Revisiting: 9 December 2012
Last Updated 9:36 AM 9th December 2019 .
It has been 7 years since that ill fateful day of Indian football and Kolkata Derby history and people still remember the day like it was just yesterday. The very concerning image of India International and Mohun Bagan defender Syed Rahim Nabi being carried by East Bengal’s Arnab Mondal, Manandeep Singh and Soumik Dey for treatment as he remained unconscious after a missile thrown by Mohun Bagan fans hit him just above the eyes.
Let us revisit the ill fateful day and what led to the tragedy and later the sudden walkover by Mohun Bagan team, refusing to play in the second half.
Buildup to the Derby
The Kolkata Derby when around the corner, always gets the hype and the football-loving city flocks to the Salt Lake Stadium to witness the city getting divided into two halves. The derby is never a friendly affair and most of the time the atmosphere turns hostile.
Back in 2012, the pre-renovated Salt Lake Stadium could hold more than 1,20,000 crowd. The 2012/13 season began well for East Bengal as they had already won the Federation Cup in Siliguri under then-coach Trevor James Morgan who was into his third season as the Red and Gold boss.
The arch-rivals Mohun Bagan were having a lean patch as they failed to win any trophy for 3 seasons running then. Karim Bencharifa was brought in as their head coach with likes of Odafa in the lineup.
Mohun Bagan even in their lean patch managed to stay undefeated in the Kolkata derby the previous season (2011/12) with wins in the CFL and I-League first leg derby and a draw in the return leg with Odafa scoring in each one of them. The Bagan fans were hoping to keep the streak alive while the East Bengal fans were keen to defeat the lacklustre Mohun Bagan who were struggling to get the rhythm.
What exactly happened?
The derby was a home game for East Bengal and the management made sure to decorate the entire stadium with Red and Gold flags (even in the Mohun Bagan section). More than 100,000 fans were present in the stadium when the game kicked off and the tempers were high since the first minute with fouls being committed every now and then.
A foul was awarded to East Bengal in the 43rd minute near the right touchline. Mehtab Hossain placed the ball and from the lowly taken free kick, Harmanjot Singh Khabra went in with a flying acrobatic header which flew into the Bagan goal giving Trevor Morgan’s men a 1-0 lead.
The highly charged up game soon turned into a violent affair after the goal as Mohun Bagan team lost their head. It was none other than their main man Odafa Okolie, who chased a 50-50 ball with Nirmal Chhetri in the 45th minute to the byline and pushed him from the back which made the referee Vishnu Chauhan call a foul. Odafa seemed displeased with the decision, went berserk and in a frantic way protested the referee’s decision by throwing his arms in front of the referee’s face, which almost hit Vishnu Chauhan. The referee was in no mood to allow such behaviour and showed a direct red card to the Bagan superstar. This was the catalyst to the events that followed next.
Crowd violence and Nabi getting injured
The Bagan players surrounded the referee for sending off Odafa. The incidence took place near the byline and in front of the Bagan fans enclosure.
The crowd madness started as they started throwing missiles onto the pitch to hit the referee. One of them hit their own player Rahim Nabi and he became unconscious with a deep cut over his eye. He was carried onto the other side by East Bengal players and was stretchered off to the hospital for further treatment.
The game was stopped for 15-20 mins because of the ruckus and the police had to clear off a section of the Bagan fans for the game to start again, for the injury time of first half to complete.
Bagan “no show” in the second half
The game was started after the violence was cooled off by the police. It went on to Halftime, with East Bengal leading by a goal with Mohun Bagan reduced to 10 men, their star striker Odafa being sent off and utility player Rahim Nabi injured off by the missile being hit.
The 100,000+ crowd were expecting another heated second half but the Bagan officials suddenly announced that they aren’t going to play the remaining 45 minutes stating safety concerns. The match referee asked them to play or else they would be considered to as forfeited the game and East Bengal would be awarded a 3-0 win.
The Green and Maroon team management stood firm with their decision and the match commissioner had no other option but to award the game in East Bengal’s favour.
Aftermath of the “No show”
Violence again broke in the stands after the news spread about Bagan officials forfeiting the game. The Bagan fans pulled down the Red and Gold flags that were used as decorations and burned them. This agitated the Red and Gold fans and clashes between the two sets took place outside the stadium. Around 40 fans were injured in the ruckus.
Mohun Bagan had forfeited the game, hence East Bengal was awarded a 3-0 win and 3 points. As per the rules, Mohun Bagan was also handed a 2 years ban from the I-League.
Later, on much protests from leading personnel and Bagan officials, the ban was lifted with a ₹2 Cr fine and all of their accumulated points being scratched off. Mohun Bagan had to start from 0 points for the remaining campaign and somehow managed to save their relegation from the League.
9th December 2012 Kolkata Derby will always be remembered by Indian football fans, infamously for all the wrong reasons.