On 29th July 1911 an all Indian club, Mohun Bagan AC beat East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 in the final of the coveted IFA shield.
The tournament was named after the Indian Football Federation (IFA) which was the associating governing body for football in Bengal. Earlier Indians were not allowed to participate in this tournament and it only included British Regiment teams.
The eleven players of that triumphant team became the first sporting legends of the country and were known as “The Immortal Eleven”
On a symbolic level this was not only a sporting victory but a battle India won against British Imperialism. Mohun Bagan was the first Indian team to win the IFA shield and became a Nationalist Symbol in India’s Struggle for Independence.
Bagan was coached by the ex-army officer Mr. Sailen Basu who improved the fitness level of the players through the physical conditioning method he learnt in the armed forces. His dedication paid off as Bagan started dominating local tournaments facing British Regiments and club sides and later Bagan were invited to play IFA shield in 1909.
Bagan used the pyramid formation and the team was built around their midfielder- Rajendranath Sengupta who acted like a bridge between attack and defense.
Bagan dominated the IFA Shield with wins against ST.XAVIERS and Rangers FC. They outplayed Middlesex Regiment in the Semi-finals to face East Yorkshire regiment in the Final.
East India Railway Company had to arrange for special trains for all the people travelling to Calcutta for the final match. The game recorded a record breaking 100,000 spectators coming from all over India.
It was a goal-less first half. The game opened up in the 2nd half as the Yorkshire Regiment took the lead with 15 minutes to go. Bagan responded immediately and Shibdas Bhaduri equalized soon after. The equalizer led to a loud roar from the crowd as more maroon-green kites started flying in the sky. With few minutes remaining Bagan’s center forward Abhilash Ghosh scored the winning goal.
The victory was seen as a symbol of hope for the subjugated nation as eleven barefoot Indian players became national icons as they defeated a British army team at their own game.