The biggest match of the Indian footballing calendar is here as ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal will square off at the Tilak Maidan Stadium in Vasco tonight, for the Indian Super League’s first-ever Kolkata derby. Andformer India and East Bengal captain Bhaichung Bhutia believes that in the ISL, the Kolkata derby will be bigger than it used to be.
“Fans will come in big numbers,” Bhutia said as per an ISL media release talking about the upcoming editions when the spectators would be allowed inside stadiums once Covid-19 subsides.
“I would be excited to be live on the ground in Kolkata whenever the derby happens. I know the capacity (of the stadium) is 80,000 but there will be a lot of demand for tickets. The atmosphere is going to be crazy when the derby happens in Kolkata, so I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
“The Kolkata derby in the ISL is going to be more passionate and fans of both sides will want to make sure their club defeats the other,” he added.
The absence of fans doesn’t mean that expectations will be any less this time around. No one will know that better than Bhutia, who has featured for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan during his illustrious club career.
“There will be pressure on both clubs to win not only the derby but also the tournament,” he said. “When you play for either of the clubs, the only demand from them is to win and to be champions, nothing less than that. The pressure and the expectations will be huge on both clubs.”
Former Mohun Bagan teammate Jose Baretto, the Mariners’ all-time leading goal-scorer, also felt strong emotions before playing a derby match back in the day.
“When you enter a derby, you look back a lot at the history,” the Brazilian said. “I have played a lot of derbies, so I knew what the pain and joy of winning the derby was. There were a lot of things in my mind before I would go to the ground to play the derby.”
And for Barretto, alongside representing a historic club like Mohun Bagan, came the additional pressure of living up to fans’ expectations.
“We represent the supporters on the ground and I had always that feeling in me,” he stated. “I represent every house, family, and every supporter of Mohun Bagan. I always tried to be at the best of my abilities and deliver the goals so I could bring joy to them. I have always had positive feelings about the derby,” he added.