The 130th edition of the Durand Cup has kicked off in Kolkata with Gokulam Kerala aiming to be the defending champions this year. It is being jointly hosted by the Government of West Bengal and the Army Eastern Command in Calcutta. The history of this tournament encompasses several pre and post independence decades of sport that has brought about India's oldest official sports tournament into existence.
The tournament began in 1888 under the able leadership of Sir Henry Durand, a famous Indian Civil Servant and the Foreign Secretary of India. The modern day Durand Line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan is named after him as well. His initiation of the Durand Cup began as a way of getting British Indian troops into sports and competitive events.
The Durand Cup was first held in Shimla which was a popular retreat for the British back in the day. Sir Henry Durand was recovering from an illness in the hill station and realised the importance of physical health for soldiers in the Army. There were several army regiments and military units that were originally involved in the tournament and it became and inter regiment tournament essentially. They were initially only inclined towards playing Hockey given the popularity of the sport in India at that time but football gradually picked up. The event itself was a major deal and people came from all across the country to watch the final which was a highly publicised event. It was also a great platform for Indian football clubs to defeat the British regiments which of course, rarely happened at that time.
However, events post World War II that also involved the cancellation and relocation of the tournament ushered a new era for Indian football.
The Durand Cup was later shifted to Delhi post 1940 and opened for civilian clubs and teams. This brought in the likes of Mohammedan, Salgaocar, East Bengal and all the other legendary I-League teams that have since dominated the proceedings. It is now held under the Durand Football Tournament Society and has been the continuously held every year to attract top Indian teams and players from leagues such as the ISL
, I-league and even Armed forces football teams. The inclusion of ISL and Armed forces teams has helped expand the reach of the tournament.
East Bengal and Mohun Bagan
are the leaders with 16 wins each. The two teams are way ahead of the rest of the pack where BSF comes in at third place with 7 wins. There are several English regiments such as the Highland Light Infantry, York and Lancaster Regiment, Sherwood Foresters and several more that were champions in the years prior to 1947. Out of all the teams, Mohun Bagan has made the most appearances, has the most consecutive wins, and also has the most defeats in finals.
There have been numerous historical and landmark moments for the Durand Cup and the teams taking part in it. Some of then include:
1)Hyderabad City Police defeating Mariners FC in the first post independence final with legendary Indian coach Syed Abdul Rahim being the coach of the team back then. He also became the Indian football team coach and guided them to the semi-finals at the Melbourne Olympics.
2)East Bengal winning the Durand Cup for the first time ever in 1951 and this helped establish their team as a dominant force in India.
3)Underdogs Tata Football Academy reaching the 1995 final and unfortunately losing to Mohun Bagan on penalties despite playing brilliantly.
4)Mohammedan FC becoming the first ever civilian or non regimental team to win the tournament by beating the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1940.