The First Two Decades of Mohun Bagan | 1889 - 1910 | Why Mohun Bagan Ep.2

The First Two Decades of Mohun Bagan

This article is the second article of multiple articles to be published under the ‘Why Mohun Bagan’ feature series by MBFT.

Read Part 1 Here: The Complete Origin Story of Mohun Bagan | Why Mohun Bagan Ep. 1

A Strict Code of Conduct

“Discipline is the backbone of the team and it should be observed.” These were the famous words of Mohun Bagan Sporting Club’s first President Bhupendra Nath Bose. The club motto stated “Play the game in the spirit of the game.”

From day one, Mohun Bagan adapted strict criteria for who could become a member of the club. The club introduced a two level admission system. The first test would evaluate multiple physical and mental aspects of the individual.

Not only the physical ability to perform in various roles of the multitude of sports Mohun Bagan wanted to step into, but the academics, habits and behaviour was looked into too. After passing the first stage, club officials would observe how committed and able the member was for the first few days, only after which the complete inclusion was granted.

But memberships were promptly revoked too when someone was caught indulging in an act against the ethos of the club, which included drinking, smoking, or breaking other laws. One member was removed just on the allegation that he had stolen some fruits from a tree in the Mohun Bagan villa!

It is with the establishment of such a strict code that Mohun Bagan Sporting Club completed its first year, but it would soon get a rechristening of its name. A highly reputed professor of Presidency College F. J. Rowe was highly respected among his students, and Rowe himself used to adore his students too.

. . .

Mohun Bagan 'Athletic' Club

Presidency College's Eden Hindu Hostel is regarded to have been the opponents for the first ever match of Mohun Bagan

Mohun Bagan’s members back then were mostly Presidency College students, thus F. J. Rowe was invited as the Chief Guest in the celebrations for the club’s first anniversary, which he promptly accepted.

On arrival, he inspected and inquired about the proceedings and interests of the club. After getting to know about the club, he asked the club officials, whether the club participated in angling (a fishing technique) or rifle shooting, which were then common activities of a ‘Sporting’ Club.

When the officials negated, Rowe suggested the name to be changed to Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, a suggestion which was met with total agreement and appreciation by both members and officials, and the name change was sanctioned.

The contributions of Jatindra Nath Bose, the club’s first Secretary were invaluable. He held together all the officials and members into a single unit with common interests. With other big clubs in the region, concerned and jealous of Bagan’s rise, tried a lot to weaken their unity and gentlemanly approach through instigation, ridicule, disrespect and neglect.

Jatindra Nath Bose would always iterate to not engage in unsportsmanlike behaviour and reply their treatment on the field through the game of football and show them they were no less in any matter.

The first ever 11 of Mohun Bagan comprised of Girish Basu, Pramath Chattopadhyay, Sachin Bandopadhyay, Ram Goswami, Sharat Mitra, Ramnath Sen, Nalin Basu, Upen Ghosh, M. L. Basu, Manmohan Pande, Prabas Mitra and captain Manilal Sen. (The detailed squad of the club since it’s inception can be found on our website.)

In the first year, Mohun Bagan had the most intense and competitive match with the team of Eden Hindu Hostel of the Presidency University. But Mohun Bagan weren’t just restricted to football. After all they were now an Athletic Club.

Just when the football season ended, mostly the same players took part in the cricket season at a time cricket was frowned upon by the locals, but that didn’t bother the club. After the cricket season ended, they indulged into hockey.

. . .

A Royal Request

The Laha Colony Ground at Shyampukur recently (Surajit Seal via Google Maps)

Soon after, Mohun Bagan completed it’s second year, but by then the ground at the Mohun Bagan villa became too small for the multitude of games the club played, thus there arose the necessity to move onto a bigger ground.

But the nearest big ground happened to be the one at Shyampukur where Dukhiram Majhumdar’s Aryans FC played at, the one who once used to play at the Bagan Villa, and moved away following a disagreement over boots.

Thus, it Mohun Bagan approached the owner of the land, Maharaj Durga Charan Laha, for its transfer, the Maharaj was reluctant initially as Aryans would have had to move away if Bagan got that ground. But after he was explained the reasons and the greatest aims and interests of the club, the Maharaj changed his mind and granted the land to Mohun Bagan, and Aryan’s were allocated the ground at Shyam Park.

By then other clubs across the city started to accept Mohun Bagan’s rise. Bagan played against the biggest clubs of that time such as National, Town, Aryans, Medical College, Shibpur Engineering College, Army, Fort William, Arsenal etc.

. . .

A Reality Check

Next year, Mohun Bagan got invited for a match by a very important and able English club, the Sussex Regiment, a match which Bagan lost by many goals. But Bagan’s goal from that match wasn’t to win, rather closely observe and learn how their English opposition approached the game and understand the tactics and technique of the time.

By 1892, numerous clubs, both of the English and the Natives had cropped up, thus there arose a necessity to start an official competition governed by an association, as none of which were present. 

Thus the Indian Football Association was founded at a session where Dalhousie’s A.R. Brown and B.R. Lindsay, Calcutta Club’s Mr. Watson and Sova Bazar Club’s (the one which Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari helped to develop into the best club of that time) representative were present, and the I.F.A. Shield, the third oldest tournament in India, after the Durand and Trades was established.

But with the exception of Sova Bazar Club, whose royal family had good relations with the British, and with the merit of becoming the first Indian club to defeat a British team, the East Surrey Regiment, 2-1 in the opening game of the 1892 Trades Cup, no other native club was allowed to take part in the I.F.A. Shield. Saddened by such discrimination, the Maharaj of Cooch Behar decided to launch the Cooch Behar Cup where any team could take part.

Mohun Bagan took part in the first ever Cooch Behar Cup, but they were still far from the quality of its opponents, hence the players were advised by the officials to skip the Cup and take part only when they were ready, but the players were excited and elated and forced and somehow convinced the officials to give them permission to play, only to get thrashed in every game and get embarrassed out of the Cup. That served an important lesson to the players to take take patiently and not try to run before they could walk.

Till the end of the 19th century, Mohun Bagan continued taking part in the Trades Cup, Cooch Behar Cup among other local tournaments but were still not able to perform well there. But neither the players, nor the officials ever let their head drop down, never ever there was an iota of doubt and reconsideration. The mighty pillar of belief stood strong.

. . .

To the Maidan!

By then, even the Shyampukur ground became too small for the expansive plans of the club. Hence arose ambitions for a plot in the esteemed Maidan in Central Kolkata. But getting a spot at the very heart of Indian Football was no easy job. After repeated requests and pleads and labour of multiple months, Bagan officials were successful in getting a shared ground with Presidency College in the year 1900.

Another major internal development that year was the change of the club Secretary from B.N. Mitra (Jatindra Nath Bose became the Co-President in 1891, J.N Mitra became Secretary, but couldn’t continue due to his job, thus came B.N. Mitra) to Subedar Major Sailendra Nath Basu, who spent the upcoming fourteen years in that role and brought forward a football revolution in the club after a period of stagnation.

It is under his guidance Mohun Bagan underwent a phase of rapid development. Shailendra Nath’s character was seemed as hard and rugged as the shell of a coconut from the outside, but it was as soft and soothing as that of the inside of a coconut.

He himself took on the responsibility of team building. He himself ensured his presence and gave guidance during training sessions. Mohun Bagan’s playing style and quality started getting noticeable improvements.
The club  also loosened its strict membership criteria to increase its members but it was ensured that there were no serious violations of the club’s principles. With the contributions of the founding three along with other aristocratic Kolkata families, the Mohun Bagan club tent was set up.

. . .

Conquering Cooch Behar

The Coochbehar Cup and the Palace of the Maharaj of Cooch Behar

Sailendra Nath didn’t let the club take part in the Cooch Behar Cup initially due to the concern of more disappointing performances, but in 1904, the players requested captain Ramdas Bhaduri to convince Sailendra Nath to allow them to participate in the Cup since Ramdas was very dear to him.

Surprisingly, Sailendra Nath agreed but only on the condition that Ramdas had to give his word that Mohun Bagan would only return from the tournament by Championing the Cup. This time, after years of practice and with the thirst to avenge multiple embarrassments and ridicule, Mohun Bagan were prepared, both physically and mentally and against all odds, won it all and brought the Cooch Behar Cup back home.

However, celebrations were short lived as the club entered a major crisis due to the death of Maharaj Durga Charan Laha, who had helped them relocate from the Villa to the Shyampukur ground. He also became to be the primary patron of the club, hence his passing created significant financial implications for the club.

Mohun Bagan now thought of approaching the royal family of Cooch Behar himself to become their next principal patron. The Maharaj said, he would accept the request if Mohun Bagan won the Cooch Behar Cup even in the next year.

If winning their first Cooch Behar Cup was a question of pride and revenge, this time there were questions on their entire existence. Even with such an intense mental pressure, Mohun Bagan yet again won the Cup and the club got its new patron.

. . .

An English Encounter 

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Something else happened too that year that would push Mohun Bagan’s reputation in Indian football significantly. It would be the first time Mohun Bagan would clash against a team of Englishmen for a competitive title, six years prior to the glory of 1911. It was the final of the Gladstone Cup in Chuchurah (Chinsurah). The opponent, Dalhousie, which had all English players and had recently championed the I.F.A Shield.

On the train to the venue of the final, the Mohun Bagan contingent surprisingly spotted seven players of the Dalhousie’s playing XI. Sailendra Nath Basu, who was accompanying the Bagan players, approached the players and asked them where were the remaining four players. A Dalhousie player replied that only seven of their players would be enough to defeat Mohun Bagan.

At the beginning of the match, however, Dalhousie started with eleven players only. Within three minutes they scored a goal. But this ‘they’ were not Dalhousie. They were  the mighty Bengali natives of Mohun Bagan. An exquisite through ball by Donga Dutta completely opened up the Dalhousie defense and it was a simple finish by Bijoy Das Bhaduri. However, the match ended 6-1. 6-1, in favour of Mohun Bagan.

Mohun Bagan had cemented its place as the best club of Kolkata if not India that year. With this came a sudden increase in popularity, and also came the relation of Mohun Bagan with the rising Nationalistic interests of the country, as a diplomatic force which could tackle the British in their own game, and maybe soon enough win over the British in a much more significant competition.

After winning the Trades Cup three times in a row from 1906-08, along with the Cooch Behar Cup in 1907 and the Gladstone Cup in 1908, Mohun Bagan decided to participate in the I.F.A. Shield for the first time in its existence. 

Shibdas Bhaduri was given the captaincy after Ramdas Bhaduri, and while granting him the captaincy, Sailendra Nath Basu said to him, “Shibu, now we will play the I.F.A. Shield. I am putting you at the helm of the team. Ensure that the pride of the team is sustained. Ensure that I don’t get belittled in front of everyone.”

Read Part 3: The 1911 Legacy.

বাংলায় পড়তে এখানে ক্লিক করুন: প্রথম অধ্যায় (১৮৮৯-১৯১০)

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