NorthEast United fans stage protest against 'racism' by East Bengal fans during ISL game
NorthEast United beat East Bengal 3-2 on Saturday. While victory kept NorthEast United three places above East Bengal on the ISL ladder, its significance was felt beyond the pitch.
Guwahati: 'Civilised'. 'Metal Pot'. 'The death of decency at the hands of East Bengal'. The Highlanders Brigade, NorthEast United FC's prominent fan group, resorted to tifo and posters to stage a protest ahead of the home side's Indian Super League (ISL) clash against East Bengal FC at Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday.
The 3-2 victory for NorthEast United cannot be sweeter than this given the occasion. Tomi Juric and Nestor Albiach propelled NorthEast United to a resounding victory, marking a significant moment in the ongoing rivalry between the two clubs.
While the victory kept NorthEast United three places above East Bengal on the ISL ladder, its significance was felt beyond the pitch.
For the fans of NorthEast United, it was a perfect revenge.
Their rivalry went back to August 2023 when the Highlanders Brigade accused East Bengal fans of racism during the Red and Gold brigade's come-from-behind 5-3 win in the semifinal of the Durand Cup.
The visiting team fans took to social media to narrate the instances of racial slurs and being targeted with stones and slippers during the match by the East Bengal fans.
The match was marred by violence as some home fans hurled racial slurs at the NorthEast United supporters. The security forces had to intervene to neutralise them.
It was the first time the two clubs were meeting since that incident, and the NorthEast United fans came up with a measured response to take a dig at the Kolkata club and its fans.
They put up posters on the streets encircled by candles, denouncing the lack of decency in football. The poster read, 'The death of decency at the hands of East Bengal'. On the ground, a few fans held a poster that read, 'Civilised' with 'X' mentioned on the side and a tickmark was given to 'lota' in a vile dig to East Bengal fans' root to Bangladesh and their ancestors' use of metal pot in daily life.
Emphasising the need to eradicate racism from football, Aashirwad Chakravarty, a member of the Highlanders Brigade, said, "The matter was not earlier the same. Both clubs' fans have respect for each other, but from the Durand Cup semifinal it has aggravated."
"They had attacked our fans, but the shameful thing was that they were not apologetic about this. Today, we met East Bengal fans; they still did not feel sorry about that incident. They claimed it was propaganda by another club to put East Bengal fans in a bad light, especially by Mohun Bagan.
So, we decided to protest against the incident. We made a tifo that showed the difference between decency and East Bengal. Today, the team shot back, we won the game, and the rivalry started. Racism has no place in football, and when someone does it, we know how to respond,” he added.
An East Bengal fan, on condition of anonymity, shot back, "The incident was not good. I don’t know who did it, but it should not have happenned. My team fought well too, and we are proud of it. We didn't lose a game like five and nil."
NorthEast United FC's coach, Juan Pedro Benali, emphasised the significance of the victory for the fans, acknowledging their enduring support since the Durand Cup.
NorthEast United FC will play Mohun Bagan on February 17 at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.