#THROWBACK: East Bengal FC tour of Myanmar, 2009!
Last Updated 11:07 PM 8th August 2020 .
Preseason tours have become a norm in Indian football post the induction of Indian Super League as teams like Bengluru FC, FC Goa and ATK had tours to foreign countries to prepare ahead of their seasons in the recent past. Even in 2018, East Bengal FC under Alejandro Menendez had their preseason in Malaysia and played a couple of friendlies to prepare for the 2018/19 I-League. However, long before when this was not a common scene in Indian football, East Bengal FC under coach Subhash Bhowmick in 2009 had travelled to Myanmar as a part of their preseason preparation.
Coach Subhash Bhowmick had always been a visionary in his own rights, being much ahead of his time. He was the one who introduced Indian football to modernism back in 2003, when he brought in South African physical trainer and nutritionist Kevin Jackson and organised a proper preseason camp ahead of the historic ASEAN Club Championship triumph.
He took over East Bengal FC once again midway through the 2008/09 season, for his third stint as the head coach of the Red and Gold brigade. He made quite a few changes for the team after the season finished and roped in three new foreigners – Argentine forward Omar Sebastian Monesterolo, Czech midfielder Jan Berger and Lebanese defender Ramez Dayoub and had retained Brazilian forward Edmilson Pardal, who missed the previous season due to Hepatitis B.
Bhowmick also roped in Malaysian physical trainer Mashiedee Sulaiman and had organised a famous preseason camp at the beaches of Puri, Odisha for a fortnight. The entire team stayed at a luxury five-star resort and had their preseason conditioning on the private beaches of the resort.
After the physical conditioning camp, the team management decided to travel to Myanmar for a week and play a few friendlies with Myanmar Super League teams, as a preparation for the season that was lying ahead.
On 15 August 2009, the team started their journey for Myanmar. The first match was to be played against Yadanarbon FC, who were the strongest team in Myanmar at that time, winning the Myanmar National League and Cup that very season. The match was played at Mandalay, which is one hour journey on flight from the capital city of Yangon (Rangoon) on 16th August.
The Red and Gold brigade comprising of the four foreigners and few of the youngsters like Nirmal Chhetri, Beikhokhei etc. made a great start to their campaign as East Bengal FC took an early lead in through a strike from another youngster Harmanjot Singh Khabra, who was playing his first game for the Red and Gold brigade, after joining from Sporting Club de Goa. However, two late strikes from the home team meant, East Bengal FC started their campaign with a 2-1 defeat.
The defeat however, didn’t affect the team morale much as Bhowmick’s boys came back strong in their very next match on 19th against another strong opponent Yangon United, who finished runner’s up in the 2009-10 Myanmar National Football. Brazilian Edmilson scored a brace while Harmanjot Singh Khabra scored in successive matches as East Bengal FC won 3-1 against the team from Myanmar capital.
Two days later, East Bengal FC played their third preseason friendly game against Okktha United, a team from Bago, around 91 Kms from the capital city. The Red and Gold brigade continued their winning run as Argentine forward Sebastian Monesterolo scored the only goal of the game to snatch a 1-0 victory.
The last game was played on 23rd August against another top side Magwe FC at their home ground Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon. Bhowmick’s boys had won two and lost one in their previous three matches in a span of 5 days of the tour and on their last game before returning back to Kolkata, the team settled for a 2-2 draw, with Argentine Sebastian scoring once again again and Beikhokhei joining him on the scoresheet.
The tour ended as a success for the Red and Gold brigade with two wins, a draw and a defeat in four matches. The four foreigners including the still yet to sign Lebanese Ramez Dayoub was instrumental to the team’s success in Myanmar.
The year however did not go as planned for East Bengal FC and Subhash Bhowmick after the successful preseason campaign. Lebanese defender Ramez Dayoub couldn’t officially sign for the Red and Gold brigade as his international transfer certificate was halted by his previous club Safa SC, who were the AFC Cup runner’s up.
To worsen the situation, East Bengal FC lost in the IFA Shield tournament to minnows TFA and crashed out of the group stages. The same followed again in the Durand Cup and the misery finally ended with a 3-5 loss to arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the I-League. Coach Subhash Bhowmick resigned after the defeat and the season that could have been a wonderful one, proved to be a disaster.
However, Belgian coach Philippe de Ridder took charge after Subhash Bhowmick and led the team to a famous Federation Cup victory in Guwahati.