Outlook|July 27, 2020
ON a mild winter’s afternoon on February 22, 2009, Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta—that bursting cauldron of heaving, imprecating football enthusiasts—witnessed something unusual. Subhash Bhowmick, the newly-appointed coach of the East Bengal team, hurriedly walked towards a section of the stands packed with red and gold shirts, banners and festoons. The burly coach took upon himself the onerous task of cheerleader, goading thousands of rabid East Bengal fans to keep up their partisan chants with over an hour to go before kick-off. It was an I-League match; East Bengal came into the showpiece ‘derby’ with a depressing record against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan.
In nine derby matches starting August 2007, East Bengal had lost to the green-maroons six times. A hassled club management had sent an SOS to Bhowmick, holidaying in Shantini Ketan after resigning as Salgaocar coach, to save the club from the continuing ignominy. On Christmas Day 2008, Bhowmick replaced Stanley Rozario for the upcoming IFA Shield and the remainder of the I-League (national league). This was Bhowmick’s third stint as East Bengal coach. He had been immensely successful with the red-and-golds during his 2001-04 tenure. Among the dozen trophies the club won, the Asean Club Cup victory in July 2003 stood out.
“When I arrived, the club’s morale and the confidence level of the players were in the pits. We were scheduled to play Mohun Bagan in a second leg I-League match in a couple of weeks and I was determined that this game will turn everything around. We were training hard but I realised that the only thing that can galvanise the boys would be the passionate fans. Much before the team started warming up, I went to the East Bengal section of the stands and like a bandmaster egged the fans to build up the mood for the players. The high-pitch team chant was enough for them. That day, East Bengal was like a team possessed. We beat Mohun Bagan 3-0. The roar of 1,00,000 fans from either camp was something to behold,” remembers Bhowmick.
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July 27, 2020