It was the dawn of the 20th century. Cotton College
and a number of schools had been established in the town, and guardians took
enormous pride in sending their wards to these institutions. However the
society was still quite conservative as far as sports and cultural
activities were concerned. Any inclination for the field or stage was met
with a collective gasp of horror.
In April 1907, about ten young boys led by
Sengupta, Pabitra Gupta and Uttam Chandra das formed the Oriental Club,
possibly the first organization of natives meant exclusively for the
promotion of sports in the town. The club also succeeded in getting the
blessings of a few seniors citizens. Unfortunately, however, it broke up
within two months. A breakaway group led by Kartablya Gupta, Nripen Sen and
Shyama Gupta then formed another club in 1907 with a peculiar name - Lago
Shyama Club. The club’s well- wishers were not too happy with the name and
frantic brainstorming followed. One morning while reading about the
inspiring life of Rajput king Maharana Pratap in his history book, club
secretary Nripen Sen realized he had found the perfect name. Incidentally,
around the same time, the play Maharana Pratap was also being staged at the
Arya Natya Mandir. The name appealed to both young and old, and Lago Shyama
became Maharana Club.
Maharana’s first ‘public appearance’ was in October
1907 when a group of barefooted players (that included Satya Banerjee, Deben
Sen, Prabir Das, Gobar
Dutta, Kiron Dutta, Canquo and Nripen Sen) equipped
with bamboo sticks, played a hockey match. No doubt the beginning was
humble, but the club was soon to rise to great heights. Its football team
was the first from Assam to participate in a major tournament outside the
province - the Govindlal Shield Competition. During this tournament, the
province was also to get its first sports gold medal when Sarat Das was
adjudged the best player. In 1947, the club won the IFC Shield in Lucknow.
In 1952 it lifted the All India Kamal Kumari Trophy at Benaras and is 1953
it won the Bardoloi Trophy for the first time.
Dedicated sports organizers like Animesh Ganguly got
closely involved with the club, nursed it with fatherly care and made it the
best in the region. In 1939 Maharana became the first civilian club from the
northeast to join the IFA Shield tournament, the club left an indelible
mark. It was defeated by a solitary last-minute goal by the formidable
Calcutta Police team. The next day The Statesman was to comment: “It
seemed the police players had left behind their boots at the Lalbazar police
station. Calcutta will always welcome Maharana.” The club played in the
national level IFA Shield for 19 years and reached the semifinals in 1949.
Maharana Club’s participation in the IFA Shield
tournament also gave birth to the Assam Football Association (AFA). An
interesting story is associated with the AFA’s formation. The 1945-46 IFA
regulations made it mandatory for teams joining the tournament to channel
their applications via their respective provincial football associations.
Assam at that time did not have any association and Maharana’s application
was therefore rejected. Animesh Ganguly then decided to form the Assam
Football Association and within a day Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was chosen
president and B Roy Chowdhury secretary. The AFA letterhead was printed
overnight and Maharana’s application for joining the 1946 IFA league
forwarded through the AFA.
Down the years the club has produced some of the
brightest jewels of Assam football. T Ao, a discovery of Animesh Ganguly,
was to become skipper of the Indian Olympic football squad to London in
1948. Sarat Das later became the captain of Calcutta’s Mohan Bagan Club.
Monoranjan Banerjee was among the 20 players shortlisted for the Indian
Olympic team in 1948. Jiten Chowdhury led the Assam contingent in the
national championship for three consecutive years from 1947. Toshen Bora
participated in the pre-Olympic game in Rangoon in 1971 as a
member of the
Indian football team. Putu Chowdhury became the club football team’s first
captain. Other committed players include Hemanta Guha, Binoy Baul, Prabhat
Hazarika, Sushil Das, Haridas Chakravarty, Bharat Chowdhury, Kironomoy
Lahiri, Abani Hazarika, Kun Kun Chowdhury, Handu Ganguly, Ashwini
Nip Barua, Narayan Das, Binod Basu, Kamakhya Sen, Moni Ganguly, Babul
Govinda Kalita, Raghunandan Rai, Umesh Das, Amu Mukherjee, Saujat Ali,
Bhabesh Roy and Pilik Chowdhury.
Sports organizers like Gauri Shankar Himatsighka, Ganesh
Sen, Anne Ram Baruah, Ashutosh Sengupta, Sashi Sarma, Murali Chowdhury and
Debabrata Banerjee also left a mark in different sports arena.
The club functioned from three different houses in
Panbazar for a long time before it bought the 1900-built famous Mukherjee
Lodge (owned by Panchu Gopal Mukherjee, the first Indian to hold post of
Deputy Commissioner in the Assam province) on Danish Road in the 1970s.
Today, it functions from the same premises that echo with memories of many