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Riding high on football

Calcutta: Football runs in the veins of the citizens of this city like an underground river that bursts out into a mighty waterfall during a Derby. It has withstood the test of time, onslaught of cricket, and of course, the country’s nosedive in the Fifa rankings.

To some it might be an assault on the senses with boisterous fans of all ages and in weird get-ups ruling the streets, but to the more tolerant ones, the occasion offers unique insights into the city’s love for the game… Like the fans’ choice of transport to the stadium.

The Salt Lake Stadium, the venue of Sunday’s CFL clash between Kingfisher East Bengal and McDowell Mohun Bagan, is quite conveniently accessible from different parts of the city via the public transport system. But thousands of fans prefer their own transport — from mini-trucks to mini-vans.

They form groups based on locality or local clubs. Everyone chips in with monetary contributions to hire the vehicle.

The groups constitute of people from all walks of life… Like the group of East Bengal fanatics from Dumdum had shopkeepers, would-be engineers and the jobless — all packed in one mini-truck. “We all love East Bengal, so it doesn’t really matter who does what professionally… This is how we attend almost every Derby… Together,” said Abhishek Das, who works for an IT company in Sector 5.

At times, not everyone is from the same locality; it’s just an assembly of like-minded people who love going to watch a Derby together on open-roofed trucks. On their way to the stadium, they take a route which allows them to pick up ‘members’ from different points of the city.

“We don’t belong to any fan club, neither do we stay in the same locality. We have formed a group purely for the love of sport,” said Binoy Ghosh, who runs his own printing business.

It’s a noisy ride before and after the match. Whenever a vehicle carrying East Bengal fans passes one with Bagan fans, or vice-versa, both parties try to out-shout each other. There are exceptions, but mostly they are in the right spirit.

In a nutshell, it’s a unique amalgamation of our fragmented society, thanks to their love for the game. They lack the glamour of the city’s favourite Knight Riders, but they are the riders to the beautiful game.