East Bengal goes places at 100
You can take ’em out of Bengal but you can’t take East Bengal out of ’em. Fans of the red-and-gold brigade hoisted the club flag in 100 cities across the globe at the stroke of mid-day local time on August 3 to commemorate the club’s centenary.
The global activity was an initiative of the London-based Bengal Heritage Foundation (BHF) and East Bengal the Real Power (EBRP), a fan club. “These days people of Calcutta follow foreign clubs but all they do is watch their matches on TV. It occurred to us that it made more emotional sense if we expatriates, who have grown up supporting East Bengal, showed that passion on this occasion in whichever corner of the world we were,” said BHF trustee Anirban Mukhopadhyay.
The club tied up with EBRP, which keeps club fans connected worldwide, so the word spread quickly. A WhatsApp group formed for the event soon had over 150 members from 42 countries in five continents. “Messages kept pouring in through the night as members were spread across time zones,” he laughed. Quess, the company that sponsors the club, sent flags to all 100 locations.
It was decided that the flag hoisting would take place in 50 cities in India and 50 abroad. The start would be in Dhaka. From there, the event would move west, covering India and then further into Central Asia, Africa, Europe, US, Canada and Brazil before proceeding to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and then end in Calcutta on August 4. “The only condition was they’d have to maintain the time,” Mukhopadhyay said.
Members had to overcome hurdles, natural or situational — rain in Mumbai, a strike in Hong Kong and a curfew in Thailand.
No fan was possibly as committed to the event as Bhaskar Bhattacharjee in London. “His wife was due for delivery and the admission time was noon. But to attend the event, he deposited her in hospital two hours earlier,” said Mukhopadhyay. A football fan, Bhattacharjee’s wife followed the flag hoisting from the hospital on Facebook Live!
In every city, a prominent landmark was chosen. In Dhaka, it was Shaheed Minar. “Since it is on the Dhaka University campus we had to take permission and police escort,” said Saugata Ghosh, the coordinator in Dhaka.
The London group chose the Tower Bridge, in Paris it was the Eiffel Tower. At Oslo, as the Town Hall clock struck 12, 10 Bengalis held up the flag in front of the Nobel Peace Centre. “Our message was football for peace,” said Nalinava Sen Gupta, who is settled in Norway since 2006 and follows the club’s performances on the EBRP website.
Chiradeep Ghosh and others in Bahrain chose Al Bajma beach. “It was so hot that the beach was virtually empty,” said the investment banker, a Krishanu Dey fan.
Sanjib Chakraborty was the lone EB supporter doing the honours in Lusaka. “Victoria Falls is 500km away so I had to make do with the local FC Barcelona Academy as backdrop,” said the chartered accountant.
At some places, parallel events were planned. In Tokyo, a Japanese chef cooked hilsa. “He has spent years in Santiniketan, has a Bengali wife and a restaurant called Puja,” explained Tanmoy Ghosh, a Tokyo resident since 2014.
The biggest attendance was in New Jersey with over 60 Bengalis cheering the beating of dhaak as members danced at the clubhouse of Kallol, a non-profit famous for its Durga puja. “Hilsa and rosogolla were arranged,” said Pinaki Dutta, the city coordinator.
The organisers had rea-ched out to former EB players. The New Jersey meet had Mike Okoro and Majek Bolaji of Nigeria. “Okoro agreed to fly from Louisiana and put us in touch with Bolaji who stays an hour and half away and drove over,” Dutta said. Philippe De Ridder, former EB coach, did the honours in Belgium.
In London, a theme song was composed by Sunjoy Bose with lyrics crowdsourced from fans, and Chima Okorie was in attendance. “This is an honour for me. I always played for the fans. Clubs in England don’t have so much following as East Bengal has,” Chima, now a resident of Manchester, said.