Mohun Bagan & East Bengal, the captains who abandoned the ‘Sinking I- league’

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As the tradition says from a sinking ship, the captain will be the last person to leave and if unable to evacuate the crew and the passengers, he will go down with the ship and will not save himself even if he can. But much to the dismay of football enthusiasts, two captains of Indian football chose to save themselves by abandoning the sinking I-League.   

What could be called as a big injustice to Indian football and their own legacy, Mohun Bagan, fondly known as Mariners and its arch-rival East Bengal jumped to the Indian Super League (ISL) from the I-League, the national league of India. 

Interestingly, they took the unexpected swerve after being up in arms against the establishment of ISL and later for not conceding to their demands to enter ISL. They not only budged from their legacy but also ditched fellow clubs in the I-League. Delving deep into their history it would also shock football aficionados that with such a vast legacy both the clubs did not do much to improve the condition of Indian football.

Born several years before the birth of independent India, the two clubs always enjoyed the lavish support of aristocrats and commoners alike. They were even backed by the British, the patrons of modern football. 
The legacy of Mohan Bagan dates back to 1889 that they are older than many top football clubs in the world such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

Nevertheless, when compared to other European clubs born during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, these two grand old football clubs of India have no achievements worth talking about. They sailed through many ups and downs of Indian football,  but never tried to be the captains of Indian football.  

When the Indian Super League (ISL) was started in 2013, not only were they dead against it but did nothing to strengthen the I-League to compete with the ISL. What was more shocking was that they agreed to be side-lined by playing ‘noon-show’ football at 2 pm when the ISL conquered Indian football with exciting evening games. Even the hardcore fans can’t watch the games at 2.00 pm in the stadiums under the scorching sun. So, think about the players.  

But taking a detour and in stark contrast to all their previous actions, the Mohun Bagan and East Bengal even resorted to back door politics to enter into the ISL without paying franchise fees. And when they failed to enter ISL, in 2017, they jointly declared an unofficial war against ISL threatening to disrupt the cash-rich event, PTI reports. “No Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, no ISL. We will not allow ISL here (Bengal),” Mohun Bagan general secretary Anjan Mitra told reporters after a joint meeting with the state body, Indian Football Association.

Not only were they in absolute defiance of sportsman spirit but also threatened an organisation for not conceding to their demands. Rather than threatening, they could have asked for concession. For football enthusiasts, the threat did really look like some hooligans barging into an office and demanding free tickets to watch their game. PTI also reports that in the same media briefing they made another statement. “We will not allow business in the name of football.” Not to say, such regressive thinking is not helping football any further.

Even after all this hullabaloo, they chose to enter ISL. In 2020, Mohun Bagan entered ISL by merging with ISL franchisee ATK and East Bengal by paying the franchise fee. They can of course play wherever they like. But they must answer why they chose to enter ISL. We, the ardent football fans, are dying to know. Is it for money, charity or football?

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