Indian Football Stands to Gain Nothing From Mohun Bagan-ATK Merger
On 16 January 2020, Thursday, the RPSG Group, the owner of ATK FC, acquired 80 per cent shares of Mohun Bagan FC.
On 16 January 2020, Thursday, the RPSG Group, the owner of ATK FC, acquired 80 per cent shares of Mohun Bagan FC.(Photo: The Quint)

Indian Football Stands to Gain Nothing From Mohun Bagan-ATK Merger

DCM Textiles, formerly Delhi Cloth and General Mills, was founded in 1889, the year Mohun Bagan Athletic Club was formed in Calcutta. The company started an annual football tournament in Delhi in 1945.

In the next 20 years, the DCM Cup continued to grow in stature. Top Indian clubs like East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, Hyderabad City Police, Leaders Club, Mafatlal etc. were regular participants. Formidable foreign clubs from Iran, Germany and Korea also played in the meet.

Mohun Bagan was the lone Indian club, which steadfastly refused to play the DCM Cup till early 90s, despite receiving lucrative offers. Dhiren Dey, the all-powerful assistant general secretary and later general secretary of the club from 1959 to 1990, remained adamant.

“We don’t play tournaments organised to promote the sale of bedsheets,” the high-brow official was once quoted as saying. Mohun Bagan started playing in the DCM Cup only after Dey’s group lost club elections.
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Was Mohun Bagan Ever a People’s Club?

Mohun Bagan’s 1911 IFA Shield winning team.
Mohun Bagan’s 1911 IFA Shield winning team.
(Photo: Twitter)

Things have, however, changed with time. On 16 January 2020, Thursday, the RPSG Group, – headquartered in Mumbai – the owner of ISL football club ATK FC, acquired 80 per cent shares of Mohun Bagan Football Club (India) Private Limited.

Starting next season, the 130-year-old Mohun Bagan will be known as ATK-Mohun Bagan or Mohun Bagan-ATK.

After the announcement was made, all hell broke loose, and a section of Mohun Bagan fans cried foul. It is a “sell-out” of a public club to a private hand, fans alleged. Some said the club’s 8,000 odd members have clearly been betrayed.

The question that arises is if Mohun Bagan was ever a true people’s club. The club’s history, legacy and tradition notwithstanding, they always remained a club run by an elite group of people, mostly land owners, aristocrats or businessmen.

The club’s long list of patrons and office bearers from 1889 include names like Maharajas of Cossimbazar, Cooch Behar and Natore, Sir Bupendra Nath Bose, Sir Rajendra N Mookejee, who made their money from either land ownership or business. Even the present general secretary Swapan Sadhan Bose is a Kolkata-based businessman.

Dhiren Dey, who regularly sneered at promotional tournaments, was himself one of the owners of Dey’s Medicals. His conscious efforts to distance himself from common members was indeed legendary.

New York Cosmos’ Pele playing against Mohun Bagan in an exhibition match at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in September 1977.
New York Cosmos’ Pele playing against Mohun Bagan in an exhibition match at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in September 1977.
(Photo: Facebook)

The news of the entry of Sanjiv Goenka’s RPSG Group does not come as a surprise. Mohun Bagan had never been run on public money or members’ subscriptions. Till recently, now-infamous Vijay Mallya was pumping money in both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal for many years.

Well, the difference here is: Now, the owners who control 80 per cent stake, will now run the show. They will take over the club’s ground and exercise significant control in players’ selection and policy matters. Given the ruthless nature of the current corporate world, it is expected to be one-sided. It won’t affect common members, because, historically they never had much say to begin with.

It could have been avoided. The current crop of Mohun Bagan officials should accept responsibility for years of mismanagement. They repeatedly talk about the dearth of sponsors in Indian football.

Agreed. But how come newly-born clubs like Chennai City, Aizawl FC, Punjab FC or Gokulam FC are managing the show? And still doing far better than two so-called Kolkata giants with relatively smaller budget?
ATK owners Sanjiv Goenka (right) and Utsav Parekh with a Mohun Bagan jersey after the merger on 16 January.
ATK owners Sanjiv Goenka (right) and Utsav Parekh with a Mohun Bagan jersey after the merger on 16 January.
(Photo: Twitter)

They say that they have bigger ambitions and that to run the club and play in the Indian Super League (ISL) you need money. So, they have taken a calculated risk by handing over the club to an outsider on a platter. But what’s the guarantee that it won’t backfire?

Mohun Bagan Badly Needed This Tie-Up

(Photo: Twitter)

In October last year, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and All India Football Federation (AIFF) cleared the decks for ISL to become the country’s number one league. Mohun Bagan’s eagerness to play in the ISL resulted in them taking the decision. They are presently in a financial mess and they needed this tie-up.

A rosy picture has already been painted about Mohun Bagan’s near- certain entry into ISL next season. One only hopes it would be for the betterment of football.

The biggest problem is Mohun Bagan, despite having millions of fans, could be reduced to an entity which is owned by a private party.

What’s the guarantee that ISL, like tournaments run by official federations across the world, will continue to exist? What if the sponsors feel it’s unfeasible? Maybe for the right reasons?

Win-Win Situation For ISL

(Photo: ISL)

Mohun Bagan’s sudden financial fortunes is good for the cash-strapped legacy outfit. It is also a huge facelift for ISL, which, despite its best efforts is finding it hard to make a mark.

The move also gives a huge twist to Kolkata’s football scene. Mohun Bagan’s arch rivals, East Bengal, will now, somehow have to change track and raise more money. They are left with no option but to knock at ISL’s door.

It’s a win-win situation for ISL. The future of I-League looks gloomy, if not doomed. The bigger picture, however, is still extremely hazy. Mohun Bagan roping in a buyer or playing in the ISL, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will result in drastic improvement in the Indian football. It has too many problems. It can’t be solved overnight, and so easily.

Former Mohun Bagan player and coach Subhas Bhowmick said, “Mohun Bagan joining hands with RPSG Group was inevitable. From ancient days, fine arts have been patronised by rich and elite.”

True. One only hopes the rich and the elite would allow football to remain as the common man’s game. It shouldn’t be played only for the Majesty’s delight and satisfaction.

(The author is a sports journalist for more than 35 years and has authored “Stories From Indian Football”. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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