Calcutta Football League – Rise of a New Star Amidst Problems Galore
After a thrilling competition last season, this year’s Calcutta Football League turned out to be a pretty one-sided affair although the supporters of East Bengal club are not complaining. However, the league also taught us a few important lessons and will possibly be remembered for the rise of a star player. Kaushik Saha elaborates here at Goalden Times.
Calcutta Football League 2014 was settled on the very last day, with three teams in contention for the crown. This year has been a tame affair onfield, with more drama happening off the field. After Mohun Bagan’s I-League win in 2014–15, this year’s Calcutta Football League started with a lot of promise. There was widespread anticipation that they might finally be able to wrest the crown from East Bengal after five seasons. However, financial troubles forced Mohun Bagan to loan several of their first team players to various ISL teams from the beginning of the season itself.
East Bengal brought in a new coach, Maidan veteran Biswajit Bhattacharya, after a poor finish in I-League. Bhattacharya went about his task quietly, along with his assistants Debjit Ghosh, Sanjay Majhi,and Sammy Omollo. The club also built a good team comprising local players and foreigners. The jackpot they managed was Do Dong Hyun, a South Korean U-23 player, who almost single handedly won East Bengal a few matches in the league.
As a result, East Bengal won the CFL for a record sixth consecutive time, the second time they achieved the same in their and the league’s history (the last one came amidst a glorious run between 1970–75). They also remained unbeaten, the first time this has happened since 2000. However, the path was not exactly rosy as the club began the tournament with a lackluster 1-0 victory, followed by a goalless draw. In two other matches the team was trailing by 0-2, but went on to win eventually. The league saw some spectacular goals— Do Dong scored a few of them, along with Mehtab Hossain(East Bengal), Abinash Ruidas (East Bengal), Azharuddin Mallik (Mohun Bagan), and Christopher Chizoba (Kalighat). Do Dong also scored a fantastic hattrick en route to becoming the top scorer in the league. Mohammedan Sporting beat Police AC 7-0, but their prominence as the third “big team” from Kolkata has long subsided. They barely managed to be fifth in the league this year.
The biggest incidents, however, happened off the field. This includes a major gaffe by Mohun Bagan, where they violated the Governing body of Indian Football Association’s rules by not having a U-23 player on the field. They subsequently lost points because of this. Even in the match against Army XI, which they lost 0-1 (that virtually ended their title challenge), they had a chance to take three points as Army XI had flouted jersey rules. Army XI eventually ended up becoming the runner up through a series of good performances, leaving a demotivated Mohun Bagan far behind. Mohun Bagan finished a forgettable campaign in the third place (the first time in 13 years) behind Army XI. They had the same number of points as Southern Samity, but were ahead on goal difference.
The biggest incidents, however, happened off the field. This includes a major gaffe by Mohun Bagan, where they violated the Governing body of Indian Football Association’s rules by not having a U-23 player on the field.
A match between Southern Samity and Tollygunge Agragami, which Tollygunge won 4-0 and saved themselves from relegation, was allegedly under the spotlight and was briefly investigated by the IFA—the governing body of football in West Bengal. Another goalless match involving Tollygunge and Aryan came under investigation too. The result ensured that the Subhash Bhowmick-coached Tollygunge stay in the top flight of the league. There were issues of matches being washed out due to rain, and some, including a crucial match between Aryan and Mohun Bagan, were halted due to poor light as well.
However, there were a lot of positives too. On display was the pure passion of East Bengal supporters, as they sensed what they now call the historical “Hexa”.They crowded each match their club played, irrespective of venues. The icing on the cake was, of course, the Kolkata Derby played at Salt Lake Stadium. East Bengal beat Mohun Bagan 4-0, the largest margin ever in a CFL Derby.The match was attended by more than 80,000 fans (East Bengal had also beaten Mohun Bagan 4-0 in a 1936 Kolkata Derby match). There were serpentine queues for tickets, and crowds braved the rains to watch their favourite team play. This was reminiscent of the last decades of the past century, when Satellite TV had not invaded our homes. The TV Channel which beamed almost all the matches live claimed that this match had the highest TRP for a single event on that particular channel, with close to 10 lakh people tuning in. The most heartening thing about the league was to see a Kolkata Derby with two Bengali coaches in charge after almost a decade. The Amal Dutta–PK Banerjee era may just be back.
The Korean revolution
When East Bengal signed a little-known South Korean U-23 player under their Asian quota, very few seemed to have heard of him. Do Dong Hyun has played in the A-League (he holds the record for being the youngest foreigner to play there) and the J-League. He has also been a part of the Korea U-20 team and even the Indian Super League, but he was a little-known entity in Indian footballing circles. However, after a terrific 1.5 months, in which Dong almost single handedly won East Bengal the league, he is now being seen as a successor to the great Majid Baskar of Iran.He has been feted as, arguably, the best foreigner to have played in India in terms of pure footballing skills and seems to be a refreshing change from the big-bodied Africans who dominated the Kolkata football scene for the past three decades. Though it’s still early days and Dong has not faced much competition so far, the Korean (recently selected for the South Korea U-23 team) has shown glimpses that with a set and stable team, he can do wonders. No wonder East Bengal extended his contract till the 2018–19 seasons.
However, having said that, Dong (who top scored with 12 goals in 10 matches) has still a long way to go to become the next Majid. He must build a better physique and must develop a habit of controlling the game from the midfield. His speed, dribbling, free kicks, and big-match temperament are a matter of no concern for his team. However, it can be a concern for the opponents. In fact, this year Dong single handedly made sure that the poor performance of other foreigners cutting across clubs was not noticed at all. Here is hoping that Dong can have a long and successful stint in Indian football and can enrich the Kolkata football scene, maybe even bringing a few I Leagues to the state.
The solution to the AIFF conundrum
Recently, AIFF announced a possibility of the merger of the ISL and the I-League because of dwindling crowds in the latter. While they did not specify the details, it was said that lack of viewership in I-League was the major reason for such a move. My sincere request to the powers that be would be to have a look at the recent East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan Derby at Salt Lake Stadium, where more than 80,000 people turned up to watch a match that was of little consequence in a minor league. Why doesn’t AIFF arrange a series of East Bengal–Mohun Bagan derbies across cities where the two clubs have a healthy fan following? Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Guwahati, and Siliguri can be possible venues. This will ensure that (a) the two clubs don’t fall on hard times and have to loan players out, and (b) a revived interest in Indian football by fans of these two clubs. This is because this rivalry is not ordinary.It’s a battle of egos, identities, and cultures—the three things that drive a human being. It’s also the only rivalry that made the top 10 list of major football rivalries from a nation ranked below 100 in the FIFA list.
Image Source – PTI
Calcutta Football League 2014: A Review
It is not often that a local Indian league becomes the main topic of discussion in football circles, especially with several high profile global leagues, a newly launched football super league in India, Euro Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies in full swing. Kaushik Saha takes a look at one of the most exciting finishes to the Calcutta Football League in recent times, which revived interest in the moribund tournament.
In the past decade and a half (or more), the Calcutta Football League (which has undergone several name and format changes, mainly due to organisational reasons) has become the epitome of inefficiency, poor management, and a passing-on-the-buck syndrome on part of the organizers—the Indian Football Association (IFA). There have been occasions in the not-too-distant-past when teams forced changes in schedules at will, matches were played in random between India’s top flight national football league matches, and tournaments started in July one year and finished in May the next year. Long, erratic, and irrational schedules meant that the smaller teams were never in a state to compete with the Big Two—East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. This led to a loss of interest among fans to such an extent that even the most sought-after Derby matches between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were played in half-empty stadiums. There was little or no sponsorship, little media coverage outside West Bengal, and very little attention from stakeholders like advertisers and TV channels.
However, all this changed this year. The much-maligned IFA Secretary, Utpal Ganguly, and his team made several sweeping changes to the schedule and format. First, the double-leg system was done away with. Just 11 teams were chosen to play in order to reduce the number of meaningless matches. The League was scheduled to finish in a span of one-and-a-half months, before the start of any other major national level tournament elsewhere. A TV partner was roped in, and all matches started at the same time of the day (unlike earlier gimmicks, where Derby matches started later in the evening) so that the maximum number of matches were telecast live (actually 39 out of 55 matches were telecast live, including matches between lowly ranked teams).
All the above had a positive impact. The single-leg format and short span of time for completion of the tournament meant that the smaller teams had to spend less money on training and the teams could gel together. This had the desired effect, as some of them—Army XI, Southern Samity, and, of course, Tollygunge Agragami, gave the big two a run for their money. Mohammedan Sporting also managed to beat both, something no team had done in the past two decades. Another very interesting development came about, which is expected to have a very positive effect on Bengal football in the long run.
The Indian Super League, scheduled to begin on October 12, enforced the rule that players selected to play for the various teams cannot play any competitive football from September 1 onwards. This led to the major teams releasing most players from their first team by August 31, and, as a result, forced to play reserves or young players. This had a positive effect on both the players, who got a rare chance to prove themselves, and the teams who found out that in case of injury to their main stars, they actually have players to fall back upon. The emergence of such new players, most of whom are home grown and trained in local academies, augurs well for Bengal football as these youngsters look to revive lost glory in Santosh trophy.
This season was also the battle of the coaches and technical directors—the stars, the former players, the maidan veterans, the wily foxes and experienced hands. Armando Colaco, Subrata Bhattacharya, Subhash Bhowmick, Chima Okorie, Raghu Nandi, and his son Rajdeep all contributed in their own ways in making this League a thrilling one. Then, there were the marquee players—Pierre Boya of Mohun Bagan who has played in the UEFA Champions’ League and Leo Bertos of East Bengal who had represented New Zealand in the 2010 FIFA World Cup—who added the necessary color and spice,and attracted a number of sponsors as well as eyeballs. The best part of the entire League was that it managed to get the crowds back to the stadiums—Yuva Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake) and Barasat Stadium.
An exciting finish, a string of upsets, and a major comeback
The League began with a bang, when, on the opening day (August 10), Mohammedan Sporting defeated the four-time defending champions East Bengal 1-0 via a wonderful strike by youngster Imran Khan and some superb goalkeeping by Arnab Dassharma (reminding viewers and reporters of the Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the Mexico vs. Brazil match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup). Some dogged defending by Lal Daniela and Sunil Kumar ensured their best start to a season in five years. Their maverick coach, Fuja Tope, then plotted the defeat of Mohun Bagan a few days later. However, towards the end of season, a series of setbacks—notably, defeats to Army XI and Tollygunge Agragami (an eight-goal thriller where Tollygunge won 5-3) laid their hopes to rest.
East Bengal, after an ordinary beginning, managed to beat BNR, and then had a game called off against Chima Okorie-coached Police AC due to bad light. Their season plunged into further misery after they managed a 1-1 draw vs. the lowly ranked Kalighat, despite playing World Cupper Leo Bartois. However, the arrival of Nigerian Striker Dudu Omagbemi and his partnership with Ranty Martins, one of Indian football’s most prolific strikers of this century, changed their destiny. The duo teamed up well and scored at will as they led East Bengal to a Derby win vs. Mohun Bagan, which was followed by winning the title. Dudu (with two hattricks) also emerged the top goal scorer along with Koko Sakibo of Tollygunge Agragami (though, it must be noted, Dudu played four matches less). This title is the fifth one in a row for East Bengal (they are the only team to have won the League in five consecutive years, and that too on two separate occasions. In 1970-75, they won six times at a stretch, a feat which included their performance in the year 1972 when they won the League without conceding a goal) and represents a victory of the idea of the “youth first” strategy of coach Armando Colaco who had declared long back that he views the league as a launchpad for the I-League. It was a brilliant team effort, where seniors like Mehtab Hossain and Joaquim Abranches led the way for youngsters like Abinash Ruidas to take over.
Arch rivals Mohun Bagan played good football for five out of six weeks, and won eight out of ten matches. However, one bad week, where they lost to both Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal in a span of eight days, put their hopes to rest. However, Mohun Bagan can take heart from the fact that they may finally have assimilated a team which can win a trophy for them after a few barren years. Kingshuk Debnath and Shouvik Ghosh have looked solid in defense, Balwant Singh has emerged as a prolific scorer, and, after a few initial hiccups, Pierre Boya is finally starting to show his class. Lalkamal Bhowmick has been a calming influence in the midfield and Shilton Paul has led the team well from under the bar. The Mohun Bagan Technical Director this season is maidan veteran Subhash Bhowmick, while the team’s coach is Shankarlal Chakrabarty, a wily customer of many a big match himself. The man often (dis)credited with having ended Shankarlal’s football career, and one of the best foreigners to have ever played in the Kolkata maidans, Chima Okorie, coached the Police AC team this year (after being associated for a short while with Mumbai FC and Mohun Bagan). The team started off well, but a 1–6 defeat to Kalighat MSC made Chima resign in tears.
Raghu Nandi, a former East Bengal player and a veteran coach who is credited with building teams from scratch, coached Southern Samity this season—a team that played good football, especially against East Bengal. Raghu Nandi joined Southern Samity after being unceremoniously forced to resign from Tollygunge Agragami, soon after he led them to credible results in the 2013-14 season (Subrata Bhattacharya was made his boss at a short notice). His son Rajdeep made his coaching debut this season for Aryan. Another team that deserves a special mention is SAI (East Zone), who, playing without a foreigner, played well against Mohun Bagan and nearly held them to a draw. They were also impressive in a 4-1 defeat of BNR, which was led by youngster Azharuddin Mallick.
Finally, a word and two about the two teams responsible for taking the league to the wire—Army XI and Tollygunge Agragami. Army XI is a team composed of 20-25-year olds who are engaged in service with the Indian Army. The team does not employ foreigners. However, they put up an impressive show, especially Anthony Chetri in defense and Arjun Tudu in attack. They led the League table till the seventh round, having chalked up impressive victories over teams like Mohammedan, SAI, Southern Samity, and Aryan. They fought East Bengal on an even keel before losing 1-4, courtesy a Dudu Hattrick, and ran Mohun Bagan close, before a Balwant hattrick sunk them. They finished fourth eventually, their best-ever finish in nearly three decades.
Tollygunge Agragami was coached by the wily Subrata Bhattacharya, considered widely to be one of the best coaches in India. They began with a 0-1 loss to Mohun Bagan, but chalked up impressive wins to lead the League on goal difference going into the last set of matches. They also ended up conceding the least number of goals, courtesy a solid defense led by youngsters like Shanku Guha, Goutam Thakur, and Sheikh Habibur. In fact, six of the seven goals they conceded were scored by East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and Mohammedan Sporting. Their 5-3 win against Mohammedan was considered the match of the tournament. They also had a strong attack led by joint top scorer Koko and Daniel Bidemi, and a defense marshalled by Bello Razzaq.
The League went down to the wire, and, on the last day, the scenario was such that any of the following three—Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, and Tollygunge Agragami—could have won the League. If they had managed to beat East Bengal, Tollygunge would have been the first team outside East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and Mohammedan Sporting to win the CFL since Eastern Railway FC, captained by P. K. Banerjee, did it in 1958. A draw in the last match would have seen Mohun Bagan win the League, the first incidence when one of the Big Three would have won the league despite having lost to the other two. However, East Bengal held their nerves, and beat Tollygunge Agragami 2-1. The winner was scored by Ranty Martins, but it was Prohlad Roy, the scorer of the first goal, who stole the limelight.
Prohlad Roy is one among a bunch of youngsters who benefitted from the Indian Soccer League. This is not because they have been directly selected to play for the League, but because they were mostly taken off the reserve team and selected to play for the first team after the regulars were selected to play for ISL and their contract forbade them to take part in the CFL post September 1. Roy, along with players like Abinash Ruidas, Abhishek Das (all East Bengal), Sukhen Dey and Shouvik Ghosh (Mohun Bagan) represent a new breed of local players who can go far if given the right opportunities. Given the fact that Santosh trophy is now an under-23 tournament, Bengal, led by these youngsters has a good team now which can bring back the glory days. Credit must be given to Colaco and Bhowmick for giving these youngsters the chance to develop. If one needs any confirmation as to the talent of these youngsters, check out this world class goal by Prohlad Roy.
A special mention must be made of the newly promoted club, Pathachakra. After United Sports was disbanded following financial reasons, their coach Nabab Bhattacharya joined a second-division team called Pathachakra. With limited resources and local players (most of whom are under the age of 21), Nabab led the team to second-division glory.
The good, the bad and the ugly
IFA has extensively used lady referees and lineswomen this time. This is to bring down crowd, official, and player violence towards match officials after results or decisions. A star referee this time has been Kanika Barman, a diminutive Government servant who did an excellent job and kept her cool, even in volatile situations. After winning the League, East bengal coach Armando Colaco dedicated the League to the Kashmir flood victims and appealed for donations from club supporters.
Despite all the efforts by IFA, violence by officials and crowds has not really gone away. Mohammedan officials and supporters physically assaulted referee Pranjal Banerjee after the former’s 3-5 defeat to Tollygunge Agragami, as they felt they have been denied a penalty. East Bengal supporters and Southern Samity coach Raghu Nandi were also involved in a similar incident after East Bengal’s narrow 1-0 victory. Subrata Bhattacharya continued allegations that officials had favored East Bengal in the title-deciding match.
Endurance James of BNR made ugly sexist gestures at referee Kanika Barman in their 1-2 defeat at the hands of Mohun Bagan. There were widespread calls from former players, the State Commission For Women, and other football officials to ban James or even deport him, but nothing happened. BNR simply looked away as their best player was involved. Even the lady downplayed the incident, possibly under pressure from the Referee Association and political parties.
Team of the tournament
All said and done, this was an exciting tournament, which ended on a high note for a lot of stakeholders—the officials who were paid well due to better sponsorship, the IFA, the TV channel which telecast the matches live, the players, and, of course, the crowds The team of the tournament is as follows (strictly based on performances in the CFL and keeping in mind that only two foreigners are allowed per match and keeping a 4-3-3 formation):
Goalkeeper: Raju Ganguly (Tollygunge Agragami)
Defense: Abhishek Das and Abhra Mondal (East Bengal), Anthony Chetri (Army XI), Imran Khan (Mohammedan Sporting)
Midfield: Lalkamal Bhoumick (Mohun Bagan), Prohlad Roy and Abinash Ruidas (East Bengal)
Forward: Balwant Singh (Mohun Bagan), Dudu Omagbemi (East Bengal), Koko Sakibo (Tollygunge Agragami)Coach: Armando Colaco (East Bengal)
An Eye on I-League : The Ball gets Rolling
With the top division football league in India commencing this month, intriguing battles await the coming weeks. Debojyoti Chakraborty tracks down the proceedings in the I-League through a monthly review series. Here is the first instalment
The national football league of India, popularly known as the I-League, kick-started on October 6, 2012 with a new sense of expectation. Much like the football revolution taking place in England, a lesser known club – Prayag United, who have not won anything significant till date in their short history – have been making the news by building a strong team, with a string of high-profile signings, to compete in this year’s edition. With the usual favourites, Dempo and some strong contenders like East Bengal, Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar already in the fray, this will surely light up the scene in coming months.
There was no shortage of goals in the first round of matches. Only East Bengal and Sporting Clube de Goa drew blanks. Other than that, each match saw at least two goals with Prayag United’s 5-1 hammering of Air India topping the charts. Prayag United is the team to watch out for this season as they have splashed out cash (with a bit of Middle-East / Russian influence!) and their star man Ranti Martins, captured from Goa, did not disappoint as he started the campaign with a hat-trick. This win was even more impressive considering they had to play with ten men for 70 minutes after their influential centre-half, Bello Rasaq got sent off.
Similarly impressive were United Sikkim, brainchild of the iconic Indian forward Baichung Bhutia, who twice came back from behind to beat Salgaocar in a 3-2 thriller. Pailan Arrows, the U-19 team put up by the AIFF, showed similar fighting spirit to defeat Mumbai FC by the same scoreline. ONGC, another lowly football club in the competition, too put up a brave face but lost 2-3 to Pune FC.
There was no such fight seen in the match against Shillong Lajong where Mohun Bagan lost 0-2. After the much hyped pairing of Odafa Okolie and Tolgay Özbey misfired there was not much left in the team to draw inspiration from. Elsewhere, Dempo had the final say in a 2-1 local derby win over Churchill Brothers.
Dempo showed why they are the best club in India for the last few years with a 5-0 thrashing of local rivals Sporting Clube de Goa. Churchill Brothers also kept up the pace by beating ONGC with similar margins. Another title contender, East Bengal, had to rely on a deflected free kick to win by 1-0 against United Sikkim.
Prayag United kept up their good show and in the process brought in more misery for Mohun Bagan with a 2-1 win. This result saw the Kolkata giants with no points from two matches and brought in the first casualty of the season in the form of coach Santosh Kashyap.
Elsewhere, Pailan Arrows kept on surprising people with their back-to-back win, this time against Mumbai FC while Pune FC kept up their pace with another win against Mumbai FC. Shillong Lajong were able to hold on to a 1-1 draw against Salgaocar, thus keeping the Goan club in the bottom half of the table.
So, after two rounds of matches, we have seen 50 goals at an average of more than 3.5 per game and already one of the coaches have been shown the exit door. Kashyap is not going to be the last man sacked this season, one may feel. Dempo sit pretty at the top of the table with team of the season, Prayag United. Joining them are the steady Pune FC and minnows Pailan Arrows, who have won two matches – same number of wins they could manage in the entire last season. Mumbai FC, Mohun Bagan, Air India and ONGC are all looking to open their accounts while Sporting Clube de Goa will be the last team this season to score a goal. But these are early days and we are sure more surprises and drama will be unfolded before we draw the curtains.
A flurry of goals speaks volumes of the foreign players’ – mainly forwards and advanced playmakers – influence in the I-League. So it is not surprising to see two foreigners with one hat-trick apiece already under their belt forming the partnership up front in our team of the month – Ranti Martins (Prayag United) and Akram Moghrabi (Churchill Brothers). The linkman would be Carlos Hernández who has already mesmerized everyone with his passing and free kick taking skills during his short stint with Prayag United. Beto from Churchill Brothers will give him able company in the middle of park who himself is another superb dead ball specialist. Clifford Miranda of Dempo will occupy the left side of the midfield by virtue of his brace against Sporting Clube de Goa. The last place in the midfield goes to the youngster from Pailan Arrows, Milan Singh Ongnam. Subhasish Roy Chowdhury from Dempo has looked very much assured under the bars and he takes the keeper’s spot. East Bengal is the only team with a clean sheet so far and much of that credit should go to centre-half Uga Okpara. He is partnered by Bilal Sheikh El Najarin from Churchill Brothers who has been strong in defence as well as scored one against ONGC. They are flanked by Sukhen Dey of Prayag United by virtue of his fine defensive display, especially against Mohun Bagan and Khangembam Jeevan Singh from Lajong FC.
Team of the month: Subhasish Roy Chowdhury (Dempo); Sukhen Dey (Prayag United), Uga Okpara (East Bengal), Bilal Sheikh El Najarin (Churchill Brothers), Khangembam Jeevan Singh (Lajong FC); Milan Singh Ongnam (Pailan Arrows), Beto (Churchill Brothers), Carlos Hernández (Prayag United), Clifford Miranda (Dempo); Ranti Martins (Prayag United), Akram Moghrabi (Churchill Brothers).
Indian National League (I-League) 2011-12 Season Review
With the Indian domestic football season having come to a close in May, Debojyoti Chakraborty summarizes the nation’s top-tier football league
The top-tier football league in India, known as the I-League, came to a close in May and Dempo Sports Club won the 16th edition leaving behind 13 others vying for the honour. The tournament started in 1996-97 as the National Football League to bring in professionalism in an age-old and dying Indian football system. It may seem contrasting but the national team was at its highest ever FIFA ranking of 94 at the start of 1996 but has seen an all-time low of 165 in April, 2012. However, football remains a hugely popular sport in India, more so in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, where it is treated as a religion. Let us start our journey showcasing a recap of the season that just got over.