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regular-article-logo Saturday, 18 May 2024

Mohammedan Sporting script revival with I-League triumph, clears path for entry into ISL

While Bagan had to merge with Sanjiv Goenka’s ATK to gain a berth, for East Bengal it took chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s persuasive powers to rope in investors whose money helped the club to feature in the league. Somehow, Mohammedan Sporting were never in the picture

Angshuman Roy Calcutta Published 08.04.24, 10:26 AM
Mohammedan Sporting coach Andrey Chernyshov (left) with football secretary and team manager Dipendu Biswas at the club tent on Sunday. The I-League champions were given a warm welcome by club officials and fans on return from Shillong.

Mohammedan Sporting coach Andrey Chernyshov (left) with football secretary and team manager Dipendu Biswas at the club tent on Sunday. The I-League champions were given a warm welcome by club officials and fans on return from Shillong. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Mohammedan Sporting’s I-League triumph on Saturday, which clears the path for an entry into the ISL, makes them unique from the Big Two — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan — of Calcutta football.

While Bagan had to merge with Sanjiv Goenka’s ATK to gain a berth, for East Bengal it took chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s persuasive powers to rope in investors whose money helped the club to feature in the league.

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Somehow, Mohammedan Sporting were never in the picture. Lack of success saw most of the fans deserting the club. Mohammedan Sporting played in the second division I-League in 2020 — they had coined a slogan Mission I-League — to earn a promotion to the first division.

From there on, there were moments of panic — at one point last season the spectre of relegation from I-League was looming over the club — but finally, everything fell into place this season. And here they are... in the ISL on their own. “It’s completely on merit. Not through the backdoor,” as one Mohammedan Sporting official put it on
Sunday. The sarcasm was never so glaring.

“It’s hard work and proper planning. Support from our investors (Gurgaon-based Bunkerhill) was also a huge boost,” Dipendu Biswas, the football secretary and team manager, told The Telegraph while driving down from Shillong to Guwahati on Sunday afternoon.

“Five years of toil,” was how official Taha Ahmed saw it. Taha’s father Sultan Ahmed, former Trinamul Congress MP, had been an integral part of the Mohammedan Sporting management till his demise in September 2017. Dipendu, along with Ahmed, club president Bobby Amiruddin and investor Dipak Singh, are seen as the new generation of officials who have scripted this turnaround.

“I spoke to some officials and they sounded serious about the revival,” Ishfaq Ahmed, coach of Real Kashmir FC and who wore the black and white shirt with pride during his playing days, said.

In this campaign till now Mohammedan Sporting have lost only once. That’s against Ahmed’s Real Kashmir.

Ahmed said ISL would be a huge beneficiary from Mohammedan Sporting’s entry. “Their fan following is huge and the league would grab more eyeballs. It’s a win-win situation.”

Taha Ahmed agreed: “When you play in the top league, people are bound to return. We are also focussing on fan engagement.”

Fans used to be Mohammedan Sporting’s USP. But that was when success and the club were good friends. From 1934-38, their triumphs in the Calcutta Football League followed by the Durand Cup and Rovers Cup double in 1940 caught Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s imagination. “Hum sab desh ka badshah hua, baki sab ghulam,” was the slogan fans used to raise.

Old timers in the capital still speak about Mohammedan Sporting’s support during the Durand Cup. Taking off from the 1967 superhit song from Milan, fans used to sing “Sawan ka mahina Sporting kare shor, Ramanna kare centre, Papanna kare score.” Those days the two brothers from Karnataka were weaving magic.

“It’s the identity. Being a Muslim, like many others, I would like to follow Mohammedan Sporting. This is the club of our community,” former club coach Mehrajuddin Wadoo said.

In 1980, legendary actor Dilip Kumar, an ardent Mohammedan Sporting fan, had once famously disappeared with the Rovers Cup which was jointly won by East Bengal. Former India cricketer Irfan Pathan is now a brand ambassador. “No other club evokes the passion like Mohammedan Sporting,” Wadoo added.

True. The Third Force has re-emerged and how. The new season of ISL will never be so eagerly followed.

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