Mohun Bagan-ATK merger: History shows fan resistance a part and parcel of every momentous decision

Indian football giants Mohun Bagan ushered in a new era last week when they officially made the announcement of their merger with two-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions ATK.

The two Kolkata club have come together and will form a new entity that will come into effect from June 1, 2020, and will take part in the ISL 2020-21 season. ATK owner Sanjeev Goenka will own 80 per cent of the new club while Mohun Bagan will have the remaining 20 per cent shares.

Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have been contemplating to enter the cash-rich league from three years now. It all started back in 2017 when Bengaluru FC left the I-League to join the ISL.

Mohun Bagan finally took the tough call and became the first club out of the two Kolkata giants to step into the glitzy world of ISL.

There has been mixed reaction among the fans of the Green and Maroons after the two clubs made their merger official. While a majority of the fan base has accepted the decision of the club, the news has raised a few eyebrows among the sceptics.

Mohun Bagan fans

Some Mohun Bagan fans are not happy that the club will only own 20 per cent stake in the newly formed entity which means Mohun Bagan’s presence will become bleak. Also, they are not really happy about the name of another football club from the same city being prefixed to their club’s name.

But this is not the first time that the Bagan officials have faced resistance from their own fan base while taking major decisions for the club.

In the 1991-92 season, Nigerian striker Chima Okorie became the first ever overseas player to wear the iconic Green and Maroon jersey. Yes, it was only 30 years back that Mohun Bagan had for the first time welcomed a foreign national to play for their club.

Before that season, there was an archaic rule that existed in the club which did not allow the officials to sign foreign players. While their city rivals East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting enjoyed the services of quality foreigners in their team, Mohun Bagan couldn’t.

With a host of star players leaving the club in 1991, then general secretary and current president of the club Swapan Sadhan Bose (Tutu Bose) decided to make an amendment of the club rule and roped in Chima Okorie from East Bengal.

Bose’s decision was criticised by the old-timers who did not like the alteration of a rule that existed for 100 years at the club. But later Bose’s decision proved to be a boon as Mohun Bagan got one of their greatest ever footballers in Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto who helped the club win several accolades.

Jose Ramirez Barreto

The next big issue which rocked the club was in 1998 when Mohun Bagan and East Bengal came under the umbrella of Vijay Mallya owned United Breweries (UB) group. While UB Group’s McDowell's sponsored the Green and Maroons, Kingfisher became East Bengal’s sponsors.

The association of a century-old club like Mohun Bagan with UB Group was not accepted by many fans who could not tolerate their favourite club’s name being associated with an alcohol company. Vehement protests took place but the officials stood firm in their decision.

Before UB, Tata tea and Khadim’s used to sponsor the two big clubs. But with the emergence of the National Football League (NFL) in 1996, a new era had started in Indian football. The club officials understood that they needed deep-pocketed sponsors to compete at the national level.

Similarly, with the ISL becoming the top tier of Indian football, Bagan needed money to continue to fight at the top level. The officials have taken yet another revolutionary decision for the betterment of the club. History will tell us if it will pay off or not.