There are very few footballing triumphs for a Mohun Bagan fan that trigger a sense of joy exceeding the ecstasy of winning the league. Winning the Kolkata Derby against eternal rivals East Bengal surely qualifies as one.
On Mohun Bagan Day, a few legends of the club – Jose Barreto, Sony Norde, Bhaichung Bhutia and Joseba Beitia sat together to discuss their favourite derby moments
Norde won the league in the 2014-15 season but had to wait until the 2016-17 for his first derby goal in the I-League. He scored a brilliant free-kick in a 2-1 derby win over the Red and Golds.
“I won the league with them and scored many goals. But the fans always wanted me to score against East Bengal. So, when I did that, I could finally breathe with relief,” he said.
If putting on a stellar show in the derby was one way of winning the Mohun Bagan fans over, Beitia wasted no time in becoming a hero. The Spaniard was the Man of the Match during both the games in his first season. In the second game – a 2-1 win over East Bengal – Beitia scored the opener and assisted Baba Diawara for the second.
But he maintained that winning the league was always the priority and winning the derby was just a means to get to his final goal.
“It (derby) was a special match for me. I knew it was huge for the fans. There was pressure but when I entered the pitch and saw 70,000 fans, I liked it. When I play with such a huge number of fans, I think that it is my match and I need to do well. Two Man of the Match(es) in two derbies was amazing. We drew the first one and won the second. But it was because of the team. I know the fans wanted the derby win but for me it was all about winning the league,” he explained.
Barreto was spoilt for choices when he was asked to choose his favourite derby goal, having scored for fun several times in this historic tie. He finally chose his equaliser in the semi-final of the 2008 Federation Cup that forced the game to penalties and ultimately led to Mohun Bagan’s coronation after a win over Dempo in the final.
“In the semi-final of the Federation Cup (2008), it was 1-1. It was the one where we played Dempo in the final. East Bengal were winning the game. That Federation Cup was important to us. The pressure was high. Sanju Pradhan scored in the first half. I equalised with a header in the second half. We then went through after the tie breaker. We beat Dempo in the final and became champions. That derby was important for me,” Barreto recollected.
Bhaichung, however, had a unique take on this, given he was the only player from the panel to have played for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. He spoke about how it was hard to be disliked by both clubs after a poor show in the derby, for different reasons altogether.
"The club fans don’t like when the players shift to direct rivals. So that was very difficult for me. But at the end of the day, any professional player would want to do well for the current team. At East Bengal, I always waited to play against Mohun Bagan and vice versa. When you are not playing well, your fans turn against you too. So I experienced both fans going against me," he said.