Updated: Jan 24, 2021
What are the first two things that spring to your mind when you think about the East Bengal club? You get no brownie points for this—what else but our iconic red-and-gold (‘laal-holud’ in Bengali) colours and the flaming torch (‘moshaal’ in Bengali) in our club emblem!
Every sports team creates an identity of its own in the collective psychology of fans through its emblem and colours. Everything else—be it players or achievements—is ephemeral. Yes, sometimes even emblems and designs do undergo modification, but the spirit contained in them, which is representative of a club’s identity, is seldom tampered with.
So have you ever wondered how East Bengal’s iconic red-and-gold colours and Torch emblem came into existence? Though there are several versions of the same story, owing to lack of proper documentation of these things back then, we are going by the version that’s most commonly accepted.
In his about-to-be-published book on the history of the East Bengal club, eminent football historian Gautam Roy recounts the day when the club’s first-ever red-and-gold kit was purchased, in 1920. In a previous article in our ‘More Than A Club’ series, we talked about the inception of the East Bengal club and how one of its founders, Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri, played an instrumental role in laying its foundation, aided by the patronage of several notable people hailing from the erstwhile eastern provinces of Bengal (now Bangladesh).
In the first chapter of his book, titled ‘The Birth of a Movement’, Roy writes, “East Bengal had to select a jersey to participate in this tournament [the Hercules Cup]. Suresh Chaudhuri and Aurobindo Ghosh went marketing for the jersey. After scouting a number of shops, they homed in on a bright red and yellow jersey at Whiteaway & Laidlaw departmental store at Esplanade. Their choice was instant and they bought the set for Rs 80. That was the beginning of the red-gold legend in the Calcutta Maidan. The club started its maiden campaign in the Hercules Cup in style.”
This is the story behind the birth of the club’s red-and-gold colours, which has been handed down over the years. But what about the origin story of our iconic Torch emblem?
The inception of our crest can be traced back to Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement, which swept over India in the early twentieth century.
East Bengal were relegated to the IFA Second Division (the only time in the club’s history) in the 1928-29 season, but had a golden opportunity of regaining promotion in 1930. However, most Indian clubs decided to boycott the Calcutta Football League that year owing to the prevalent political turbulence, which impeded East Bengal’s chances of a promotion.
East Bengal had been leading the IFA Second Division by a healthy margin until the tournament stopped midway. They could’ve easily been declared winners of the Second Division just like Royal Regiment were declared winners of the unfinished First Division league. However, the British administrators of the IFA back then decided to mete out an unequal treatment to East Bengal and deny them a promotion.
Legend has it that thousands of East Bengal supporters participated in a protest march and carried flaming torches in their hands to voice their agitation in front of the IFA office (situated at Esplanade at that time). The red and yellow hues of the flame closely resembled the club’s colours and thus, a hand holding a torch became the emblem.
The club’s iconic emblem is said to have been born out of a protest, but it can also be interpreted as a symbol of victory, hope and vigour. According to Gautam Roy, the Torch in the emblem gained more significance after we defeated Iran’s PAS Club 1-0 in the 1970 IFA Shield final, courtesy Parimal Dey’s goal.
‘As soon as the final whistle was blown, the East Bengal supporters in the stands lit paper torches to celebrate the victory,’ Roy recollects.
‘Since then it became a tradition for the fans to light paper torches after any win, but with security protocols having become more stringent now, mobile flashlights have replaced paper torches,’ he added.
A hundred years have elapsed since the club’s inception. Times have changed, and we’ve had to adapt accordingly. But just like the Brook in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, our red-and-gold colours and Torch emblem can say:
“For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.”