It's all in the name: Nassiri

Kiyan Nassiri Giri of ATK Mohun Bagan with the match ball after scoring a hat-trick in the Kolkata Derby against SC East Bengal. Faheem Hussain/Focus Sports/ ISL

Goal 1: Prabir Das sends in a wicked ball, fizzing across the face of the goal. No one, though, can quite reach it. Liston Colaco keeps it in play, and sends in a low cross that Adil Khan flings himself at, missing it completely. The ball bounces off an unsighted Sourav Das and drops, a few feet away from the six-yard box, at an angle to the goal. There are four white shirts next to it, and just the one in maroon and green. That lone figure is the fastest to react. By the time everyone else has realised that the ball is still in the box, he takes three steps toward it, leans back and curls a right-footer into the far bottom corner. In goal, Arindam Bhattacharya doesn't move a muscle.

Goal 2: Liston Colaco races to the byline and swings in a delicious cross. David Williams glances it cleverly toward the far post where it bounces off the woodwork and into the middle of the penalty box. There, in veritable acres, he stands. Again a lone figure in maroon-and-green in a sea of white. He has the time to steady himself and smash it with his right boot, waist-high, on the half-volley. There are three people on the line, including the goalkeeper. They can do nothing about it.

Goal 3: Hugo Boumous plays a neat little ball into the inside-right channel. Manvir Singh, all pace and muscle, hustles onto it. He takes a touch inside and into the box, where he gets tackled. The ball bounces, again, to that slight figure in maroon and green. It hits his body, but he's able to cushion it. As the ball falls, he hits it with the laces of his left boot, straight into the bottom near corner. Once again, Bhattacharya doesn't move a muscle.

Look at the three goals in isolation, and that's quite the hat trick for any forward to score. It had everything an old-school poacher would have loved - the alertness and positional awareness that lets you be "in the right place, at the right time", the clean finishing, the economy of movement, the minimal touches. The footballing intelligence shines through.

Then you take into consideration what the match was, who was playing. The boro match, they call it... the big match. Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal. In their various iterations, with or without a prefix (or suffix), they have been at it for more than a century.

Neither club are going through the best of times. On the field, they may be quite successful, but off it, Bagan have a war raging. They have an owner who sees the club as any other company he has acquired and fans who believe no one can ever truly own them. For East Bengal, the problems off the field have spilled on to it -- they are bottom of the league and for a second season running are lucky there is no relegation (yet) in this division.

Even with this disillusionment, though, even with all this festering discontent, it remains the match in Indian football. The big daddy of them all. It's not the kind of match where you see a 21-year-old kid score his first goal, let alone drag one of the sides over the line with a hat trick.

Which brings us to the context of the game on Saturday night. Both teams had looked rusty and nervous, before in the 56th minute Darren Sidoel put East Bengal ahead. Five minutes later, Bagan coach Juan Ferrando looked around, saw Roy Krishna on his bench - THE Roy Krishna - looked some more and then threw on this kid.

Now, it wasn't his debut - but it might as well have been. Three years ago, Bagan had plucked him from Calcutta Football Club, who in turn had got him from the Mohammedan Sporting juniors. He had played 11 minutes of I-league football under Kibu Vicuna, coming on after the match was won vs TRAU. He had then spent a season with the (new) ATK Mohun Bagan reserves before being called up to the squad this season. He had played the last two minutes each of the FC Nasaf hiding in the AFC Cup and the opening day win against the Kerala Blasters. Now, he was going to get half-an-hour and change in the one match these teams can't lose. While his side was a goal down. To then score three... Now, that's some hat trick.

And we haven't even gotten to the best part, that twist that gives the best of sporting qualities an intangible, everlasting quality. The kind that makes you ask, 'Where were you when it happened?' In this case, the kid's name:


For certain generations of Indian football fans, that name meant just one thing. Goals, lots of goals. In the '80s (1981-86), a student-turned-professional footballer from Iran named Jamshid Nassiri had powered East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, and East Bengal again to title after title across the nation (mainly alongside his friend and compatriot Majid Bishkar). Nassiri, the second-highest scoring foreigner in East Bengal history, would go on to settle in Kolkata.

Fast forward to 2022, and his son would become the youngest player to score a hattrick in the short history of the ISL, and the second youngest to do so in the much longer history of the derby (after a certain Bhaichung Bhutia). As best as we can make out from the long-disputed records this match has, it's just the fifth hat trick in its history. And it was scored by a Nassiri against East Bengal.

Even in a season that has been overshadowed by COVID-19 and its ravages, this is one story that reminds us all what this game is about. Just how important a role history, and romance, have to play in it. That, and the hope that a potentially free-scoring young player always represents, at any level of the game.

Like we've been saying for a while now, it was some hattrick... and it was scored by Kiyan Nassiri Giri. You might want to remember that name.