Dubai: The sigh of relief on part of legion of Mohun Bagan fans - after the announcement that the re-branded ATK Mohun Bagan Club will be retaining their iconic green-and-maroon jersey alongwith the logo of the club - was too palpable. The 130-year-old (yes, you have heard it right) giants of Indian football will be surely turning a corner when they make their debut in this year’s Indian Super League, to be held behind closed doors from Movember to March next year.
Ever since the news of Atletico Kolkata (ATK) acquiring 80 percent stakes in the club - awarded the status of ‘national club’ of India on it’s centenary year way back in 1989 - was made public, protectionist sentiments ran high among it’s millions of fans strewn in various parts of the world. Some called it a sellout - what with ATK’s principal owner Sanjeev Goenka being one of the leading industrialists of the country - but it looked an imperative for the survival of one of the gems of Indian football.
It’s not that the club’s name would have a prefix for the first time now. Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, the other jewel in the crown of Indian football, had survived with sponsorships from Vijay Mallya, the disgraced liquour baron for more than 15 years from a long period of between 1998 and 2014-15 and were known as McDowell Mohun Bagan and Kingfisher East Bengal, respectively.
The exit of Mallya’s flagships proved a hammer blow for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, not to speak of Mohammedan Sporting - another centurion club which had seen off their best days. The ISL, a brainchild of the IMG Reliance which had bought over the marketing rights of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), was launched as the next big thing in Indian football in 2014 in the lines of it’s cricketing clone Indian Premier League - top cricketers, Bollywood actors as stakeholders and ageing stars of international football joining the ranks as mentor-players.
‘‘Green and maroon are my colours now. I was present during the last Derby between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and was overwhelmed by the love and respect Mohun Bagan fans showered on me that evening. I will give my best to the expectations of the millions of Mohun Bagan fans,’’ said Goenka, chairman of RP-SG Group after their first Board meeting on Friday.
‘‘It’s a historic decision. The green-and-maroon colours are a tradition of the club. That is staying and also the boatman remains. What else do you want? All the board members are from this city and they are well aware of the sentiments attached with the iconic colours of Mohun Bagan. I am thankful that the board respected that. To keep the game alive, Indian football will need such partnerships. Without corporate funding, you cannot survive,’’ Srinjoy Bose, one of the two directors from the club, told the local media on Friday.
Now, where does that leave East Bengal? The buzz is there is a strong pressure from different quarters to incorporate them in the ISL as well and it could well happen this season itself. Parth Jindal, one of the co-owners of Bengaluru FC, was among those who fuelled the speculation further with a tweet asking East Bengal to join the bandwagon.
The club, meanwhile, is in the process of sorting out a legal wrangle with their investors Quess Corp and are in dialogue with a number of corporate entities to be their main investors as well as a number of key sponsors.
Should East Bengal finally make it to ISL, the fizz around this season’s league could be an unprecedented one!