1911: Retracing Every Touch of Mohun Bagan’s Greatest Achievement | Why Mohun Bagan Ep. 3 |


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 Origin Story of Mohun Bagan

Read Part 2 Here: The First Two Decades of Mohun Bagan

The date of 16 October, 1905 is of incredible significance in the Indian struggle for Independence. Bengal was parted into the East and the West, on officially administrative and in reality on religious and cultural grounds by the infamous British 'divide and rule' tactic.

An anti-British movement emerged in response to the partition which included boycotts and protests, both violent and nonviolent, and even an attempt to assassinate the governor of the new province of West Bengal. An opposition primarily led by Bengali Hindus surged following division when the Indian National Congress launched the Swadeshi campaign.

British clothes, goods and people were targeted by the Nationalists, and the fervour was strongest in Bengal, the nerve center of Indian Nationalism. With growing national sentiment, the natives were in search of numerous ways in which they could win over, outsmart and outwit the Colonisers. 

From clever worded poetry and prose, non-cooperation to direct violence at times, the brave hearts left no stone unturned for the cause. The hanging of revolutionary Khudiram Bose was a stab at the heart of every Bengali, with discontent, resentment and anger rising day by day.

Map of Bengal (Courtesy: By W. H. Allen and Co. - Pope, G. U. (1880), Text-book of Indian History: Geographical Notes, Genealogical Tables, Examination Questions, London: W. H. Allen & Co. Pp. vii, 574, 16 maps, Public Domain)

Out of such various methods of protest, hardly few would even have remotely fathomed that a game involving kicking around a leather ball could actually lead to one of the greatest diplomatic wins over the British Crown. But among that hardly few included the humble yet determined members of Mohun Bagan Athletic Club. 
Mohun Bagan’s rise over their first two decades had brought tremendous appreciation from then football enthusiasts, but still the game wasn’t much popular among the locals, something that would rapidly change in the course of six games spanning twenty days from July 10 to July 29 of 1911.
Bagan’s opening match in the 1911 I.F.A Shield was against St. Xavier’s College, a relatively easy opponent. They had already beaten them previously on multiple occasions in convincing fashion, and there were no surprises too this time around. Goals from 19 year old striker Abhilash Ghosh in the first half and a brace from Bijoydas Bhadhuri sealed a comfortable 3-0 win.
 What was most intriguing that such a scoreline was achieved by only ten Mohun Bagan players! No someone didn’t get red carded in the early minutes, nor were the players overconfident and considered their opponents too lowly for them to field all players. Rather, it was the first of many ways by the British imperialists to derail Mohun Bagan on its tracks to glory.

St. Xavier's College, Kolkata (Courtesy: By Rangan Datta Wiki - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Left back Reverend Sudhir Chatterjee was born to a Bengali Christian family. He had a Masters degree in Arts and was a Professor at the M.M.S. College in Bhawanipore in the year 1911. He also happened to be the only player in that eleven who used to play wearing boots. On matchday against Xavier’s, his request for a half day leave got declined by the college administration made of Englishmen. Mohun Bagan couldn’t find replacements at such a short notice hence had to play, yet still win the match with ten players.

Captain Shibdas Bhaduri was arguably the best player of the team. Mostly positioned as a left out (comparable to a wide left winger in today’s positioning terms), he possessed incredible dribbling, ball control and ball holding prowess. His trickery and cut ins used to fool the best of defenders of the time. He used to work as an inspector in the Animal Health Care Department for income. He was 27 years old in the year 1911. 

His seriousness and commitment towards the club and the game matched none. He set huge expectations from his players, and when someone performed poorly for a while, he used to get dropped. Only the deserving got the chance to play. Shibdas Bhaduri had taken multiple bold moves in terms of player exclusions and inclusions during the years in the build up to the 1911 I.F.A. Shield.

While some of those decisions might not have been received well by some, nobody dared to challenge the authority of captain Shibdas whose decisions were backed by Club Secretary Shailendra Nath Bose who had granted the complete team building responsibility to Shibdas only.

Shibdas Bhaduri Street in North Kolkata, named after Shibdas Bhaduri (Courtesy: By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0)

Mohun Bagan had participated in two I.F.A. Shields prior to 1911. On both occasions, they won their first game but were eliminated in the second round. The inclusions to the team made in 1910 were Kanu Roy, Habul Sarkar, Rajen Sengupta and Manmohan Mukherjee while the addition made in 1911 before the commencement of the Shield was Abhilash Ghosh, the youngest of the lot.

19 year old Abhilash, by the end of the 1911 Shield was referred to as the ‘Black Beast’, black coming from his complexion and beast coming from a certain incident in the semi final of the 1911 tournament. He was a student at Scottish Church College and was known to have a soft tone and a sweet smile. And he was also the brother of the philosopher, yogi and Nationalist Sri Aurobindo Ghosh.

Multiple positional changes were made too in the learning years. The final primary squad entering the 1911 edition looked as follows: Hiralal Mukherjee [Goalkeeper], Bhuti Sukul [Right Back], Sudhir Chatterjee [Left Back], Manmohan Mukherjee [Right Half], Rajendranath Sengupta [Centre Half], Nilmadhav Bhattacharyya [Left Half], Jatindranath (Kanu) Ray [Right Out], Shrishchandra (Habul) Sarkar [Right In], Abhilash Ghosh [Centre Forward], Bijaydas Bhaduri [Left In] and Shibdas Bhaduri [Left Out].

Thus came the elusive match number two. A significant factor of Mohun Bagan’s elimination in the Shield the season prior was rainfall which made he pitch slippery. This gave the boot wearing Brits a significant advantage over the barefoot Bengalis who had no grip on the ground and the ball and slipped and lost possession, leading to the defeat.

Abhilash Ghosh (L) (Courtesy: Mohun Bagan 1911 by Paresh Nandi) was the brother of Sri Aurobindo (R)

Catastrophe struck again as the heavens opened during the half time of Mohun Bagan’s current 1911 second round game against Rangers club. Thankfully, Bagan had taken a two goal advantage while conditions were favourable. What followed was a second half of an utmost focused display of defensive grit and prowess. However, Bagan had to concede a goal, but the match ended 2-1.

Right Out Jatindranath Ray was adjudged the best player of the match by the Indian Daily News. The first goal came from a miss kick by Rangers’ goalie Chandler which got intercepted by Bijoydas Bhaduri who opened the scoring. The second goal came from the right when Jatindranath Ray dribbled past a few players and sent in a pass towards the center. There was a skirmish but Bijoydas got a touch from it ended up at the back of the net.

Jatindranath, commonly called as ‘Kanu’, was born and brought up in Dhaka. In 1911, he was 21 and a fourth year student at Presidency College. He was opined to be lazy off the ball, but once with it his dribbling would make defenders collapse in their spots. He had mastered what was then called the Rainbow shot, a curling and suddenly dipping shot taken from a distance resulting in spectacular goals.

In the second half of the Rangers game, Mohun Bagan conceded a penalty which got taken by Allen but got saved by Bagan goalie Hiralal acrobatically using his legs. The foul which led to the penalty was unintentional. In the slippery ground, right back Sukul lost his footing, and happened to fall into an English attacker in the box. Eventually Allen got one goal back for Rangers in the dying minutes of the match.

Illustrations of Goalkeeper Hiralal and Right Out Jatindranath (Courtesy: Mohun Bagan 1911 by Paresh Nandi)

Goalkeeper Hiralal Mukherjee was 25 in 1911. He stood at 5 ft 3 inches but his athleticism in jumping and running from frame to frame and jaw dropping shot stopping ability more than enough compensated for the short stature. He had begun his career with National A.C. in South Kolkata and was scouted by Sudhir Chatterjee at the age of 18.

He was an undergraduate student at Calcutta University but couldn’t complete his Bachelors of Arts degree due to financial constraints. He took up a job as a tax accountant at a brick kiln of Martin and Co. He had to work 12 hour shifts from 8 am to 8 pm, and got a half day leave on match days.

After breaking the second round jinx, Matchday 3 for Mohun Bagan was against the Rifle Brigade. By then this dream start for Mohun Bagan started to get traction among the general public. Whereas their first match was a spectatorless affair, there was a considerable crowd in the second game which made quite the noise when Bagan scored. However, that was nothing compared to the fervent fan frenzy which was due to come.

Rifle Brigade, as the name suggests, were a team of soldiers. They were much more physically strong and aggressive compared to the teams of British general officers, such as the Xavier’s or the Rangers. Moreover, Bagan had faced this same opposition in a competition held in Assam in 1910, and a single goal led to Bagan’s defeat on that occasion, the slippery conditions arising from rain being an added disadvantage.

Representative image

Word of Mohun Bagan’s exploits and the importance of the match and the tournament spread rapidly, beyond the Maidan, beyond Calcutta to far and wide in the Bengal province. Yes, maybe, the locals might have been finding this new method to win symbolic battles over the British. The importance of football and the seriousness of the situation was being understood.

Thus occurred a turnout of around thirty five to forty thousand spectators from far and wide on the 19th of July to watch this major game against the Rifle Brigade. Throughout the match, both teams got ample chances, the Brigade probably a few more. The attackers were wasteful but the game was end to end, involving multiple set pieces. However, the deadlock wasn’t broken until very late in the match.

In a repeat of Mohun Bagan’s first goal against Rangers, a poor kick from the Rifle Brigade goalie Norton got intercepted by Shibdas Bhaduri who scored with ease in the dying minutes of the match. Although there are some other opinions whether the goal was scored the way as described, but the other narrations credit the goal to Shibdas only, and most importantly, Mohun Bagan had won 1-0, through to the semi-finals of the I.F.A. Shield.

Two standout performers of the match were the defenders (backs) Sukul and Sudhir Chatterjee. Sukul was as old as Mohun Bagan itself. He became a club member at 16 years of age. His physicality made him stand out and even match the British soldier opponents. He was great at winning headers and possessed an impressive long shot ability, although his positioning was sub par at times. He owned a modest shop named 'Masor's Sukul and Bhaduri' which had his teammate Bijoydas Bhaduri as a partner.

Representative image

Bijoydas Bhaduri was the most senior of the squad, and elder brother to captain Shibdas Bhaduri. Born in Faridpur, he was renowned for his trickery with the ball and his elusive body movements. He was a specialist in delivering exquisite through balls and breaking open a defense. Due to the facial and physical build similarity with his brother Shibdas, they used to cheekily switch their positions and fool their opponents, a tactic which helped them a lot in the 1911 I.F.A. Shield semi-final and final.

The other back Sudhir Chatterjee, yes the same College Professor who got denied a leave in their first match, had joined the club in 1904 when he was 20 years old. He used to always dorn iron pressed jerseys and polished boots and was mocked by some as a ‘Babu’, a term given to locals who sided with the British. However, his astute positioning and physical might was of utmost importance to stop the British opposition at most times.

More than half of that squad having roots in the then divided East Bengal, uniting with the ‘West’ Bengali players was crucial in the portrayal of the Bengali unity at a time the English were aggressively trying to plant seeds of hate and enmity within the Bengalis themselves, so as to distract them and possibly destabilise the growing anti-British sentiment. 

Support and conversation around Mohun Bagan was growing exponentially. The unified eleven was a spit in the face of the British. They were an important symbol for two political battles, one the partition of Bengal, and two the Indian Independence struggle.

Captain Shibdas’ tactical fluency draws surprising parallels to that of modern football. As if positional rotations to confuse the opponent wasn’t innovative enough, his approach to Mohun Bagan’s semi final game against Middlesex was nothing short of a tactical masterclass.

A still from the movie 'Egaro' made on MB's Shield Triumph where Professor Sudhir Chatterjee gets insulted by his English colleagues

Middlesex, another regimental squad, were the most physically aggressive team in the competition. Their best player was their captain and goalkeeper Piggot. In the last year, he had saved nine penalties, which not only shows Piggot’s shot-stopping skill but also the rashness with which Middlesex used to play. Mohun Bagan didn’t have any squad depth at all, it was a team of eleven in quite the literal sense. Any injuries would mean the complete collapse of the team.

Thus, Shibdas plotted a way to avoid physical altercations with Middlesex. He instructed his team to not necessarily focus on maintaining possession of the ball as it would attract tough challenges, rather sit deep, allow Middlesex with the greater share of the possession and focus on swift counter attacking football with multiple passes without much individual retain.

The evening on July 24 saw, expectedly, an even greater fan turnout. However, the crowd would have to wait for another day as the match ended 1-1 and extra time elimination wasn’t considered for the I.F.A. Shield.

Middlesex had taken the lead after a double save by Bagan goalie Hiralal who slipped while attempting to save the third shot. It had rained earlier that day. Eventhough Hiralal had slipped, he made sure to just about save the ball from crossing the line and captured the ball in his hands just beside the goalline.

However, the Middlesex attackers quite literally used their bodied to kick and push Hiralal into the goal. The referee didn’t pronounce a foul, the goal was given. The English referees always showed huge bias against Bagan and gave unjustified decisions to put the natives at a disadvantage, but until now it was the most shambolic refereeing incident against Bagan.

With such injustice and physical aggression from the opponent and being a goal down, Mohun Bagan had to do something extraordinary to salvage the match. Thus came one of the greatest tactical ploys by the Bagan attackers in the tournament.

Representative image (AI made)

Jatindranath Ray switched flanks from right out to left out in place of Shibdas, Shibdas himself became the centre forward and Abhilash Ghosh shifted to right out. The confused opposition became spectators. Jatindranath exploited the left half space with a rapid acceleration and executed his famous Rainbow shot which banged the crossbar from the underside, into the net. However, there is some debate as to who was the goalscorer in this instance too.

When football enthusiasts philosophise that the beautiful game is beyond the petty barriers of discrimination based on race, caste, creed, religion or gender, one of the finest examples for such sportsmanlike behaviour will always be that of Mr. Pooler, the referee of the replay between Mohun Bagan and Middlesex.

What was most striking is that Pooler was brought in as a replacement for the referee in the first game against Middlesex, which was completely against the norm. It is believed that the then British administrators of the I.F.A. had understood the scandalous refereeing decisions made in the first match, and arguably they wanted to mend their actions which had brought disrepute to the game. For those select few Englishmen including the referee, football’s integrity stood above politics.

The replay happened with only a day’s gap on the 26th. Result? 3-0 for Mohun Bagan. Three goals in the last ten minutes. It has been argued that without referee Pooler, Mohun Bagan’s win would not have been possible as Middlesex after a goalless first half, became increasingly frustrated and started intentionally beating up Mohun Bagan players with little to no interest in the football itself.

Puller did his job with utmost diligence without any bias and consideration of retributions, promptly announcing fouls and helping disperse the aggressive skirmish between the players. Mohun Bagan took advantage of Middlesex’s frustration.

Right before halftime, when both Abhilash Ghosh and and Middlesex goalie Piggot ran for the same ball, they both couldn’t stop in time and Abhilash’s nails grazed through just above Piggot’s eye severely injuring him. Piggot lost consciousness for a while. But brave Piggot he was. After gaining consciousness, he played the remainder of the match with one eye completely bandaged shut.

A still from the movie 'Egaro' which shows Abhilash Ghosh clashing with Piggot. He got termed as the 'Black Beast' by the English after this incident.

In the buildup to the first goal, Shibdas dribbled past a few players and just when he anticipated a crunching tackle he passed the ball to Bijoydas, who completed the one-two by returning the ball back to Shibdas who by then had evaded an opponent. Shibdas pushed the ball behind two CBs and Habul Sarkar made a beautiful run behind all defenders and slotted the ball in the net.

Shrishchandra ‘Habul’ Sarkar specialised in late runs, evading defenders, and impressive shot accuracy. He had joined Bagan in 1909 when he was 23. He had an ever-smiling open-hearted talkative persona and his enthusiasm and optimism was contagious. He used to worked in the Licensing department of the Calcutta Corporation.

The silent workers or unsung heroes of the Middlesex match, rather in every game of the tournament were Bagan’s halves, or midfielders. Right Half Manmohan Mukherjee was born in Uttarpara in the modern day Hooghly district of West Bengal in the year 1883. He was regarded the engine of the team, possessing incredible stamina and pace and being omnipresent and helping whenever wherever however necessary. He worked in the Public Works Department. His son Bimal Mukherjee also happened to captain Mohun Bagan years later.

Center Half Rajendranath Sengupta was 19 year old too in the year 1911, the same age as striker Abhilash, and a 2nd year student at Scottish Church College. Although he didn’t have the physical stature for a half, he too used to make his presence felt everywhere and could jump quite high which compensated for his height. He was called a 'Terrier' by the English. 'Terrier' is an indigenous dog breed who are known to never give up chasing an animal they targeted and tear it apart to its death.

Left Half Nilmadhab Bhattacharyya was known for his “stylish” brand of football. Calm cool composed on the ball and with incredible passing range and accuracy, he used to set the tempo of play of his team. He had a great positioning sense and could easily predict and intercept passes. He had a great sense of humour and he used to use sarcasm and word play to cheer up and critique his teammates when necessary. One of his famous comments include 'Ekul okul dukul gelo, Sukul ebar ektu khelo.' He worked as an employee in the Bengal National Bank.

Illustrations of Mohun Bagan's halves Nilmadhab, Rajendranath and Manmohan from left to right (Courtesy: Mohun Bagan 1911 by Paresh Nandi)

Thus came 29th July. Came tens and thousands of spectators from far and wide. Conservative estimates put that number to eighty thousand with possibilities for that number to reach even a hundred thousand. There were no galleries available for the natives, hence it was impossible for everyone to view that match.

There were people on trees, on bamboo scaffolding and wooden boxes, but some innovative way to keep everyone present there informed, with atleast the scoreline, was needed. Thus, an idea to fly a kite whenever a team scored was born. Black and white for the East Yorkshire Regiment while Green and Maroon for Mohun Bagan.

Before the match, the fearful Britishers did anything possible to weaken Bagan even before they entered the field. An investigation was launched into that clash between the Middlesex Regiment goalkeeper Piggot and Mohun Bagan striker Abhilash.

They wanted to establish this incident as an intentional attack by Abhilash so that he could be arrested making him unable play the match, or even ban the team altogether. The police were sent to the hospital where Piggot was recovering to testify against Abhilash. To the surprise of the officials, Piggot declared that such injuries were a part of the game and Abhilash had no motive to hurt him. Both had chased for the ball and Abhilash had slipped into him. Virtuous Piggot he was.

The disappointed British officials however forgot tampering with the presence of another important individual who could spoil their plans of cheating Yorkshire to the Shield. The presence of the great referee Pooler. This meant that the match would be conducted fairly, which it indeed was.

The game started at 5.35 pm. Two consecutive attacks were launched by East Yorkshire which got stopped by Rajen and Sukul respectively. This started a counter attack from Bagan. Jatin Ray made a blistering run from the right and went central. Bijoy Bhaduri tried to find Jatin through a long pass but that got headed away by Yorkshire centre half Jackson.

When Jatin Ray was in possession of the ball, the crowd chanted his name in unison. Yorkshire put sustained pressure but Bagan were calm and observant. The Bhaduri brothers occasionally moved the ball among them to attack on the counter.

Photograph taken from the crowd during the 1911 I.F.A. Shield Final between Mohun Bagan and East Yorkshire Regiment

Shibdas Bhaduri became the best version of himself of his career on that day. Centuries of torture, injustice, inhumanity, suffering, violation, forced famines leading to deaths of millions, an illegal occupation of their motherland.

It is this drive which made Bagan players lay their lives on the pitch. Bagan created a big chance when Shibdas carried the ball all alone and took a shot on target which got saved. Just after, Yorkshire’s Birch played a delightful ball onto Howard who took a strong low driven shot which forced an exceptional save from Bagan goalie Hiralal.

After few more attempts from both sides, the first half ended goalless. Yorkshire went all out attacking with the commencement of the second half. Sukul, Sudhir and Rajen had quite the task to do to keep the opponents at bay. It was a fast paced match with both teams playing direct football.

After fifteen minutes into the second half, Yorkshire were awarded a free-kick just outside the box due to a handball by a Bagan player. Jackson took a splendid shot which Hiralal couldn’t cover in time and the ball went in.

The black kite was flown. The locals dead silent, the English spectators dancing wildly with a paper cut out of the I.F.A. Shield. Among the Bengali crowd there were comments of optimism and pessimism. "The job is impossible now." "Impossible? Don’t you remember what happened in the first Middlesex game, how they equalised after falling behind?"

Equalise they did. With picturesque one touch football, the whole team combined to evade the Yorkshire players and created a big chance. The ball was on the feet of Shibdas Bhaduri, one on one with the opponent goalie. The crowd started chanting "Shibu Shibu" in excitement and Shibu surely didn’t disappoint.

Mohun Bagan had equalised with only five minutes remaining on the clock. Shibdas got the ball. Dribbled past Jackson and Martin and arrived in front of the goal. He noticed that the opposition goalkeeper was in a great position to block Shibdas’ shot. Hence, he cunningly measured a elusive pass towards 19 year old striker Abhilash Ghosh who was in a much better position to convert a shot which could lead to Mohun Bagan’s winning goal. The rest, is history.

It is with this history that Mohun Bagan then became National HEROES. The vibrant ferocious masters, defeated. The filthy coward slaves, the winners. The victory parade that night was a sight, which could not be explained in words. Possibly, the entirety of Kolkata was on the streets, ecstatic with what they could have never ever have imagined even in their wildest dreams.

Well not the entirety of Kolkata. The Sahebpara, or the localities where the British used to stay were mourning in darkness. Quite literally. That day even the servants of those Englishmen revolted and didn’t report to duty. The Englishmen and their maids had absolutely no clue how to even light a lamp. Probably they even had to sleep hungry that night since even their cooks were on the streets worshipping the eleven demigods, the eleven immortals, that one unit that changed everything for Mohun Bagan.

Such an achievement added more fuel to the fire of Indian Nationalism. The Swadeshi movement gained huge momentum in the Bengal province. This was the opportunity. If Mohun Bagan could do it, the entirety of India can do it too. A year later, it became impossible for the British to tackle the Bengali might. 

The capital of the Raj got shifted to Delhi later that year. The Partition of Bengal got revoked. Bengal was united again, atleast for now, until the ultimate Independence of India on August 15, 1947, the exact same day and month Mohun Bagan Club was founded in that Marble Palace of North Kolkata.

> প্রথম পর্ব পড়ুন এখানে: “পথচলার শুরু: কীভাবে এবং কেনোই বা জন্ম নিলো মোহনবাগান

> দ্বিতীয় পর্ব পড়ুন এখানে: মোহনবাগানের প্রথম দু'দশক (১৮৮৯-১৯১০)

> তৃতীয় পর্ব পড়ুন এখানে: ১৯১১’র যুদ্ধজয়

> Read EP1 in English Here: The Complete Origin Story of Mohun Bagan

> Read EP2 in English Here : The First Two Decades Of Mohun Bagan (1889-1910)

Read EP3 in English Here : The Victory of 1911

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