Remembering 2002/03 when East Bengal FC bragged a Quintuple!
Last Updated 12:17 PM 16th April 2020 .
East Bengal Football Club has been an institution of success for the past 100 years, with quite a few golden generations that managed to etch their names forever in the history of Indian Football: starting from the 40s to the mid 50s when the pancha pandavas played, or the 70s when they almost won everything they participated in!
The season 2002/03 would also be one of those greatest seasons in the history of the club, when they won absolutely everything where they played in. The team coached by former legend Subhash Bhowmick would go on to won all five tournaments they participated in, thus bragging a quintuple, only for the 3rd time in the club’s history after 1972 and 1973 when the team achieved the same under P. K. Bannerjee.
Subhash Bhowmick came in as a coach in the middle of the 2001/02 season when Monaranjan Bhattacharya left his charge, after poor performance in the NFL season. The Red and Gold brigade finished 5th in the league table with just 36 points from 22 matches! Their arch-rivals had won their 3rd National League and it was a challenge for Subhash Bhowmick to get the team on track for the next season.
The Red and Gold team management recruited a strong squad for the 2002/03 season as they brought in the likes of Mike Okoro from ITI, Alvito D’Cunha from Salgaocar and also Douglas Da Silva from Brazil who had previously played for Santos FC. The team also had dependable players like Sashthi Duley, Dipankar Roy, Chandan Das, Shanmugam Venkatesh, Kalia Kulothungan, M Suresh, Deepak Mondal etc who would play crucial roles in the entire season.
The team began their campaign on 3rd August in the Calcutta Football League against Port Tust and new import Mike Okoro struck twice as they began the historical season. The Red and Gold brigade won 8 and drew 1 in the First stage of the CFL. They also went on to top the Championship stage however they lost the Kolkata Derby against Mohun Bagan by a solitary goal from Basudeb Mondal. The team was to face Mohammedan Sporting, who finished runner’s up in the Championship stage, in a play off match to decide the Super division Champions and it was to be played in November.
The team management decided to participate in the Independence Day Cup to be held in Guwahati as preparation for the upcoming National League. They reached the final of the tournament and defeated Oil India by 2-0 with goals from Alvito D’Cunha and Chandan Das, to grab their first trophy of the season. Alvito and Chandan Das both scored two goals each in the tournament.
The team came back to Kolkata and faced Mohammedan Sporting in the Calcutta Football League Championship playoff match where they completely thrashed the Black Panthers by 3-0 with goals from Douglas, Sashthi and Mama as they lifted their second trophy of the season.
The National Football League was to follow and Subhash Bhowmick’s team made a great start to the campaign with 5 wins and 3 draws in the first phase of the tournament. Mike Okoro and Alvito D’Cunha both scored 3 goals each in those 8 matches as they topped the table with 18 points, before the league was put on hold.
The team then went on the participate in the Durand Cup in Delhi. They topped the group and defeated Salgaocar FC in the semi final by a solitary strike from Mike Okoro. In the final, they faced Army XI who had defeated likes of Mohammedan Sporting, Vasco and ITI to reach the finals. East Bengal FC however completely dominated the proceedings as they won 3-0 with goals from Mike Okoro, Kulothungan and Douglas and lifted the third trophy of the season.
The team returned back to Kolkata and participated in the IFA Shield. Subhash Bhowmick’s boys topped the group and faced Vasco SC in the semi final, where the won 2-0 with strikes from Suley Musah and Jiten Rai and reached the final where they would face Churchill Brothers. The final held at the Salt Lake Stadium, was a closely fought encounter as both teams couldn’t break the deadlock even after 120 minutes and tie breaker was to follow. East Bengal won 5-4 in the penalty shootout and won their fourth trophy of the season.
The National Football League resumed after the break and East Bengal FC were unstoppable as they smelled the national league title. The team remained undefeated till the 18th round and secured the league title with a 2-1 win against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan at the Salt Lake Stadium with goals by Alvito D’Cunha and Mike Okoro, hence grabbing hold to their fifth trophy of the season and winning their second National Football League title. Nigerian striker Mike Okoro became the leading scorer for the team in the NFL with 17 goals while Alvito D’Cunha too chipped in 8 goals in the campaign.
The 2002/03 season would certainly go down in the history books as one of the greatest ever for the Red and Gold brigade. Five trophies in the season from all five tournaments they participated in, is certainly a proud achievement for all the players, staffs and the millions of fans across the globe. The best was perhaps yet to come for Subhash Bhowmick, who went on to win the ASEAN Cup in Jakarta defeating Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana the next season, hence cementing his name as one of the greatest ever to coach the Red and Gold brigade in the club’s 100 years history.