How Kolkata derby, the 'Boro Match' is at the heart of the city's love affair with football

It’s startling how people of an entire city splits apart into halves over a football game twice a year, while celebrating more than 13 festivals in 12 months together in a pompous manner at the same time.

Kolkata and football have been synonymous since ages, with ‘Boro Match’ the sole reason to keep it alive, even when the odds were heavily stacked against them. That is why the Kolkata derby, featuring ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal is the biggest fixture in Indian football.

A lion’s share of the credit goes to the fans, who have stuck to their clubs through the thick and thin, going to the farthest extent to lend their hand of support. The ‘ghoti-bangal’ (people originally from Bengal and people migrated from East Bengal, now Bangladesh) concept had their share of history in Bengal, but, taking the bitter-sweet relationship between the two sections of people into the football field propels the fixture to a different level. Just like rice and fish, Bengalis have incorporated football into their staple, however, the loyalties are divided.

Since the first fixture in 1925, the Kolkata derby has been in the forefront of the Indian football calendar. Usually played on Sundays, the fixture is characterized by stands filled up to the brim, along with an electrifying atmosphere inside the stadium, with emotions overflowing with each movement on the pitch. There’s hardly any better place to be on a weekend. Just take a walk down the road a few hours ahead of the kick-off in Kolkata, you’ll get the vibe. It’s either painted green-maroon or red-yellow!

In spite of the sky-reaching popularity of Indian football gained during the second half of the 20th century, most of the Indian clubs in the top-tier huffed and puffed to keep their establishments going, save the big two.

Quite justifiably, the Kolkata clubs faced the heat as well. Yet, within a blink of an eye the clubs managed to rope in sponsors. With millions of followers still actively involved, it was a very attractive proposition for any corporate body. As far as the passion for the game is concerned, the ‘City of Joy’ is unmatched, it never showed vulnerability.

No matter what happened, the fixture remained an occasion to cherish. The same roar, the same excitement, the city again divided into two parts for 90 minutes. The supporters always made their voices heard.

It has been the same for the past 100 years and the drill will continue for another century too, as long as the clubs continue playing football. It’s a pity that the Kolkata derby is being played behind closed doors for the past two years, not a scene associated with the fixture, but the conditions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic have dictated the turn of events.

Albeit, the preparations have already started in Kolkata and the entire state of West Bengal, ahead of Saturday’s clash. Whether it’s a tea shop or a shopping mall, the ‘Boro Match’ is the hot topic of discussion. Time will tell whether the price of ‘chingri’ spikes up or ‘ilish’ takes the fish market by storm!

Afterall, the biggest fixture of Indian football is finally here!

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