Remembering the Immortal Eleven of 1911

Do you rememeber what happened on 29th July, 1911 on the 'maidan' of Calcutta? Do you know about the 'Immortal Eleven' of 1911? Read the true event associated with the National Club of India and pay respect to these greats.

The Club was established in 1889 by the sports-loving, educated Bengali gentry of North Calcutta. From the very beginning, it became very popular both among the class and mass of undivided Bengal. This Club was very successful in football since the initial years. It won the first major tournament in 1904 when it lifted the Coochbihar Cup. During the initial years, it also won the Trades Cup. In the Gladstone Cup held in 1905, it reached the final, but during its journey to the final, the Club defeated the IFA Shield champion Dalhousie 6-1.

The invitation came

The performance of the Football Club during its initial years made it more and more popular among the Bengalis. But, at the same time, it attracted the attention of the British also. So ultimately the invitation came. The Club was invited to take part in the very prestigious IFA Shield in the year 1911.

The journey to the final of the Shield

The team started its preparation at right earnest under the strict disciplinarian Sailen Basu. In the first match, the Club defeated St. Xavier's 3-0. St. Xavier's team was (and still is) a good team, so the comfortable victory rose the expectation of the Bengalis. After the first match, the progress continued. The team of Bengal defeated Rangers 2-1, Rifle Brigade 1-0 and finally Middlesex Regiment (1-1; 3-0) to reach the final. Barefooted, physically weak Bengalis were ready to create history.

Before the final match

The final was to be held on 29th July, 1911. The opponent team was East Yorkshire Regiment, a team from England. The atmosphere of entire Bengal, as well as the neighbouring provinces (Bihar, Assam and Orissa), was electrifying. The final was being treated as a revenge to the first partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon.

Thousands and thousands of people reach Calcutta from faraway Purnea, Kishanganj, Dhaka, various parts of Assam and North Bengal by train. Special trains and steamers were arranged from various parts of Bengal. All trains and trams were jam-packed. The horse-carriages were fully booked. The cost of hiring all types of vehicles sky-rocketed. Tens of thousands of people reached the ground by foot. The cost of Rs. 2/- ticket soared to Rs. 15/- (today's equivalent of Rs. 10,000/-). This was the first time Calcutta witnessed black-marketing of tickets.

The match was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Approximately 1.00,000 spectators entered the ground. More than ten times of the number was outside the ground on tree-tops, roof-tops and telegraph poles surrounding the ground. British gentlemen and ladies occupied one portion of the ground. Other three parts of the ground were dominated by the natives. The vociferous crowd entered the ground with giant bugles, whistles, flutes and conches. British spectators were also equally noisy to support the team from England. The noise level was unthinkable.

An ingenious system was developed to convey the score to the people outside the ground. British supporters carried black kites and Bengalis carried maroon kites. It was decided if the British team scored a goal, black kites mentioning the score would be flown and if the Bengal team scored, maroon kites would be there in the sky.

The historic match

On the morning of 29th July, the 'native' players visited the Temple of Kalighat to take the blessings of Goddess Kali. The match started at 11 a.m. sharp. The ground was hard and dry. The game was fast-paced. The barefooted players of the Bengal Club matched the British in every aspect. Every attack by the Regimental players was cheered by the British spectators. Every counter-attack by the Bengalis was greeted by the blowing of conches and bugles. But East Yorkshire Regiment drew the first blood. In the first half, Sergeant Jackson scored from a free-kick. British spectators including the ladies started burning the effigies of the Bengali players. Black kites filled the sky of Calcutta. Bengali spectators became silent. In the half-time, the British team led. The British spectators booed the Bengalis.

The Club fought back after the half-time. Captain Shibdas Bhaduri and his twin Bijoydas mesmerized the crowd by their magic. Goalkeeper Hiralal Mukherjee and the two deep-defenders, Bhuti Sukul and Sudhir Chatterjee formed an impenetrable wall before the British players. Other Bengali players gave their everything. Within 20 minutes of the second half, Captain Shibdas Bhaduri restored parity. Bengali conches again started blowing with full force. Maroon kites filled the sky of Calcutta.

It was the 42nd minute of the second half. Only three minutes left before the final hooter. The historic moment arrived. Shibdas dodged two British players. The British defenders guarded his brother Bijoydas. Shibdas sent a defense-splitting pass to unmarked striker Abhilash Ghosh. Abhilash's powerful shot entered the East Yorkshire net.

For a split second, the entire crowd became silent. Then the 3/4th of the stadium erupted. Bugles, horns and conches announced the historic moment, Thousands and thousands of maroon kites covered the sky of Calcutta. Cries of 'Bande Mataram' filled the air. But, there was pin-drop silence in the British enclosure. Britishers started leaving the ground silently.

After the match

The situation of Calcutta and entire Bengal after the match is beyond description. Calcutta became independent on the night of 29th July, 1911. For the next twenty years or so, the heroes got standing ovation wherever they went. Weeks after weeks after the match, there was Diwali celebration everywhere in Bengal except the British localities especially Chowringhee area of Calcutta.

The victory of the Bengali Club was mentioned in almost every newspaper published from the British Empire. Some of the reactions were:-
(a) "This is not a football team. It is an oppressed country, rolling in the dust, which has just started to rise its head"-Kallol Yug
(b) "The Club has succeeded in what the Congress and the swadeshiwallas have failed to so far-to explode the myth that the Britishers are unbeatable in any sphere of life"-British newspaper Englishman
(c) "May God bless the Immortal Eleven"-Amrita Bazar Patrika

An interesting anecdote

Logo of Mohun Bagan Club (Image Courtesy: Google)

After the match, when the victorious team was returning, a Brahmin pointed to the Union Jack atop the Fort William and asked when that flag would come down. An old man replied: "It will come down when this Club will win the Shield again". It was prophetic. The National Club of India, Bengal's pride, Mohun Bagan Athletic Club won the IFA Shield for the second time in 1947!

The Immortal Eleven

These eleven great players of Mohun Bagan Club initiated freedom movement on the football ground of India in 1911. So, it is imperative to remember these eleven great freedom fighters. These 'Immortal Eleven' were: Hiralal Mukherjee (Goalkeeper), Bhuti Sukul, Sudhir Chatterjee, Manmohan Mukherjee, Rajen Sengupta, Nilmadhav Bhattacharya, Kanu Roy, Habul Sarkar, Abhilash Ghosh, Bijoydas Bhaduri, Shibdas Bhaduri (Captain).

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Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao17 Oct 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 1

A good article with an excellent narration by the author. The match brought a lot of confidence in Indian football players and the game extended to the other parts of the country also. We should always remember the players who contributed to the victory and shown their potential against the British players.

Author: Neeru Bhatt19 Oct 2018 Member Level: Gold   Points : 3

A nice narration of historic winning of our football team against Britishers.

It is true that when our team wins it is a matter of great pride for us. We salute these players who had the zeal to win against the ruling Britishers. As narrated, they later participated in the independence movement also. What better show of patriotism than this can be there?

We have a good number of sportsmen in our country. Only thing is that we have to nurture them and provide good facilities and definitely they will then give the requisite results.

Author: Umesh20 Oct 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 2

An excellent article by the learned author combining history and sports in pre independence India.

It is really very overwhelming to note that our country had such good sportsmen who gave a challenge to the advanced British team who had so many facilities for learning the skills of the game. It is true that we have talent and only thing is to motivate and encourage them to excel in their field.

Author: Partha K.21 Oct 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 3

I sincerely thank the members who have gone through the article. In this article, I tried to portray the electrifying environment which prevailed in undivided Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Orissa before, during and after the great match which was played on the backdrop of the first partition of Bengal. The victory of the Indians over the British was 'awarded' by the shifting of capital from Calcutta to Delhi in December, 1911.

After writing this article, I realize that I have not been even partially successful in portraying the tension before and during the match and the jubilation after the match.

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