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95 Years of East Bengal: Foundation Day celebrated with fervour

BACK IN JULY 1920, Jorabagan vice-president Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri got in dispute with his fellow club officials over the exclusion of notable defender Sailesh Bose from the team. The tiff led to his resignation, and he decided to establish a different club that would come to compete with, and eventually outshine, Jorabagan.

Days later, the drawing room of a house at Kripanath Lane, Sovabazar, saw a meeting of five football-loving persons: Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri, Raja Manmatha Nath Chaudhuri (Maharaja of Santoshpur, after whom the Santosh Trophy is named), Sailesh Bose, Ramesh Chandra Sen and Aurobinda Ghosh. Sine all of them came from the Eastern region of Bengal (now Bangladesh), they chose to uphold their identity in the name of the club they formed together. Thus it was, 96 years ago on this day, that the East Bengal Club was born. The rest is history.

Every year, on 1st August, East Bengal supporters and officials observe their foundation day with much fanfare. Knowns as East Bengal Day, this day sees fans, ex players, administrators and celebrities from various sporting and entertainment fields converge on the East Bengal tent and elsewhere to celebrate the occasion in various official and unofficial events. Sweets are distributed, the club flag is hoisted with ceremonial honours, and club legends are felicitated along with other notable sports personalities from the country. The prestigious annual Bharat Gourav Award is also given out on this day.

Today's official East Bengal Day celebrations were held at Najurl Mancha. Draped in red and yellow roses, the stage featured a star-studded collection of Indian sportsmen, all of whom were variously honoured. Chandan Banerjee, who played for East Bengal from 1963 to 1966, and captained them in his final season at the club, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. Ex cricket Sambaran Banerjee, who captained the East Bengal cricket team and also led Bengal to a Ranji Trophy triumph, received the Byomkesh Bose Memorial Award. Another notable presence was that of Chuni Goswami, ex Indian football captain and first class cricketer (captained Bengal in Ranji Trophy) who spent his entire football career playing for East Bengal's arch rivals Mohun Bagan. He too was felicitated along with the rest.

But the Bharat Gourav award was given to another Indian football legend, a striker known for his creativity on the field, who is fondly called 'Bade Miyan' by his temmates and fans. Mohammad Habib, a footballer from Hyderabad, played a pivotal role in clinching several trophies including the Calcutta Football League, Durand Cup, Rovers Cup and IFA Shield. For several years, he was the focal point of the Indian national team's offense, putting up memorable performances in the 1970 Asian Games, follwed by the joint triumph at the Pesta Sukan Cup next year. 

Habib played for all 3 major Kolkata clubs during his playing career, and he is well known for scoring against Pele-led Cosmos club in their historic encouter with Mohun Bagan at Eden Gardens, which ended in a 2-2 draw. But at East Bengal he entered the hall of fame as a part of the Golden Generation that won almost every major domestic trophy between 1970 and 1974.

In spite of being an Arjuna Awardee, one could tell that being felicitated by East Bengal was a special thing for Habib. His eyes welled up while receivin the award, as chants of "Habib, Habib"  filled the hall. He proudly waved his red-and-gold sash to acknowledge the love of the crowd, paying homage to the institution he likened to a mosque in a prior interview, saying, "If there is a God of football, this is the club where I felt his blessing."

The current squad, too, was present. Ranty Martins, Harmanjot Khabra and the rest came on to the stage together as the hall erupted in cheer. The players strutted their new season's kit, as the crowd chanted the name of their beloved club. 

The Player of the Year award was also presented on this occasion. It went to 26 year old left back Robert Lalthlamuana, whose performance last season earned him plaudits from all corners. Robert appeared in 14 I-League matches and 3 AFC Cup encounters for East Bengal in the 2014-15 season, and his solidifying presence in the Calcutta Football League helped the Red and Golds clinch the title for the 5th time in a row. 

This was not, however, the only event, as several East Bengal fan clubs held their own events in various parts of the city, including some who distributed sweets among supporters at the club tent. The celebrations, however, were kept low-key, with minimal use of music, due to the passing of ex president APJ Abdul Kalam a few days ago.

The club officials will follow up this event with the Annual Sports Day celebrations on 13th August held in the memory of Dipak Das aka Paltu, a popular club official who in the 1980s introduced several reforms in the club's administration to bring in more professionalism. A blood donation camp will be held, and the late Krishanu Dey will posthumously receive the Paltu Das Memorial Award. Ex cricketer Pronab Nandy will be felicitated while former footballer Prashanta Sinha, a versatile player who played in almost every position during his professional career and represented East Bengal and India in several triumphant campaigns (notably 1962 Asian Games where India won the gold), will receive a donation of Rs 1 lakh to help with his medical treatments.

But for now the Red and Gold will concentrate on putting final touches to the team that will attempt to win the Calcutta Football League for the 6th time in a row. The CFL begins in just a few days, and a record-equaling double hattrick of winning the prestigious state league will be the perfect way to celebrate the club's 96th year of proud existence in Indian football, and another great addition to its illustrious and unique history. 

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