Monday, 30th October 2017

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East Bengal is in my blood, my everything

'I have this one-year contract with East Bengal because I did not know whether I would be able to cope with the pressure of delivering day in and day out in a club of this stature'

By Alvito d’Cunha in Calcutta
  • Published 1.08.19, 1:50 AM
  • Updated 1.08.19, 1:50 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Alvito D’Cunha (right) with Sunil Chhetri Telegraph file picture

It was in 2002 when I landed in Calcutta. My favourite Brazil had won the World Cup, Ronaldo was all over the newspapers. And I was in an alien land coming to a club which was wooing me for three years to join them. The common saying is Goans are always homesick and do not feel at home in any other place in India. So I have this one-year contract with East Bengal because I did not know whether I would be able to cope with the pressure of delivering day in and day out in a club of this stature. I told myself it’s a one-year contract so would take one day at a time. First day gone — I thought another 364 days.

Now as I write on what East Bengal means to me in its 100th year I am at a loss for words. There are so many things... the dressing room banters, the joy of wins, the pain of losses, the accolades of fans and their brickbats, the love of officials, different coaches and their styles, the malis... I can go on and on. If someone asks me to write a hundred thousand words on East Bengal, I will be able to do so.

East Bengal to me means everything. I never played for another club. Mohun Bagan had offered me a blank cheque. I told myself how can I play against a club I love so much. Sporting Clube de Goa came with an eye-popping offer. I was tempted, I will not lie. But again I thought how can I leave this club? I stay in Calcutta, it’s my home. But it’s not that I love Calcutta, it’s because I love East Bengal. That chant “Alvi Alvi Alvi” I won’t get anywhere else. There is so much bonding at the East Bengal tent.

What made me stay at East Bengal for my entire playing career and beyond?

It was the penultimate match of the 2002-03 National Football League. We won against Vasco and secured the title. As I came out, the fans touched my feet, hugged me, chanted my name, some were crying. I thought where would I get this adulation? Nowhere. Only in East Bengal you could have madness like this. It was my first year and I was thinking of leaving. That moment changed me. Never again would I play for any other club. I could have got Rs 15 to 17 lakh a year after my first season. But I stayed back for a much lesser amount. Because I was madly in love with the red and gold colour. I was head over heels in love with the very idea of East Bengal. I got to know about how the club was formed, the refugee angle, how the marginalised people looked up to the club to get a reason to smile about. Now when I look back, it gives me goosebumps.

East Bengal had a great team in 2002. Shanmugam Venkatesh, Kalia Kulothinghan, Shahsti Duley and all. I knew Venkatesh from my Salgaocar days. I was very nervous on my first day. But after the first practice session — Subhas Bhowmick was the coach then — at the dressing room, I completely felt at home. Venky told me to stay with him at the Kalindi mess and what a time we had! These days after the practice session players rush back home. We used to stay back till 12.30-1pm. That was the camaraderie.. the bonding. Bhowmick’s presence also helped me to settle down. He is the best when it comes to man-management. So that was a bonus.

Then in 2003, the Asean Cup happened. What a team we had. Myself, Bhaichung Bhutia, Mike Okoro, Douglas da Silva, Mahesh Gawli, Deepak Mondal, Surkumar Singh. It was too good. I scored a goal in the final and the reception we got at the Calcutta airport blew my mind. One lakh people waiting, it was heady. Those days when we used to take the field we never thought we would lose. As Savio Medeira used to tell me, ‘Alvi, who can beat East Bengal?’” To me, that was the best team East Bengal ever had. What impact it had could be gauged from the fact that we had gone to England to play a pre-season match versus Leicester.

What does East Bengal mean to me? Once Uga Okpara had an on-field clash with Eduardro Escobar during a match against Mohammedan Sporting. Edu spat on Uga Okpara’s jersey. I just lost it. I went and hit Edu on his face. Result? A six-match ban and Rs 50,000 fine. Yes, I had let the team down. But if someone spits on the red and gold jersey, even today I will do the same.

Red and gold is in my blood. Can’t help.

As told to Angshuman Roy