Only last Sunday, Mohun Bagan A.C. from Kolkata won the I-League title and strongly underlined the city’s dominance of Indian football in 2015. The West Bengalis traveled to Bengaluru, home of second placed Bengaluru FC, with a two point cushion and came back with the required draw, after Nigerian centre back Bello Razaq scored his first-ever goal for Mohun Bagan, with only four minutes left to play. In many ways, this was a fairytale ending to an exciting and great season that saw the Kolkatans concede only 16 goals in 20 games. The drama that was added by Razaq’s first goal and the fact that it came so late in a game that looked like it was going Bengaluru’s way, provided the obligatory icing on the cake. The Nigerian’s first goal also meant Mohun’s first title and the first time the city could celebrate two football champions within such a short period of time.
Just a few months ago, in December to be precise, newly-founded Atletico de Kolkata beat Kerala Blasters at DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai to claim the inaugural title of the Indian Super League. In front of over 36,000 spectators, they too made it extremely exciting and scored their winning goal in the fifth minute of injury time to secure a 1-0 victory over the south Indians. Similar to Bello Razaq, Atletico’s goalscorer, talented Indian youngster Mohammed Rafique, provided the header to beat ex-England international goalkeeper David James with his first goal for the club.
Managed by former Bolivia manager Antonio Lopez, Atletico made a strong start to the inaugural Indian Super League, but struggled to win any of their last four fixtures of the regular season. As such, many had not thought that the Kolkatans would make it all the way to the final, let alone lift the ISL title. However, Atletico showed some incredible levels of resilience during the play-offs and managed to keep a clean sheet across the whole of the post-season. Although some luck was needed against FC Goa in the semis, when they won a penalty shoot-out after two goalless draws, the strong defensive unit that provided Kolkata’s backbone managed to hold on and win the title in dramatic fashion. In the end, the West Bengalis had the second strongest defence after FC Goa.
Given these most recent developments, it seems as though, Kolkata can become India’s equivalent of England’s North-West that dominates English football’s record books with clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester United part of the region. Despite the recent success of West Bengal’s football teams, the region has long been known for an incredible amount of passion for the sport. Along with Goa and Kerala, the north east of India is a hotspot of football. The state of of West Bengal is home to high profile I-League clubs Mohun Bagan and East Bengal FC, and of course, to ISL champions Atletico de Kolkata.
In addition to this, Kolkata is home to India’s largest stadium, Salt Lake Stadium. Once the second largest stadium in the world, the venue was recently downsized to a capacity of 68,000, but this has not prevented the atmosphere from being incredibly hair-raising. During the first ISL season, Atletico de Kolkata managed an average attendance of 45,171, with a league-record crowd of 65,000 in their first game against Mumbai City. These figures speak for themselves and the world has become witness to a league and a region that is hungry for football.
Along with Goa and Kerala, Kolkata finds itself at the forefront of the country’s football hype. Intriguingly, Kolkatans have spent the last few months achieving some fantastic levels of success for the good of the sport across the whole country. As such, it is not too risky to believe that Indian football will continue to thrive based on the on-going efforts of the above regions and cities. Indian football’s two most desirable crowns are firmly placed in Kolkata and it will now be up to the rest of the country to challenge for the throne.