Born out of adversity, East Bengal have sailed relatively smoothly over their 100 years to become one of India's most successful and glamorous clubs. Their history is studded with many big victories, resonating not just on the Kolkata Maidan or even in India but across Asia too; we've chosen some of the most important and memorable of those wins.
May 28, 1925
The birth of a rivalry
Established in 1920, it would take East Bengal five years to gain entry into the Indian Football Association's (IFA) marquee event -- the Calcutta Football League (CFL). Their first clash with rivals Mohun Bagan came on the back of their maiden CFL match win, a 2-1 result against Dalhousie. Nepal Chakravarty scored the only goal of the match for East Bengal, and a rivalry was born.
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) August 1, 2020
August 9, 1945
Pugsley turns unexpected hero
If 1925 led to the birth of the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan rivalry, it was the IFA Shield final of 1945 where it really took shape. Bagan, winners in 1911, were appearing in just their third final since, having lost to Calcutta FC and Aryans Club in those outings. East Bengal had won the 1943 Shield, and also emerged CFL winners.
Two days before the final, one of East Bengal's best defenders Pramod Dasgupta was ruled out of the match, allegedly attacked by a group of masked miscreants. East Bengal's first foreign player, Anglo-Burmese Fred Pugsley, who had moved to India following disturbances in Yangon (erstwhile Rangoon), made the team at the last minute, and scored with a tap-in off a rebound. East Bengal had done the double for the first time.
September 25, 1970
PK Banerjee outsmarts PAS Club
An 80,000-strong crowd gathered at the Eden Gardens as East Bengal faced PAS Club of Iran in the IFA Shield final. PAS had players from the Iran national team, which had won the AFC Asian Cup in 1968 and were just embarking on a hat trick of continental titles. Their foreigners came from Israel. Morocco, El Salvador and erstwhile Soviet Union.
However, East Bengal were just embarking on a golden decade of success under coach PK Banerjee. They won the CFL without conceding a single goal that season, and had players like Peter Thangaraj, and an ageing but versatile Prashanta Sinha in midfield. Banerjee employed Sinha in a defensive role, and Parimal Dey came on as a substitute for Mohammad Habib late in the game and scored the winner in injury time. It was the first Shield final win against a foreign team since independence.
September 30, 1975
Five-star performance leaves Bagan stunned
East Bengal spent 1559 days unbeaten against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan, but that hoodoo had been broken at the Durand Cup in January 1975 by the time the two clubs clashed again in the IFA Shield final at the Mohun Bagan ground. The form book pointed towards East Bengal -- they had won their sixth consecutive CFL, doing so by winning all their matches -- but little could someone have imagined the lop-sided nature of the contest.
Shyam Thapa scored twice, supported by strikes from Surajit Sengupta, Ranjit Mukherjee and Subhankar Sanyal, as East Bengal scored five goals without reply. Bagan stars Subrata Bhattacharya and Prasun Banerjee had to spend the night hiding in a boat on the river Ganges, to keep the irate fans at bay. Incidentally, Banerjee's elder brother PK was the coach of East Bengal for this game.
January 19, 1986
Stint at the Asian Club Championship
If you think FC Goa will become the first Indian club to compete in the AFC Champions League, you would be technically correct, but you must remember that Asia's top club competition was called the Asian Club Championship up to 2003. East Bengal qualified to become the first club from India to play the tournament major in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1986, though Mysore, Bengal and Punjab Police had participated in 1969, 1970 and 1971 in the earlier variant, the Asian Champion Club tournament.
East Bengal had comprehensively won the Central Asian qualifiers in Colombo, scoring 20 goals and conceding none against five opponents, but found the going tougher at the higher level. They lost 2-1 to home side Al Ahli, and a defeat two days on to Tiga Berlian of Indonesia put paid to hopes of a top four finish on debut.
July 13, 1997
Remember the name, Bhaichung Bhutia
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal met in the IFA Shield semi-final in front of a recorded crowd of 1,31,781 at the Salt Lake Stadium. Coach Amal Dutta's Bagan had the more experienced side, but PK Banerjee had a 20-year-old striker by the name of Bhaichung Bhutia up his sleeves.
The first half was cagey, and tactical, and East Bengal led narrowly with a Nazimul Haque conversion. The second half would see Bhutia imprint his name in derby history, becoming the first to have scored a competitive hat trick in matches between the clubs, as East Bengal played counter-attacking football to run out 4-1 winners.
April 30, 2001
Another thrilling title
Bagan had already picked up two National Football League (NFL) titles when East Bengal stood on the cusp of their first on the final day of April. The two Kolkata clubs led the points table, East Bengal on 43 and Bagan one behind, and were faced with away matches against State Bank of Travancore (SBT) and Indian Telephone Industries (ITI), respectively.
SBT, playing in Thiruvananthapuram, had the added incentive of needing a win to avoid relegation, with former champions JCT alongside them on 20 points, and only Air India (18) below them. However, their goalkeeper Feroze Sharif had a poor game, and East Bengal striker Omolaja was on hand to take advantage and lead his team to a 2-0 win. Bagan won by the same scoreline, but coach Manoranjan Bhattacharjee's side had done enough to pip the reigning champions.
July 26, 2003
Victory in Jakarta
East Bengal were reigning NFL champions when coach Subhas Bhowmick was able to get them an invitational slot at the ASEAN Club Championship in 2003.
A solid team was taking shape under Bhowmick, led by Bhutia and Mike Okoro in attack, with the talented Alvito D'Cunha in midfield, and younger players like goalkeeper Sandip Nandy, defender Deepak Mandal making their mark. East Bengal lost one group game to BEC Tero Sasana of Thailand but faced the same opposition in the final at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.
Bhutia, who emerged the tournament top scorer, scored, as did Okoro and D'Cunha, as East Bengal won 3-1. On the back of this performance, Bhutia, who had already played in England for Bury FC, would secure a place in Malaysian football with Perak FC, while East Bengal and Bhowmick made history by becoming the first club to win back-to-back NFLs the following season.
April 3, 2008
Upset against Al Wehdat
While national league success has eluded East Bengal since the successive wins under Bhowmick, the club had been an AFC competition regular due to their victories in the knockout Federation Cup.
In April 2008, they created a stir by beating Al Wehdat of Jordan away in the AFC Cup group stages, with Alvito D'Cunha and Ikechukwu Gift Ibe scoring in a 2-0 win in Zarqa, raising hopes of knockout qualification from a tough group where the other clubs were from Lebanon and Yemen. This was the first time in AFC Cup history that an Indian team had beaten a team from West Asia away, a challenge that has proved the undoing of the nation's best clubs in subsequent years. While East Bengal missed out due to a poor outing at home, Dempo made the semi-finals before losing to Safa of Lebanon. East Bengal would match their feat five years on.
September 6, 2015
A record sixth CFL
The derby win that is freshest in mind and carries the most resonance among youngest fans of East Bengal came at the Salt Lake Stadium during the 2015 CFL, as East Bengal faced the newly crowned I-League winners Mohun Bagan.
South Korean Do Dong Hyun scored two goals in the first half, and Mohammad Rafique and Rahul Bheke added goals in the second for coach Biswajit Bhattacharya, as East Bengal matched their biggest margin of victory in a league derby, matching a 4-0 result obtained in 1936. It also helped them match their 1970s record of six successive CFLs, a record they would extend to eight by picking up the next two titles as well.