Kolkata :A golden moment in Indian football may sound like an oxymoron to generations fed on a healthy diet of sleek soccer, most recently at the FIFA World Cup. Where the only Indians were those cheering in the stands.
But 99 years ago today, India won its first battle for Independence on the football field.
It was on July 29, 1911, that Mohun Bagan - 10 of its players barefoot, only one had shoes - defeated the British Army's East Yorkshire Regiment team 2-1 to win the IFA (Indian Football Association) Shield for the first time. They played bigger men, better shod, and won.
The Kolkata-based soccer club began the centenary celebrations today with the release of a stamp to mark that moment.
It was as exciting a game as any played today by players who cost their clubs millions. Perhaps more, because Mohun Bagan played that day with freedom on the mind.
The British team was one goal ahead. Mohun Bagan captain Shibdas Bhaduri scored an equalizer. Then, with just two minutes to go, Abhilash Ghosh hit the second goal to defeat East Yorkshire 2-1.
"Indian football was born on 29 July, 1911, and at the same time India got a taste of Independence", says Anjan Mitra, Mohun Bagan secretary.
Chuni Goswami, a former Mohun Bagan captain says, ""It was the spirit, I am sure, not the equipment. There were no boots...barefeet...and the boys were not very strong compared to them. I am sure it was a sense of freedom fighting that carried them for the whole match."
In these parts the story is part of folklore.
"After Mohun Bagan won the 1911 shield, someone asked, when will that British flag come down. An Indian pundit said, it will come down when Mohun Bagan wins the shield the next time. Incidentally, Mohun Bagan won the shield in 1947, the year of Indian Independence," notes Sanmit Sarkar of the Sabuj Maroon Swapno fan club.
The Mohun Bagan club was born in north Kolkata and the field where the team first played is now lost to high-rises. But the spirit of July 29, 1911, is alive, the club shall have you know.