and new recruit James Moga from Sudan – if they get the ball in the danger area, goals will surely come.
Mohun Bagan would like to challenge their archrivals for the league. They did not have the best of last few seasons and coach Karim Bencherifa would hope for a change of fortunes this time round. Mohun Bagan is much dependent on their captain, frontman Odafe Okolie from Nigeria, a proven goalscorer in Indian football. He would look forward to a successful pairing with strike partner, new recruit Eric Muranda from Kenya. Another new entrant to the team, Japanese Katsumi Yusa, along with Denson Devadas will provide the supplies from midfield in a classic 4-4-2 formation. Defensive leadership will be taken up by Nigerian Anyichie Echezona and he would have to galvanize a young back line.
Mohammedan Sporting club have put up a strong team after a long time. The hard work has been rewarded in the form of Durand Cup – one of the oldest tournaments in world football – just days back. The team is built around Nigerian Penn Orji, ex-East Bengal midfield maestro and Australian striker Tolgay Özbey, the controversial striker who has had stints with both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. At the helm will be new man Abdul Aziz from Nigeria.
United SC have hit a roadblock as they face hard times ahead due to their main sponsor being charged with financial fraudulent activities. Nevertheless, their players and coach Eelco Schattorie from Netherlands, have shown tremendous commitment as they have agreed to play with no or minimal payment so far. United have a strong team which is headed by star striker Ranti Martins from Nigeria, by far the best goalscorer to play in Indian soil in a long long time.
In the new millennium, Indian football is marketed in a much better way. Corporate houses have come in, there is more economic stability in the game, and clubs from Goa and Mumbai have challenged the supremacy of Kolkata. I-League, the national football league in India, is the most lucrative competition going around along with the Federation Cup, the premier cup competition of the country. Winners of both these trophies get to contest in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup – so there is huge honour and prize money at stake. Nonetheless, millions of jubilant fans of football from Kolkata still gather for the CFL matches. You will witness utter chaos and black-marketing of tickets before the local derby. And it is not only the elderly people, the gen-Y fans who bask themselves in the glory of Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus go viral in the social media before a crunch match in CFL. Actually, it does not matter at which level the beautiful game is being played, what they cherish is the fierce competition put on display, the passion for their local heroes and a sense of attachment with their beloved clubs.