Durand Cup, the world’s third oldest and Asia’s oldest football tournament, returns after a gap of three years to entertain the football lovers of the nation. The prestigious tournament, first held in 1888 at Dagshai in Himachal Pradesh, is named after Mortimer Durand, who was the then foreign secretary in-charge of India.
The tournament that began as an army cup, was a conscious way to maintain health and fitness initially among the British troops, but was later opened to civilians and went on to become one of the leading sporting events.
Royal Scouts Fusiliers won the inaugural edition of Durand Cup back in 1888. Mohammedan Sporting Club was the first Indian club to win the cup, in 1940, when the tournament was shifted to Delhi. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are the most successful teams in the history of Durand Cup, winning it on 16 occasions each. The Army Greens are the current defending champions, winning the last tournament played in 2016.
The winning team is presented with three trophies—the President’s Cup (first presented by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India), the Durand Cup (the original challenge prize, a rolling trophy) and the Shimla Trophy (first presented by citizens of Shimla in 1904 and since 1965, a rolling trophy).
"Under the patronage of the chairman, chiefs of staff committee and the three service chiefs from the Army, Navy and Air Force, dynamic support of the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee, and able guidance of Lt Gen M.M. Naravane, GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, the 129th edition of the cup is being organised," said a senior Army officer of the Eastern Command.
The Department of Youth Services and Sports, West Bengal government, All India Football Federation and IFA (West Bengal) have also extended extensive support to make the tournament a success, said army officials.
The tournament has been shifted from its homeland Delhi to Kolkata, the Mecca of football, for this edition. The 'city of joy' will host the three-week long tournament, scheduled from August 2 to August 24, with matches to be played at various venues in and around Kolkata.
Sixteen participating teams from across the country, including four teams from the services, are set to bring out different styles of dribble and dodge at the Kolkata club grounds. The 129th edition of Durand Cup officially kicked off at Fort William in Kolkata on Wednesday, the same day when two MPs from Bengal—former ace footballer Prasun Banerjee and actor Dev—asked the Union government to save the football clubs of Kolkata.
"The major clubs are in a difficult situation. I would request the government to save them as they are part of the heritage of Bengal. The clubs are vulnerable and they are facing threats," Banerjee said in Lok Sabha on Wednesday.