Atlanta, GA, August 29, 2022: It was no ordinary Sunday on August 14, 2022 at Newtown Park, John’s Creek, Georgia, USA. The parking lot was packed! The Audio-Video Live streaming teams had set up their control center and were ready to launch! The camera crew was in position. Trays of food, paper products, supplies and Coolers packed with ice and beverages had arrived. The Georgia summer favoured us with a sunny but balmy 83 °F.
VIPs were expected at any moment. The audience was excited, and the air was electric! Something big and unprecedented was slated to happen. And it did. The IFA Shield USA Kolkata Derby kicked off at 5 PM sharp. It was the first of its kind – a simulated football or soccer match between two legendary Kolkata teams – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, titans of the Indian football world.
The derby was organized by Partha Mukherjee, Dr. Raktim Sen, and a host of passionate football or soccer- loving players and volunteers from the Atlanta.
The Chief Guest, Dr Swati Vijay Kulkarni, the Honorable Consul General of India in Atlanta, welcomed and felicitated everyone, especially on the eve of the 75th Year of Indian Independence on August 15, the following day. She encouraged everyone to remember their roots and fly the tricolour on August 15, in remembrance of that historic occasion. Soon, everyone rose in respectful silence to the beautiful strains of the American and Indian National Anthems, sung amazingly well by Atlanta’s very own pair of gifted young “nightingales” – Kuheli Mitra and Anushka Chowdhury.
John Bradberry, Guest of Honor and Mayor of the City of John’s Creek, said he was very excited to be present, thanks to City Councilman Bob Erramilli’s invitation. He was so fascinated by Indian culture, that he pledged to have the City of John’s Creek host Diwali in October, and showcase it with Indian art, music, dancing, food and fireworks!
Cheerleaders sporting red and orange pompoms, the East Bengal colors, bounced about merrily. Supporters of the two rival teams were packed to capacity on the covered bleachers or spectator stands. They exchanged witty verbal barbs as the initial playoffs kicked off between the junior teams. In line with tradition, a pair of “Ilish” or Hilsa fish decked in East Bengal colours were also on display as a good omen for that team.
Surprisingly, despite a boatload of cheers and jeers, the first half ended in a stalemate. Speculation charged the conversation bringing it to a fever pitch as the second half too drew to a close. Was it going to be a dull goalless tie? … But no … all of a sudden, the air was shattered as the long-awaited magic word “GOOAAAAL” exploded over the speakers. East Bengal scored the first goal of the day! Their team and supporters were jubilant. Mohun Bagan kept trying tenaciously for an equalizer. But the pair of “Ilish” or capricious fate seemed to have decreed otherwise. Unbelievably, East Bengal scored again! Their fans and cheerleaders went ballistic with red and orange pompoms dancing around. The prelims had them leading 2-0! Distinguished Guest and reputed former East Bengal player Mike Okura’s, face was beaming, lit up like a thousand-watt light. He had flown down with his family all the way from Houston, Texas.
The deciding event, however, was the final between the qualifying teams from each side. But here too, the game ended after some breathtaking edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting moments, with a call for a tie-breaker. Each side now had 5 chances to shoot the ball into an open goal.
East Bengal effortlessly sank in 2 goals in 2 attempts and missed a couple. Mohun Bagan lobbed the ball off course twice & squandered the 3rd shot. They then pinned their hopes on an absolute newbie. And lo and behold he achieved Mission Impossible with a goal! The score now stood at EB: 2 vs MB: 1! The entire crowd was as tense as a taut wire.
Both Teams were left with just a shot apiece! Everyone was literally on the razor’s edge. Mohun Bagan went first and fired off a half volley. But it sped past the goal as if by some weird quirk of Fate, leaving East Bengal breathing again! If they scored now, they were home free! Their man took the shot. All necks swivelled to follow its path. But it was nowhere to be seen in the air!! It turned out to be what in cricketing parlance would be called a perfect cover drive or the equivalent of a birdie in golf! The ball hugged the green Astroturf and rolled ever so gently but inexorably with the EB fans wiling it on. … Finally, the field erupted in a roar as the commentator Arko bellowed “GOAAALLL”!
East Bengal won the coveted IFA SHIELD USA 2022 in Atlanta. Excited chatter buzzed throughout the award ceremony and photo shoot which followed. The ladies in the catering team meanwhile, had warmed up dinner in perfect time for guests, their entourages, the spectators and the hungry throng of players.
The appetizer menu featured finger-lickin’-good Empanadas, Samosas and pastries. And the dinner to remember consisted of “delish” veggie chop, chicken “ghughni”, naan and chicken curry (conjured by our local “Iron Chef” Avro).
Wrap-up was finally completed around 10:30 PM after a historic, fun-filled day to remember. It had set the ball rolling for more such festive events to come. And what better way to promote our international relations and propagate our culture than through sports, art, culture, food, fun and sheer mutual goodwill?