UGLY SCENES OF VIOLENCE marred the occasion at East Bengal Ground after the Red and Golds lost their Calcutta Football League match against Peerless SC.
In a high stakes encounter where the winner was guaranteed an ascent to the top of the league table, East Bengal faced high-flying Peerless in a back and forth battle in front of about 15,000 fans on Monday afternoon. The game saw back and forth action throughout, where both sides created multiple chances but most of the time could not manage to find the net.
The only goal of the match came late in the first half when Kamalpreet Singh pushed down a Peerless striker inside the penalty box. Kromah converted the spot kick, and the rest of the match saw Peerless work hard to defend that slender lead.
With this win, Peerless have registered victories against both the top division clubs from Kolkata, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. They are at the top of the league table with 13 points from 6 matches, and have emerged as the undisputed dark horses of this season. East Bengal have fallen behind, standing at 10 points from 6 games, while Mohun Bagan are on 11 points from 6 outings.
As the match neared its finish, tensions flared between the two teams. In the added time, Peerless keeper Arup Debnath went down injured after a mid-air collision while trying to make a save. This angered Colado, who had come on as a second half substitute and created multiple chances while he was on. He was seen standing over Arup, apparently accusing him of faking an injury. He furiously tried to pull the keeper on his feet by pulling at his jersey and even threatened to kick him at one point. This led to an episode of push-and-shove where almost both the squads got involved until the referee managed to quash it.
A minute before full time, an injured Peerless player was carried out on a stretcher, drawing angry reactions from East Bengal fans who accused the Peerless players of deliberately wasting time. As the stretcher neared the stands, a number of bottles flew out aiming at the player. This prompted the police to charge at the fans to disperse them. That action however proved to be counter-productive as several fans, including women, suffered serious falls while trying to run away from the police down the gallery's awkward steps.
This furthered angered the fans who continuously engaged in a verbal spat with the police, and the police responded by beating the fans up with sticks, causing further injuries.
Meanwhile, another ugly scene was unfolding on the other end of the pitch. Right after the final whistle was blown, East Bengal's team manager Debraj got into an argument with the fourth official which allegedly got physical. Some players had to intervene and pull him aside to try to calm him down. Meanwhile, the fourth official's table was vandalised and equipment were broken, as more poliemen came in to break up the commotion.
East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez decided to disengage from the situation, walking out from the pitch and taking all the players with him. East Bengal official Debabrata Sarkar intervened in the situation, and was seen chastising the errant team manager on the ground itself. He also opened up the club's doors so that some of the injured fans could receive first aid, and used the club's ambulance to send other fans to the hospital. Speaking to the media afterwards, he demanded an enquiry into the police action,
"I will write to the office of the Chief Minister of West Bengal requesting them to look into today's incident. We need to know who ordered that lathicharge on our fans, and what right they had to hurt them this way."
But while the club officials fully supported the fans in this incident and blamed the police, the official East Bengal Facebook page, which is run by their investors Quess, seemed to take a different stance where they said the misfortunate incident happened "due to some hooligans."
The club has promised to bear the cost of the treatment of the injured fans.
It remains to be seen what the match commissioner's report says about the incidents of violence that took place during and after the match, and whether this will lead to any disciplinary action by league organizers Indian Football Association.