Football Lovers’ Day: A tragic day in the history of Indian Football

Remember the day right after Indians got independent? 16th August! We, the football fans experienced a tragic day when around 16 people died due to chaos and a mass stamped caused during the epic rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal (the fight between Hilsha and Chingri) at a league match of Calcutta Football League. 

We have got to know from ages about the rivalry between these two clubs where not only ‘The City of Joy’ but the whole country divides itself into two teams. 

On the 16th of August, the Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata experienced a major riot between the fans of these two clubs, which led to major chaos and the death of many people. 

What were the major events leading to the disaster?

The Kolkata Derby has been an age-old rivalry between the two oldest and classic clubs of India; Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. The clash between Bangal-Ghoti is the pinnacle of football rivalries in Asia and has also been featured in FIFA’s Classic Rivalries surpassing El Classico and Superclásico. The rivalry of these two clubs also became an escape from the ongoing political scenario of 1970s Kolkata. 

Mohun Bagan was led by Compton Dutta while the East Bengal side was captained by Satyajit Mitra. Dilip Palit, who started for the East Bengal side as an unorthodox right-back committed a foul on Bidesh Bose, leading to which the referee Sudhin Chatterjee did not produce a card on Dilip Palit. 

In the second half, at the 57th-minute a similar incident took place when Bidesh Ranjan Bose retaliated, which led Sudhin Chatterjee to give marching orders to the Mohun Bagan left winger, while Dilip Palit was left unpunished. The referee, Sudhian Chatterjee committed a blunder when he gave marching orders to Dilip Palit to balance his decision. This led to chaos among the fans of the two teams. 

What was the confrontation?

Usually, in any Kolkata Derby, the fans of both sides are made to sit in separate galleries to avoid any kind of riots. But, that day, unfortunately, the fans sat together as there was a lack of proper police protection force and absence of segregation. As a start of riot, many fans tried escaping from the narrow gates of the stadiums which led to a stampede and young fans jumped off the gallery onto the concrete floors to save themselves. This caused an inevitable loss of lives. 

What was the aftermath of the disaster?

The bodies of the dead and injured were taken to the nearby hospitals and their family members were summoned to identify their missing kin. The police reported, around 16 fans lost their lives along with 100 people being severely injured. All the matches scheduled were canceled and both the teams were heavily penalized. 

What was the impact on the people?

This incident sent football fans and audience to utter shock and people who visited Kolkata Maidan regularly to view matches of “Calcutta Football League” suddenly disappeared in the aftermath of the disaster. The fanaticism of Bengali Football was gone and it took nearly two decades to recover until Yuva Bharati Krirangan (Saltlake Stadium) saw a record-breaking attendance of 1,31,000 in Federation Cup, 1997. 

The Indian Football Association observes Football Lover’s Day as a remembrance to the 16 football fans who died in the fatal accident on 16th August 1980. The first memorial was held in the year 1981 where around 1203 people donated blood in the name of those football fans. 

The legendary singer Manna Dey sang a song, Khela Football Khela composed by Suparnakanti Ghosh, to pay homage to those unfortunate souls who died on this ill-fated day.  

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