Calcutta is widely regarded as the sports capital of India due to its good sports infrastructure and unsurpassed spectator support. The city boasts of two of Asia's largest outdoor stadiums, the largest indoor stadium in India, two 18-hole golf courses of international repute (both have figured on the Asian PGA tour), excellent polo grounds, and venerable sporting clubs. The average Calcutta sports lover is abreast of the latest international developments in his or her favorite sport, a theoretician, connoisseur and historian and a fun-loving and passionate admirer of great sports.
Like in other parts of the world, the sporting seasons depend on climatic conditions. The soccer season runs from mid-May to September, since the monsoon rains render the grounds unsuitable for any other outdoor sports. Cricket is played from October to mid-February, the cool and dry winter being especially suitable for this sport, while the field hockey season lasts from February through May. Individual sports like golf, squash and tennis are played all year-round with most of the major tournaments happening in the winter months. Calcutta also has a fairly active rugby scene, with the season lasting from June to August. Equestrian events are also very popular during the winter months, with the polo season in December being especially noteworthy. There is rowing all year round at the Dhakuria Lakes.
In 1792, the Ballygunge Cricket Club was founded (today it is known as the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club), the first cricket club outside the British Isles. The first match outside the United Kingdom was held the same year in the Maidan, opposite the south gate of Government House, not far from what eventually became the mecca of cricket, the Eden Gardens stadium. Today, no international cricket event is complete without some of the most important matches being held in Eden Gardens (the World Cup finals were held in 1987 and the semi-finals in 1995). Cricketers from around the world, whether they are from Australia, India, South Africa, England or the West Indies, dream of playing in what is simply known in the world of cricket as "Eden". The Eden Gardens Stadium is also the seat of the Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI). The stadium is located at Fort William (Phone: +91-33-2248 1144, nearest commuter train station: Eden Gardens, nearest ferry pier: Babu Ghat). Visiting cricketers can join in a friendly game at Calcutta Cricket & Football Club (19/1 Gurusaday Road, Calcutta 700019, Phone: +91-33-2474 6500, nearest commuter train station: Ballygunge). The level of enthusiasm for cricket in Calcutta can be gauged from the fact that as many as 100 games, formal and informal, may be in progress in Maidan on a winter weekend morning. Besides, most evenings and weekend mornings, alleys and any open space in residential areas turn into impromptu cricket grounds for Calcutta's kids.
Soccer is Calcutta's other sports passion. Soccer, or football as it is known here and in most parts of the world, came to Calcutta in 1872, when sailors of the HMS Galatea played exhibition matches on the Maidan and the Calcutta Football Club was established. Although the first teams were comprised of British expatriates, local residents took to the game like ducks to water. The Mohun Bagan Club was formed in 1889 and continues to this day as one of Calcutta's prestigious football teams. The Indian teams played barefoot at the time, and were the target of derision of the British teams, until the barefooted Mohun Bagan team won the Indian Football Association Shield final against a well-shod British team in 1911. In the backdrop of the furor over the partition of Bengal and the independence movement gathering steam, this win was also seen as a giant leap forward, in a symbolic way, in the independence struggle. Calcutta's soccer scene continued to improve over the years gaining international repute, with the Calcutta footballers comprising the bulk of the Indian teams at the World Cup and the Olympics of 1948 and 1952. The high-point of Calcutta's (and India's) soccer came in 1962, when a Calcutta-dominated Indian team won gold at the Asian games. However, soccer went downhill in international arena after that for Calcutta, as it did for the rest of India. Nevertheless, Calcutta's fans have not seen any diminishing of football passions. Football matches between Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting have the same passions and loyalty (although not necessarily the rioting) as European soccer league matches. Life slows down every time a soccer match is held in the city or is broadcast on TV, be it national or international, whether or not a Calcutta, or for that matter an Indian, team is playing. Spontaneous celebrations after World Cup finals are legendary. The most important of Calcutta's football matches are held at the Salt Lake Stadium (located at SAI Complex, Salt Lake, Calcutta 700098, Phone: +91-33-2335 0350, nearest commuter train stations: Bidhannagar Road, Ultadanga Road), which is the largest soccer stadium in Asia with a capacity of 125,000. Each of Calcutta's major soccer teams also have their own grounds on the Maidan.
Calcutta Football Club was admitted to the Rugby Football Union in 1874 and presented them with the Calcutta Cup in 1878, played to this day annually between England and Scotland (alternatively in Murrayfield and Twickenham) and is one of the most prestigious events on the international rugby calendar. Calcutta has six rugby teams, and matches may be seen in progress on the Maidan during the season.
Field hockey came to Calcutta (and India) in the 1920s, and it was soon that India completely dominated the sports in the international arena. Calcutta, with its excellent sports facilities and a ready supply of talented players, especially from the Anglo-Indian community, was the natural focal point for the sport. After dominating the world hockey scene through the 1920s and 1930s (when India won gold at all the Olympics) and through the 1940s and 1950s, the sport began to lose appeal among Indians as they switched to cricket and tennis, and the sport began to be dominated by other Asian teams. The Beighton Cup, the oldest hockey tournament in India, is still played annually in April at the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club grounds.
There is a very strong golfing tradition in Calcutta. The first golf course outside the British Isles was established in 1829 by the Dum Dum Golfing Club, which lives on to this day as the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC). The golf course is regarded as one of the best golf courses in the world and is largely natural, and therefore old-fashioned, like courses along the British coast. This course features every so often in the Asian PGA tour. The other 18-hole golf course is that of the Tollygunge Club, with a quality and reputation that rival those of the RCGC. There are two 9-hole golf courses on the Maidan, namely those of the Fort William's Officers' Club and the Ladies' Golf Club (Phone: +91-33-2248 2404). The newer country clubs that have sprung all around Calcutta also have elaborate and modern golfing facilities.
Polo as an international sport originated in Calcutta. British army officers posted in Silchar, Assam learnt the game from locals in 1863 and formed the Calcutta Polo Club in 1863, today the oldest polo club in the world. Matches played here by the British cavalry teams over the next few years soon turned into social events, and was taken back to Victorian England for packaging and re-export to the rest of the world, like Darjeeling tea. The maharajahs of Cooch Behar, Jodhpur and Mysore, and the Nizam of Hyderabad, soon developed a keen interest in the sports and popularized the game within India. Sir David Ezra, a leading Jewish business tycoon in Calcutta, also sponsored the sport within the city. Polo declined briefly after independence in 1947 but was revived again in the 1960s by the erstwhile Maharajahs of Cooch behar and Jaipur. The Calcutta Polo Club (51 Chowringhee Road, Calcutta 700071, Phone: +91-33-2242 2031, nearest Metro station: Maidan), which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1988 has seen many famous players since, including Prince Phillip of Great Britain. Polo is today played in the Pat Williamson & Bahadur Singh Polo Grounds in the middle of the Calcutta Race Course, on the southern edge of the Maidan. The polo season culminates in the Indian Polo Association Cup, which is traditionally played on Christmas day. Additionally, the military has its own Fort William Polo Club (Phone: +91-33-2222 2458, nearest commuter train station: Princep Ghat).
Tennis has been popular in Calcutta since the 19th century. The most celebrated address for tennis is Calcutta South Club (2/1 Woodburn Park, Calcutta 700020, Phone: +91-33-2247 9711, nearest Metro station: Netaji Bhawan), with its ten grass and eight clay courts and a membership that seems like the who's who of Indian tennis - Dilip Bose, Sumant Misra, Naresh Kumar, Akhtar Ali, Premjit Lal, Jaidip Mukerjea, Gaurav Misra, Enrico Piperno, Zeeshan Ali and Leander Paes. Additionally, as expected, most of Calcutta's clubs have excellent tennis facilities.
Calcutta Rowing Club (15 Southern Avenue, Calcutta 700029, Phone: +91-33-2464 6961, nearest Metro station: Rabindra Sarobar) on the Dhakuria Lakes is the epicenter of rowing as a sport in Calcutta.
Traditional Indian sports like wrestling and kabaddi are practiced on the Maidan in the early morning.
© Focus Calcutta Initiative, Inc. Contents may be used for non-commercial purposes without malicious intent. Last modified December 10, 2003