The Introduction of Football in Colonial Calcutta- Part 1

Football In Colonial Calcutta

The expatriate writers and factors of the East India Company introduced the game of football in India for their exclusive enjoyment and fun in an alien soil beset with many vicissitudes. Although, it was claimed that the Christian Missionaries played an instrumental role in promoting football in India, but the contribution of the British rulers in patronizing the game cannot be denied.

The competitive football in India was first introduced in Bombay and Karachi and was gradually picked up by Calcutta, which became the capital of the British India in 1858. The first recorded football match was played in colonial Calcutta in 1858 between Calcutta Club of Civilians and Gentlemen’s of Barrackpore. A number of competitive matches were played thereafter in the Calcutta and Barrackpore regions. However, it should be noted that, unlike in England, the game of football in colonial Calcutta emerged as an elitist sport which was often an exclusive preserve of the British class.

The formal club system in football in colonial Calcutta was introduced with the setting up of the Calcutta Football Club in 1872. The Trades Club was set up in 1876.

Shri Nagendraprasad Sarbadhikari, who is considered as the ‘Father of Indian Football’, along with Shri Nagendranath Mallik of Mallik family of Chorebagan, played a prominent role in promoting football at the grassroots level in colonial Calcutta. As a result of his effort, a number of amateur clubs, involving the students of the Presidency College, Calcutta Medical College, Shibpur Engineering College, St. Xavier’s College and Hare School, were set up. However, the Bengali participation was limited to the teams of the Presidency College and Hare School only, which reflected the racial policy adopted by the colonial rulers in the game of football in Calcutta.

The Bengali participation in football was not confined to the teams at the schools and the college levels only, but a number of local clubs were set up to provide football playing opportunity to the youth of Bengal. Shovabazar, Kumartuli, Town, Sporting, Chandannagar, Chinsura, Aryans and Mohun Bagan were some of the prominent names. These clubs used to play with each other as no competition structure was available till the Trades Cup was introduced by the European traders in 1889.

The first competitive football tournament, which was introduced in colonial Calcutta, was the Trades Cup. This tournament was started by the European traders in 1889. Shovabazar was the only club which received invitation for participating in the inaugural edition of this tournament. No other Indian team was invited to take part in this tournament in its year of inception.

The Indian Football Association (IFA), which was the first administrative body of football in India, was set up in 1893 with the objective of organizing the IFA Shield. The IFA Shield was launched in 1893 and the Calcutta Football League was started in 1898. However, till 1914, the Calcutta Football League was confined among the European teams only. Even in 1914, only two teams from Calcutta, Mohun Bagan and Aryans were allowed to participate in the second division of the league. This racial approach by the colonial rulers in the game of football was adopted in other tournaments as well. For example, the Cadet Cup was limited to the European and the Anglo-Indian students.

Moreover, the Indian teams were not allowed to take part in many other tournaments introduced in other parts of the country, like the Durand Cup (1888) and the Rovers Cup (1891). In response to this racial approach, a nationalistic approach was adopted by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar who introduced the Cooch Behar Cup Football Tournament in 1893 only for the Indian teams. This nationalistic approach took a complete shape with the historic success of Mohun Bagan in the IFA Shield in 1911 which should be discussed in the context of the partition of Bengal.

In my next article, I shall write on the success of Mohun Bagan in the IFA Shield in 1911 and its impact on the movement against the partition of Bengal.



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