More Than A Club: East Bengal's Rise From IFA’s Second Division To First Division

Updated: Jan 24

When the East Bengal club embarked on its journey in 1920, many notable names of the society came forward to lend their support. One such prominent name was Banoarilal Roy, who was a descendent of Dhaka’s famous Bhagyakul Kundu (given the title of ‘Roy’ by the British) family. He helped the club with a generous grant of over one lakh rupees. Mention must also be made of the then Maharaja of Santosh, Sir Manmatha Nath Ray Chowdhury, after whom India’s inter-state football competition, the Santosh Trophy, is named. Later on, Jyotish Chandra Guha and Jitu Mukherjee, after starting their careers with the club as players, went on to become successful administrators. It was during Guha’s long administrative tenure at the club—first as a joint secretary and then as secretary for ten years—that the Red-and-Golds emerged as a dominant force in Indian football. If Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri and Tarit Bhushan Roy are remembered for laying the club’s foundation, Jyotish Chandra Guha is as much remembered for guiding it to its glory days.

In 1921, East Bengal became affiliated with the Indian Football Association, thanks to Tarit Bhushan Roy’s persistent efforts, and entered the IFA Second Division for the first time, after Tajhat Club pulled out of the competition. East Bengal finished third in their inaugural season in this tournament, besides winning seven junior-level competitions that season. The following players represented the team back then:-

· Goalkeepers: Nagen Kali and Moni Talukdar

· Backs: Bhola Sen, Bhanu Dutta Roy and Prafulla Chatterjee

· Half-backs: Prafulla Mitra, Nani Gosai, Suren Thakur, Bijoyhari Sen and Sailesh Bose

· Forwards: Deben Pal, Dhira Mitra, Prasanta Bardhan, Arabinda Ghosh, Nepal Chakraborty, Jitu Mukherjee, S. Das and Ramesh Chandra (Nosa) Sen (captain)

Players and officials of East Bengal Club in 1921

All these people played for various teams in the IFA First Division league, but that didn’t impede their participation in the Second Division for East Bengal. The Second Division that year was won by the R.G.A. team, whom East Bengal defeated 3-1 in the IFA Shield. A large crowd had turned up for that contest, expecting R.G.A. to win it. However, East Bengal surprised everyone by producing a stellar show on the ground, with Ashu Dutta (2) and Prasanta Bardhan scoring the goals. This performance made headlines in a number of English dailies the following day, namely The Statesman, The Englishman and The Daily News.

In 1924, East Bengal qualified for the IFA First Division by virtue of winning the Second Division jointly with Cameroon’s B team. Both East Bengal and Cameroons-B finished the Second Division (played in a round-robin format) with 37 points from 24 games that year.