4 Sept 2003, Calcutta: There was plenty of action on and off the field. Three red cards, players trading blows, charging towards the referee after the match, a coach manhandling a rival supporter. No goals were scored though.
East Bengal played with nine men for 35 minutes against Mohun Bagan’s ten and still salvaged a goalless draw at Salt Lake Stadium in Thursday’s Super Division League match. It kept them ahead of the rest and dented Mohun Bagan’s fading chances of forcing an exciting finish.
The 1 lakh packing the stands saw these stars such as Jose Ramirez Barreto of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal’s Mike Okoro and yet, the man of the day was referee Subrata Sarkar. Bengal’s only referee on the current Fifa panel effected three expulsions — a rare occurrence in city soccer.
The unwanted started taking centrestage after a decent start by East Bengal. But just as it seemed they would gradually wear down their rivals, things swung out of control in the 23rd minute. It effectively upset the rhythm of both teams as the coaches had to fast redraw strategy which were different from what they initially planned.
Barreto had just played a quick one-two with fellow Brazilian Marcos Parreira and about to shoot at goal before being brilliantly tackled by Mahesh Gawli. A brawl broke out in seconds and players of both teams were seen punching and kicking each other.
East Bengal defender Dipak Mondal and Lolendra Singh of Mohun Bagan were ejected though from a distance, it seemed Debjit Ghosh had escaped despite being in the thick of things.
He made ‘amends’ soon. Debjit was probably a bit unlucky for being booked for what appeared to be a fair tackle in the 35th minute. But he was rightly shown the second and decisive yellow 11 minutes after the break for needlessly stamping on the back of Babun Kar.
Coming back to football, the period after Debjit’s expulsion was clearly the highlight of the game. East Bengal had their back to the wall and Mohun Bagan a great chance to seal a win they desperately needed. To astonish all, Mohun Bagan never succeeded in making their numerical advantage count.
There was this huge discontent in the Mohun Bagan camp for the referee not awarding a penalty in their favour when Mehtab Hossain’s attempted centre hit Gawli’s arm inside the box. The players charged at the referee after the final whistle and police intervened to restore normalcy.
None, however, pointed to the fact that not a single move saw Mohun Bagan — boasting Barreto, Marcos and Rennedy Singh — outnumber or outpace the East Bengal defence.
Despite starting with just one striker, East Bengal got two clear chances in the first half. Shylo Malsawmtluanga got hold of a clearance from the deep in the seventh minute and ran through the defence before setting up Okoro inside the box. The Nigerian had time to control and turn but went for a first-timer which sailed over the goal.
Then, in first half injury time, Bijen Singh’s cross found Douglas in handshaking distance with the goalkeeper, but quite inexplicably, the Brazilian failed to shoot. He had earlier forced a smart save from Prasanta Dora with a free-kick.
Mohun Bagan’s only genuine chance, following the move of the day, had come in the 32nd minute. Rennedy started the raid by cleverly releasing Barreto in the open space towards the right. The Brazilian waltzed in and essayed a low cross but Marcos, the only time he got past his marker, saw his diving header graze the horizontal before going out.
The ‘angry young man’ in East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick reared its face after Thursday’s Super Division League match against Mohun Bagan at Salt Lake Stadium.
The goalless city derby was eventful. Three players were red-carded and East Bengal retained their lead over closest rivals Mohun Bagan despite playing with nine men against ten for 35 minutes, keeping intact their five-point advantage with four matches to go.
Bhowmick, known for his volatile temperament in his playing days, manhandled a Mohun Bagan supporter after screams of “buying the referee” started flying in while he was making his way towards the media conference room after the match.
The coach took a while to locate the face in the crowd and broke through a rope barricade separating the spectators from the rest before getting hold of his man. The Mohun Bagan fan escaped after a few blows.
East Bengal officials intervened and tried to pacify Bhowmick, but the police — they were there in numbers — reacted only after Bhowmick had well and truly got involved in the mess.
“There is no question of regretting what I did. Nobody has the right to insult me,” Bhowmick said when The Telegraph caught up with him. He said there is no question of setting a bad example for future coaches either. “What about providing protection'” he quipped.
Later, club secretary Kalyan Majumdar, who was among the few trying to help Bhowmick calm down, offered a different version. “Bhowmick didn’t charge at the Mohun Bagan fan. He was attacked first and has a right to defend himself.”
Majumdar, however, chose to ignore the fact that it was Bhowmick who started the ‘move’ and not the other way round. “If somebody claims so, he’ll be lying.” Eyewitnesses, though, had a completely different story to offer.
Coaches of both teams blamed referee Subrata Sarkar for poor supervision. Aloke Mukherjee, along with Bhowmick, said they were denied clear penalties.
Bhowmick even felt that the red card on Debjit Ghosh was unjustified. “He didn’t deserve the first yellow.”
“Even during the period when my team was a man down, we created chances. 3-1 in our favour would have been a fair result.”
Mukherjee insisted his team should have got a penalty. “The referee killed the match. We should have won after what has been the best performance of our team this season so far. We need outstation referees for a match involving these two.”
When asked whether it’s all over for them in the league, (East Bengal are on 34 points from 12 matches, while Bagan have 29 from 12) the coach said: “It’s not it in our hands anymore. We’ll have to win all the matches and see how things go from there.”
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy, Mahesh Gawli, Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh, Douglas da Silva, Debjit Ghosh, Sur Kumar Singh (Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, 46), Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Sashti Duley, Dipankar Roy (Bijen Singh, 38), Mike Okoro.
Mohun Bagan: Prasanta Dora, Babun Kar, Sanjiv Maria, Debkumar Sashmal, Rishi Kapoor, Lolendra Singh, Mehtab Hossain (Basudeb Mondal, 85). Hardip Gill (Hardip Saini, 20), Rennedy Singh, Jose Ramirez Barreto, Marcos Parreira.
Referee: Subrata Sarkar.