3/7/2018 3:06:07 PM (GMT+3)

Why my heart will always be with Mohun Bagan

Why my heart will always be with Mohun Bagan

NEW DELHI, India: Every time someone brings up the whole shindig about Mohun Bagan being that club, which had won that Indian Football Association (IFA) Shield match, against the East Yorkshire Regiment in 1911, I start groaning.

The groan turns into a full-blown moan when that piece of history taken out of the freezer is told with the accompanying piece of information: ‘The players actually played barefoot!’ As if playing without boots – or, for that matter, without shorts – adds a particular shimmer to the greatness of playing football.

Mohun Bagan Athletic Club is my football club. I was once a card-carrying member, and you’re right if that vaguely sounds like being the member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Because the way I voted CPI(M) when I came of voting age in the early 90s – blindly, without reading up any pamphlet, attending any rally – I entered the tribe of Bagan in the late 70s, without question, and without choice, simply because my family from both sides were unerringly, unwaveringly Mohun Bagan supporters. (In the field of political affiliation, though, my mother’s side was trenchantly pro-Congress, that may have later manifested in my anti-Left Front stirrings.)

Yes, there was that whole business of the ghoti-bangal (West Bengal-East Bengali) thingie that was ratcheted up when I was in my teens. But the football – and footballers like Shyam Thapa, Bidesh Bose, Shivaji Banerjee (who lived near our house in Beleghata in east Calutta), and the divine Xavier Pius – made much else redundant while this manufactured west-east parameter grew diluted over the years except in ossified, mental glue-manufacturing circles. Some of the most trenchant and loving Bagan supporters I know are 'easterners'.

But yes, East Bengal was, and remains, Moriarty to our Holmes. The pleasure of seeing them lose comes only second to seeing us win. 

I missed the famous match in 1977 against Pele’s Cosmos that Bagan famously drew 2-2 -- making many of us come to the crypto-mathematical conclusion that Bagan was as good as the American club (with extra sniggers at ‘American’ and ‘soccer’), and that Shivaji, who stopped an 'unstoppable' Pele goal, was at par with the great Soviet gatekeeper Lev Yashin.

But I was there at the Maidan in 1978, with a neighbourhood friend and his brother, witnessing the fuck-you-gravity bicycle kick – we would call it ‘back-volley’ -- that Shyam Thapa netted into the East Bengal goal from a Subhash Bhowmick cross.

From the stands, I could not see East Bengal goalie Bhaskar Ganguly’s face. I just imagined it and imagined, at age 7, that this must be what sexual satisfaction was. 

I have also dreamt about Shyam Thapa’s back-volley goal over and over and over again over the decades -- over all the re-visions of moves and goals by Maradona, Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Leo Messi.... In my head, it's almost always Ground Thapa Day.

But Mohun Bagan is not just about mohan memories. I remember rueing the fact that I could not attend Jose Barreto’s farewell match at the Salt Lake Stadium in May 2012. I was returning home to Delhi, toying with the idea of cancelling my flight and joining the truckload of fans in front of me on the Eastern Bypass so near the bloody stadium, waving the green and maroon, on their way to watch our club, my club, play Pune FC in the I-League. The moment I landed in Delhi, I opened my phone to check the score. We had won 2-0 and the great Baretto had scored one of the goals. I tipped my taxi XL that evening.

Bagan, for me, is a club in the here and now, the past being a nice tub to dip into when the back needs some nostalgia. At the deciding match of I-League 2014-15 in Bengaluru, I was on the edge of the edge of my seat, even after Bagan’s Bello Razaq's 84th minute title-winning equaliser.

In that November, 2015 joy, I lost my third pair of glasses. 

In the after-match Mohun Bagan 'party' -- where, honestly, I had expected McDowell’s to flow for us well-marinated Mariners – I celebrated with Bagan fans and players by chomping on bhaat-mangsho (rice-mutton curry) that suddenly seemed to have intoxicatory properties.

I had the fan pleasure of talking with a (quiet) Pierre Boya -- whose contract was up and he was ready to go and who had given so much to the club, playing dada to younger talents like Sony Norde and Katsumi Yusa. And I was relieved to see Katsumi high as a kite on top of a falcon, giggling like a girl and bopping about the hotel lobby while a slightly embarrassed Norde and Shilton Paul looked on smiling like choirboys.

Loyalty to a club can be more unwavering and genuine than loyalty to more mythological beasts such as community or nation.

In this sense, Mohun Bagan is like the offshoot of a family whose football I follow. The quality of football can, at times, be enervating -- I have mastered the choicest of expletives directed at player and club administrators from the safety of my TV screen this way -- and at other occasions, sublime.

But like a favourite uncle who can get highly embarrassing (“Women fly planes these days? Ore baba!”) or drive you up the wall, he remains your uncle, in sickness and in health, in poorness and in wealth. And when Bagan plays and wins, savouring those bouts of 90s minutes and what then comes -- paralysing despair or endorphinal joy -- is like savouring no other victory on four-cornered rectangular Earth.

So what if other people have uncles like FC Barcelona or Manchester City or FC Didgeridoo? Now, just go and win the season title tomorrow, Bagan!

(The writer is Editor, Views & Sports, The Economic Times. He lives in Delhi)