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Arijita Bhattacharyya : It was a night of intense lightning and violent thunderstorm. It was a night, which witnessed tension, passion, panic attack, and goosebumps. 31st May 2015 – it was a night, which ended a painful 13-year wait and witnessed history!

The stage was set for a clash of titans. The important final match between the team in Blue and the Green & Maroon Brigade – for them, a fight to win another title, for us – a fight to reclaim glory, passion and heritage of the National Club of India.

It has been more than a decade that I am going to the stadium for my beloved Mohun Bagan – our club ground, Yubabharati, Kalyani, Barasat were all familiar but this was my first away match. It was a bit difficult to get permission from home, but my father, an ardent Mohun Bagan fan, became my greatest support to convince my mother when I told them that I had booked tickets to Bengaluru! Well, the passion runs in blood… and I am so fortunate that it does! 

Now, let us go into flashback to get some context. As a lady Mariner, I have had mixed experiences in the gallery. Earlier the experience was not so welcoming. However, I always preferred the general gallery to the VIP stadium, even when I had the tickets for the latter. The excitement, thrill, passion, bonding, crackers, slogans, drums, and flags everything about the general gallery is so very close to heart! With time, I have witnessed how the gallery ambiance went through a complete transformation, number of lady Mariners increased from a handful to multitudinous! Thanks to some of the fan clubs, which came forward and took initiatives to improve conditions in the gallery – it was a treat to sit amidst them and watch matches together! Even if you do not know their names, it was always like a family sitting together, cheering and praying for the win of our beloved team. After a loss, the situation was so gloomy and silent- but after a win, all of us paraded through locality, playing with abir, chanting slogans and screaming insanely – “Amra kara? Mohun Bagan! Jitche Kara? Mohun Bagan!” Even writing about those moments literally gives me goosebumps!

In the last decade, I have made friends over there – from age 6 till 60 – some bonds which will last forever! One of my brothers, Deepanjan Mallick whom I have known through Mohun Bagan, motivated me to go to Bengaluru on the final match date. One of my elder brothers – Subir Da (65+ age) who gave away his VIP passes to me on the very second day of our meeting just to ensure that I don’t have to fight with the crowd and can cheer for my team conveniently! I have met so many new friends, brothers and sisters in the last decade Utsab, Snehasish Da, Mayukh, Tuhin Da, Debarghya Da, Sourish Da, Gourav, Sujatro, Sayak, Prosenjit, Piyali to name just a few) because of our Mohun Bagan connection that I have lost count now! The respect, the care and the love I have received from each one of them have left me spellbound. Never in my life had I known that such connections were possible! The gallery was like the drawing room of my home, people there like my family members, Mohun Bagan – an indispensable part of my life!

I was there on 25th October 2009 – the 5-3 win over arch rivals East Bengal at the YBK, was there on the Calcutta league win day when Chidi Edeh scored the winning goal after a power cut in the YBK – I have been so fortunate to witness the entire gallery turn Green & Maroon on numerous occasions! On the other hand, on December 2012, I have seen the gallery turn violent and situation become outrageous against East Bengal when police started lathicharge randomly. Rahim Nabi started bleeding profusely when a random stone from the crowd hit him and match was abandoned. Our brave soldiers fought relegation that year and came out with excellence! I will fall short of words if I continue writing about each of my experiences!

Therefore, when my team reached the I-League final day on 31st May 2015 – I had to be there to witness history! Mariners from all over the world had gathered at the Kanteerava stadium, Bengaluru. People dressed in their favorite green & maroon jerseys, chanting innovative slogans and cheering our heroes all throughout! The away gallery was covered with our flag and cardboards. As our players entered the field, they received a standing ovation! The moment had finally arrived – the match started!

It was a tough fight – Bengaluru was determined to defend the title whereas our soldiers went all out with the mindset of having nothing to lose! However, on the 41st minute, a goal from the local team silenced the away crowd and a shadow of gloom prevailed as the match went into half-time. Second half started – we started cheering our team with renewed energy and unrestricted passion. Instead of being bogged down by the drama of the moment, our brave soldiers continued fighting with indomitable spirit, like wounded tigers. It started raining relentlessly, immense pressure started to build up and we could literally hear our pounding hearts! 

Amidst the torrential rain, catastrophic lightning and deafening shout of the Bengaluru supporters, match reached the official last 5 minutes.

85 minutes and 41 seconds into the game, magic happened. Quoting the commentator- “It was an innocuous corner from Sony Norde and that’s all what Bello needed to electrify the ball at the back of the net. A sudden spark from the 37-year old veteran. And the rest…is history!” 

In more than a decade that I have been going to support my team in stands, I do not remember when I cried so much! Literally, everyone over there was shouting intensely and crying profusely – as if nobody was watching. It was pouring and it appeared to me as if the almighty also could not resist the tears of unbound joy! 

Again, quoting the commentator- “The agony, the emotion, the pride, the drama of the moment ruptured the whole Bengali community into a different horizon. It had tears, it had smiles, and it had an undepicted sound of making an impossible task possible.” It was an unprecedented night. My brother, Deepanjan jumped from over the top of the railings and broke his leg into three pieces- yet when I looked at him from the stands, he was smiling – a smile of satisfaction, a smile of achievement, a smile of fulfillment in his eyes! As our captain, Shilton Paul lifted the I-league trophy, the crowd went insane, laughing and crying simultaneously- only Mariners will know this feeling of that night! I was so fortunate to be part of the winning celebrations & even got to hold the trophy in these mortal hands! The I-LEAGUE TROPHY! 

Celebration continued from team hotel that night to the next day as team arrived at the Kolkata Airport. Thousands of fans came up with echoing voice of their proud heroes’ names. The supporters captured the whole street from Kolkata Airport to Mohun Bagan Ground – it was display of a sheer mob of love – love, which inspires; love, which amazes; love, which keeps us fighting and striving for more!

I will end by quoting a line, which I heard on one of the social media channels and which I still remember- “All these re-injected that this club, Mohun Bagan is not just a football pride, but an institution to the sports culture for the Indian community across the globe.”

I am proud, honored and blessed to be a Mariner and I pray to the almighty that in all my re-births, I am granted this honor and passion to shout out loudly- “Amra kara? Mohun Bagan! Jitche kara? Mohun Bagan! Jitbe kara? Mohun Bagan!” Sheer goosebumps!

Arijita Bhattacharyya ( A Lady Mariner currently pursuing MBA)