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Tribute to barefoot Bagan boys

A fibreglass tribute is being sculpted for the boys in maroon and green who played barefoot against a host of booted and brawny English teams to lift the IFA Shield in 1911, an event that is said to have inspired the Indian freedom struggle.

The “Immortal XI” sculpture will be installed on September 20 at the intersection of Kirti Mitra Lane and Mohun Bagan Lane near Phariapukur in north Calcutta. This is where Maharaja Kirti Mitra’s Mohun Villa, the birthplace of India’s national club, once stood. It is also believed that the team played its first match here, against Eden Hindu Hostel.

During the 1911 Shield, Shibdas Bhaduri’s team had routed top sides of the day, including St Xavier’s (3-0), Rangers (2-1), Rifle Brigade (1-0), Middlesex Regiment (1-1, 3-0) and East Yorkshire Regiment (2-1). The feat inspired Achintya Kumar Sengupta to write in Kallol Jug: “Mohun Bagan is not a football team. It is a tortured country, rolling in the dust, which has just started to raise its head.”

Atin Ghosh, a member of the club and councillor of ward 11, said: “Kirti Mitra’s baganbari was called Mohun Villa. The boys used to practise there from 1886. On August 15, 1889, when the club was established, it was named Mohun Bagan Athletic Club after the villa and the garden.” Ghosh has spent Rs 1 lakh from his area development fund for the sculpture.

The 12x9 ft sculpture is being created by Mintu Pal, who is dividing his time between 40 Durga idols and the life-size fibreglass replicas of the players, which will then be placed within a golden frame. A diehard Bagan fan, Pal is thrilled at bagging the job. “The 1911 team had achieved the unimaginable. I have read about them and remember names like Shibdas Bhaduri,” said Pal.

Bhaduri, the skipper, had scored the equaliser in the July 29 IFA Shield final, 20 minutes into the second half, before sending a perfect pass to Abhilash Ghosh to fashion a memorable win against East Yorkshire Regiment with just three minutes to go for full time. Extra trains and special steamers had to be pressed into service for the massive crowd on the day of the final match.

Legend has it that during a victory march around town, a fan pointed to the Union Jack fluttering atop Fort William and asked: “When will that come down?” Someone from the crowd is rumoured to have replied: “It will come down when Mohun Bagan wins another Shield.”

The club next bagged the Shield in 1947.

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