The Football Column/K Bhaskaran
Counting chickens before the eggs are laid
The week between the semi-final and the final of the Kalyani Black Label Cup apparently brought some sanity to the organisers, the
All-India Football Federation, the Indian Football Association
(West Bengal) and the Salt Lake Stadium authorities.
For the tense
first meeting of the current season on Sunday last week between
arch rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, there were around 140,000
spectators -- about 8,000 of whom had got into the stands by scaling
three of the gates of the stadium and without tickets -- according
to Colonel Soumitra Roy of the Salt Lake stadium.
Colonel Roy, in particular, reportedly was very keen to bask in reflected
glory by having the attendance of 131,781 in the Guiness Book of World Records
as a record for a match between two clubs anywhere in the world.
In my last column I had pointed out that the bid was fraught with dangers.
Perhaps Colonel Roy, the AIFF and the IFA have in the interim got wise to the risks
of sanctions by the Federation Internationale de Football Association
for ignoring safeguards for the safety of the fans, players and
officials through exceeding the capacity.
For the final between East Bengal and their eventual conquerors,
Salgaocar Sports Club of Goa, at the same stadium on Sunday this
week, the stadium was packed but only to the capacity of 110,000.
The television commentators kept repeating that there were over
a hundred thousand spectators, without ever giving the exact figures. This
turnout is the second best for any match in the country, for
a domestic competition as well as for an international match.
This turn out is also more impressive than the 131,781 for
the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan encounter, as the battles between
the two Calcutta giants invariably draw capacity crowds, be it
in Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Kerala or any other part of the country.
But a match between one of these two Calcutta teams and another
from other parts of the country does not ensure such following.
Of course, East Bengal's 4-1 victory over Mohun Bagan had their
supporters on such a high that they turned out at the Salt Lake
stadium for the final in full strength so as not to miss out on
what they hoped would be an encore. A long delayed celebration, what is more, after defeats in the the two previous finals to Jagatjit Cotton and Textiles Mills, the current Phillips National League champions.
Even the neutral followers of the game in Calcutta and the rest
of the country believed that the huge crowd, the rains and the
heavy conditions underfoot will stack the odds too heavily against
Salgaocar. In the event, however, at least one of these factors
told against East Bengal -- the great expectations of their legion
of supporters proving too heavy a cross for the players to bear.
Against Mohun Bagan, they were not so heavily fancied, and hence
maybe were able to dish out superlative fare. But against Salgaocar,
believed their backers, East Bengal just could not lose.
But not long after the kick off, it was clear that the home team
was more tense than their rivals from Goa. And the brilliant goal
by Bruno Coutinho just past the quarter hour underscored this.
Had Jude Odegah not lost his nerve and muffed up the easiest chance
of the match just before the interval, East Bengal would have been
The Nigerian's lapse prompted East Bengal
to believe that Lady Luck could be on their side, and they attacked
with some gusto after the interval. For the first time in the game, Salgaocar's
defence and midfield were rocked on their heels, but they fought
doggedly to keep their citadel intact.
Fatigue through playing on the heavy ground, perhaps, caused Salgaocar to make mistakes in their own half and to lose the initiative.
Else how could the leaving of the Kenyan skipper and left stopper
of East Bengal, Samuel Omollo, unmarked close to where the ball
had been crossed be explained? Omello made no mistake with his
If East Bengal now felt they would be able to build on the equaliser
with a golden goal in extra time, they were disillusioned swiftly
by Coutinho. The Indian and Salgaocar skipper's second goal of
the final, which made him joint top scorer of the tournament with
Chima Okerie, was not in the same class as his first. More, as
it was covered at the near post by goalkeeper Azande, its finding
the net was a very bitter disappointment to the vast multitude.
For Salgaocar, who went empty-handed last season except for their
triumph in the Rovers Cup, their third victory in this
tournament in six appearances in the final augurs well for the coming
season. Their new coach, T K Chathunni, and technical director,
former Olympian T Shanmugham, coach of their winning
teams of 1988 and 1989, had been on opposite sides in 1990 when
the latter was bidding for a hat trick of successes. Chathunni
guided Kerala Police in frustrating that bid at Thrissur.
Now Chathunni and Shammugham have joined forces again. With more
or less the same squad that suffered through injuries and illnesses
and weary travel in the Phillips National League campaign in
January-March, they have worked hard to make the players
fit and raring to go. Both have seen Indian
football at close quarters for long years, and so know what it takes to achieve good
results. With the octogenarian Shamugham's guidance, Chathunni
had drilled his players into a combination not only feared but
also admired for both fitness and attractive and effective play.
Both are also eminently level headed, with Chathunni proving this
to the hilt in the week before the final as the Calcutta press
sought to probe him for views on East Bengal players and officials.
The former India centre-back, perhaps, saw through the game and
cleverly gave out that he felt that with technical director P
K Banerjee at the helm and Bhaichung Bhutia as the lethal spearhead,
East Bengal would win. But, he said, his team would give a fight.
His team did exactly that. And came out on top!