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Durand Cup|The lost legacy of Indian football

Durand Cup carried the Indian football on its shoulders for over a century and will it be revived or not still remains a question at large.

Last updated: 19.04.2019
Durand Cup: The lost legacy of Indian football | Sports Social Blog

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The days of going out and watching a sport in a small restaurant are over. People no more sit in places like Karim’s and wait for the Hyderabad Police players to arrive. Gone are the days when kids would lie to their parents about going to studies but spend their days watching football matches in the stadium. With all this, the days are gone when ‘Durand Cup’ was the most prestigious in the Indian football circuit. It is that one tournament that up until the late 90s had gripped the football fans across the country and has produced many spectacles over its long history. But what is so big about the Durand Cup that rumors have surfaced of its revival?

Durand Cup was started in 1888 by Sir Mortimer Durand. It was started for recreational purposes for the British troops. In its first year, six British regimental teams and two Scottish regiments took part. For the next 52 years, the third oldest tournament was held in September in Shimla, the summer capital of the British Raj. It was mesmerizing to see the Durand matches. The ‘Beautiful Game’ being played at picturesque Annandale which was surrounded by hilly forests. Durand Cup was known for its pomp, pageantry, and grandeur, and such a scenic beauty was the icing on the cake.


The final of the cup was nothing less than a carnival. Officers and their wives dressed sharply. The military bands lit up the environment with tuneful marching tunes prior to the match and at half-time. Such was the Durand Cup. However, it was popularised in schools of Shimla by inviting students to the match at nominal rates. Moreover, the Shimla Trophy and Viceroy’s Cup along with the Durand Cup were displayed at Whiteways and Ridley, situated at the famous Mall Road.

Many legends of Indian football like K.G. Kakkar have admitted that it was the glittering trophy that got their interest in football. Initially, played only by the army, the tournament was later opened for civil participation. Mohun Bagan was the first club to play in the tournament in 1922. However, the Indian clubs fared badly against the much superior British regimental teams. Realizing this, the Durand committee came up with a unique idea in 1937 - ‘Chhota Durand’.  It was a tournament organized separately for all the teams that were knocked out in the first round.

Only on two exceptional occasions did the Indian civilian teams performed well. The first was the match between East India Railways and York and Lancaster Regiment in 1927. The second was between Aryans Club and the Green Howards Regiment in 1936 in the semi-final. It was an end-to-end action-packed match. The Aryans were playing barefoot and had got a lead by a penalty in the closing minutes of the match. But for some reason, the goal was denied. The penalty was taken again and the ball found the net, but again the goal was disallowed. Due to this, a massive protest had erupted with the crowd barging into the field. The match was eventually abandoned.

For almost 50 years, since its commencement, the British teams ruled the Durand Cup. The monopoly was broken by the majestic Mohammedan Sporting team in 1940 when they beat the Royal Warwickshire Regiment 2-1. This famous win proved to be the turning point for Indian football.

Durand Cup is the only tournament where the winner gets three trophies - the Durand Cup, Viceroy’s Trophy and Shimla Trophy. Each trophy holds its own unique history.

The original trophy comprised of a silver football supported on an ebony stand. The ebony stand consisted of the names of winning teams and players. The cup was won by Highland Light Infantry for three successive years from 1893-95 and thus was given to them permanently.

Sir Durand presented another cup in the 1896 edition and it as claimed by the Black Watch Regiment after winning it for three consecutive years. Sir Durand then donated another trophy but with a condition that this third Durand Cup should be turned into an annual cup, with a miniature being awarded to the winning team.

The trend was followed for the next 65 years until 1965 when the Durand Football Tournament Society declared it as a rolling trophy and the miniature cup was discontinued. Since then the winning team kept the trophy for one year and was returned before the commencement of the next edition.

The President’s Cup or the Viceroy Cup is designed with a circular disc atop on the Ashoka Lion capital. However, the most intriguing story is that of the Shimla Cup.

In an attempt of popularising football at the beginning of the 20th century, it was decided to change the venues of the Durand Cup annually. However, by 1903, the Shimla locals were hugely attached to the historic tournament and the carnival it brought with it. Hence a committee of various government employees was formed to ensure the tournament stayed in Shimla. The public donated to present another trophy to the winning team and therefore the name Shimla trophy.

Teams from Kolkata hold the best record in India’s oldest football tournament. Mohun Bagan has won 16 times and is eleven-times runner-ups. They are the only team to have the prestigious tournament thrice consecutively on two occasions; 1963-65 and 84-86.

Bagan is closely followed by their rivals East Bengal. They have won the tournament 16 times and are ten times runner-ups.  They achieved a hat-trick of triumphs in 1989–91.

The Durand Cup post-independence can be categorized into three phases of dominance. In the 1950s and 60s, the main challenge to Bagan and Bengal came from the legendary Hyderabad City Police and fit Services outfits like MRC Wellington and Gorkha Brigade.

From 1968 to 1988, the Durand Cup final was either played between teams from Kolkata and Punjab or it was an all-Kolkata final. However, in the late 90s and the early 21st century, there was a rise of teams from Goa and Mumbai who challenged the Kolkatan supremacy. Teams like Salgaocar, Dempo, Churchill Brothers and Mahindra United had become the new household names.

Sadly, the iconic tournament was rested in peace in 2015. The reason cited by the authorities was ‘no suitable dates for the tournament’. Durand Cup carried the Indian football on its shoulders for over a century and will it be revived or not still remains a question at large. But until then it is only its glorious history that will be told like folklores to the generation to come.

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