The carnival atmosphere that has always been a given for this all-important match was present from one side of the fans while the other side were muted going into the game.
Nevertheless, both sides were soaking in the occasion as this might well have been the last derby that they will play in the league that they had been playing in for 11 years.
As trucks whizzed by carrying raucous, adrenaline-shot fanatics, the face painters and the coloured scarf sellers knew that they were in for a busy, but potentially profitable day. The same couldn’t be said of the traffic as well as the general police, who always get the short end of the stick; their hands full of supporters who just wanted to get in and win some mini-battles off the pitch.
The derby was never going to be about the 11 men on the pitch playing for 90 minutes; it was about the 52,000-plus inside who wanted to push their side over the line.
The shadow of Sony Norde hung in the air, like an ill-timed cloudburst. If the Mohun Bagan fan-base were sad about Sanjoy Sen’s departure and about the defection of Katsumi Yusa to East Bengal, the Haitian’s impending farewell was simply un-digestible.
Their talisman, their modern day saviour injured and to be released at such a crucial time, when the club could not have been in a worse state even if they tried, was a travesty and Bagan fans acknowledged that throughout the build-up.
On the other hand, Asier Dipanda Dicka had been vilified and had an emergency meeting with the club officials after his abject performance against Minerva Punjab. The Cameroonian top scorer of last season’s league was top scorer this time, but had benefited from penalties and some opportunistic goals.
Lebanese striker Akram Moghrabi was signed as a replacement for the released Ansumanah Kromah and would start the derby. Ex-Bengaluru man Cameron Watson would try to fill the Yuta Kinowaki role from the previous derby.
On Sunday, all three pulled Norde’s weight as Moghrabi combined beautifully with Dicka as the latter bagged two goals. In Mahmoud Al-Amna’s absence as the Syrian was taken off through injury, Watson bossed the midfield, shutting the opposition out.
Johannes (second name withheld) is a veteran of three World Cup finals, having been in those Local Organising Committees and had this to say about the derby, “I’ve watched the Superclasico (Boca Juniors-River Plate) and the Milan derby. Yet, nothing comes close to this. As I was watching the derby dressed to blend in with the locals, I exclaimed to myself as Mohun Bagan missed a sitter. But I was sitting in the East Bengal stand and a gentleman told me in coarse Bengali to sit here and enjoy the derby but not to try and understand them, as that would be a mistake.”
On Sunday, Khalid Jamil did something which lacked understanding as he started two strikers, the 34-year-old new signing Dudu and the out-of-form Willis Plaza. Later, Jamil would claim that this was his fault as he had caved in to public pressure and started the two strikers.
East Bengal’s meek surrender defied all pre-match logic as the Red and Golds were installed as overwhelming favourites and should have got atleast one point from the match, if not three.
Instead, the defence went AWOL in minute one as Dicka waltzed into the box as Nikhil Kadam’s cross was put away with aplomb. Eduardo Ferreira, former Bagan man and the EB defence had gifted a goal to the underdogs.
Dicka’s second was a thing of beauty as facing his own goal, the Mariners’ striker swivelled and unleashed a left-footed shot from Raynier Fernandes’ corner which left Luis Barreto with no chance in the EB goal.
Raynier and the Indian contingent of Kadam, Kinshuk Debnath, Arijit Bagui, SK Faiaz and Ricky Lallawmawma all put stellar shifts in today to try and stop East Bengal from getting anything from the match.
Kadam hit the post at the fag end of the match and a 3-0 could have very easily sealed Jamil’s short East Bengal career. Humiliation was averted but as Dicka stated after the game, it could very easily have been eight, such was the level of Bagan domination.
“East Bengal didn’t deserve this and this is all my fault. Maybe I put out the wrong team. Maybe our preparation was wrong,” was all the Jamil could muster as the ex-Mumbai FC man was flummoxed at the end of a testing derby.
As for Bagan, this derby might not be anything more than a consolation win en route to a disappointing finish, or this could the tonic to set them on their way to a title.
Sankarlal had the final word on the day, “In the absence of Sony Norde, a team was being built all the time. This was our parting gift to him.”