While most of Kolkata, including many dejected Brazil and Portugal fans, will root for Argentina during Sundays football world cup finals in Qatar, a town of ‘Indomitable Gauls, about 50 km to the north will cheer for Kylian Mbappe and his team.
“We shall certainly cheer for France. Had it been India versus France in some sporting event, we would have cheered for India. But this match is between France and Argentina and this used to be a part of France till about 70 years ago. It’s only natural that most of the people here are supporters of the French football team,” said septuagenarian Dipankar Roy, a resident of Chandannagar, also known as Chandernagore, on the west bank of River Hooghly.
France’s victory over Morocco in the semi-finals is still being celebrated at Chandannagar. Several younger fans are busy discussing how Hugo Lloris’ side needs to defend better against Argentina.
“France is the defending champion. However, many of us had their hearts in their throats during the semi-final match even after France scored an early goal. The Moroccan side kept on attacking and there were a few near misses. It could have been anybody’s game if Morocco had a good finisher. It was only after the second goal that we started celebrating. Argentina will not make the same mistakes as Morocco did and France will have to be very careful,” Sumit, a college-goer said.
The French East India Company built the township of Chandannagar in the later half of the 17th Century. In 1757, Chandannagar was captured by the British but restored to the French six years later. Chandannagar fell to the British again in 1794 during the Napoleonic Wars. It was 22 years before the French got Chandannagar back. Thereafter, it remained under the political control of the governor-general of Pondicherry (now Puducherry) till 1950.
In May 1950, the process to hand over Chandannagar to India started after a plebiscite by the French government revealed that 97 per cent of the town’s residents wished to join the Union of India. At that time, several residents of the town held French passports and were given an option to remain French citizens.
“Oh, we are as much Indian as anybody else in the country. But we harbour some sentiments for France, particularly during football matches. We also held peace rallies and memorial services after the terror strikes in Paris in 2015,” Sumit added.