Beating the British team at their own game, with little or no equipment, may sound like the 2001 film Lagaan, but in 1911, eleven men from Calcutta achieved that feat in reality. They were just playing a different sport.
110 years ago, on July 29, a sunny day in Calcutta (now Kolkata), an air of tension and excitement prevailed. An all-British football team were to play against 11 "barefooted" Indians in the IFA Shield Final at the Calcutta Football Club. By the end of the match, the11 Indians on the pitch, wearing green and maroon, were immortalized.
Thousands of fans from all across the then Bengal Presidency and outside had flocked in at Calcutta Maidan to support Mohun Bagan, the Indian football club formed on August 15, 1889. Even East Indian Railways was forced to provide special trains to accommodate the large number of fans coming to watch the match. The Mariners, coached by the disciplinarian Sailen Basu, had defeated St. Xavier's, Rangers, Rifle Brigade and Middlesex on their path to the prestigious IFA Shield Final. The club had become a symbol of revolt against British oppression by the time they were to play the Ghaziabad-based East Yorkshire Regiment in the final.
The Mariners conceded the first goal, scored by Sergeant Jackson of East Yorkshire. After a shaky start, the Mariners gradually gained momentum and were successful in controlling the game. The skipper Shibdas Bhaduri equalled the score in the second half, and the crowd erupted in joy. Abhilash Ghosh's second goal towards the end of the second half sealed the match 2-1 for Mohun Bagan.
Boost To The Freedom Struggle
The players became national icons overnight and were henceforth known as the 'Amor Ekadosh' in Bengali, which translates to 'The Immortal Eleven'. The win not only brought the first major title to an Indian football club but also boosted the freedom movement that had gained support after the Bengal partition in 1905. With Calcutta becoming less than a hospitable place for the British Raj, King George V, the emperor of India and the Queen, shifted the capital of India to Delhi on December 12 the same year.
The Immortal XI
All the eleven players, namely Hiralal Mukherjee, Bhuti Sukul, Sudhir Chatterjee, Manmohan Mukherjee, Rajen Sengupta, Nilmadhav Bhattacharya, Kanu Roy, Habul Sarkar, Abhilash Ghosh, Bijoydas Bhaduri, and Shibdas Bhaduri, were posthumously awarded the prestigious Mohun Bagan Ratna and July 29 is celebrated as the Mohun Bagan Day ever since.
Even 110 years later, the 'immortal eleven' continue to stir a sense of nationalism among the young football lover in the country.