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ATK Mohun Bagan Fan Uprising: A Battle Won Online, the Plot Lost at the Maidan

Jaydeep Basu |
While the fans fought to erase stars on a jersey and withdraw an “offensive” video, what remained lost to the social media activists was something that hurt Mohun Bagan the most and presents the real state of affairs. Barring one player, none from last year’s I-League-winning squad was retained by the new set-up, and all the staff were axed.
ATK Mohun Bagan and the fan uprising

Many fans and senior members feel that Mohun Bagan AC’s existence now depends on cricket, athletics or tennis. The club has, in essence, lost its footballing rights and that is a bit hard to digest for most.

Avik Chatterjee is a third generation Mohun Bagan fan who lives in the erstwhile French town of Chandannagar, around 30 kilometres from Kolkata. His movements are severely restricted these days as the local train service remains suspended since March because of the Covid-19 situation in the state.

Avik was a happy man the last few days though. The passionate Mohun Bagan follower hasn’t set his foot at the club premises in Kolkata in the last few months. Yet, he could “rally behind” his club and “do a few things” to stop some people from taking things for granted. At least that’s what Avik claims, and takes great pride in it.

Avik is one of those who was involved in a social media campaign to force both ATK Mohun Bagan and the Indian Super League (ISL) management to go on the back foot over a promotional video and a few website posts which the fans found objectionable. 

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Trouble started when practice kits of ATK Mohun Bagan in the promotional video flaunted “three stars”, highlighting ATK’s three ISL triumphs along with the words, “champions 2019-20”. 

What added fuel to the fire was a, now infamous, “washing machine” scene that showed the erstwhile red and white ATK shirt being washed together with Mohun Bagan’s traditional green and maroon jersey. Sourav Ganguly, a director of ATK Mohun Bagan, was involved in the promotional video. 

A large section of Mohun Bagan fans felt it was an assault on the tradition and legacy of the club. They launched such a tirade against the ATK-MB management and the ISL stakeholders, the FSDL, that the promotional video had to be withdrawn partially. The club along with its secretary, Srinjoy Bose, and Debasis Dutta, one of the directors, said all concerns will be looked into. And they did address it too.

The three stars on the sleeve of the practice jersey will be withdrawn, they said. Even the statistics on the ISL website will be modified. ATK Mohun Bagan stats will only be reflected from the current season.

“Initially, a few fans here planned a dharna in front of the club unless they withdrew the promotional. We are happy they realised their mistakes and acted promptly. Fans are keeping a watch on the new management. They should know it is a public club, not their private property,” said Avik with a deep satisfaction in his voice.  

So far, so good. Never before has the ISL organisers, the all-powerful men of Indian football at the moment, had to go into reverse, that too, so quickly. Having been accustomed to dealing with clubs with little or no support base since its start in 2014, the league management finally got to know the difference between real fans and complimentary ticket holders.

But then, there are people within the ISL and its franchises, who feel the fans and those who followed the issue, missed a couple of pertinent points. There are big shots in other franchises who thoroughly enjoyed the “fans uprising” that was unheard of in ISL’s six previous seasons.

One of them spoke in a strict condition of anonymity. “Well, that they had to listen to the fans is a complete new development. In case of any other franchise, the response would have been a polite ‘we will look into the matter next season’, and that would have been the end of it. Franchise grievances are not really encouraged here.” 

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Another official said: “ATK Mohun Bagan fans should demand an enquiry about who actually ordered the promotional video to be made. As far as we know, the franchise was never asked to be involved. They were in complete darkness, more or less. And those who made it, obviously, had no idea about Mohun Bagan’s place in Indian football. Why should such people be given the responsibility?”

One more question that is making rounds is whether the ATK-Mohun Bagan jersey or the practice shirt have officially been launched. Then how come the promotional displayed the practice kit with the so called fine details? It’s a mystery that has not been addressed by the club management nor by the league organisers.

There is another interesting side, too. 

Is every Mohun Bagan fan happy with the recent development that forced the new management to backpedal? Not really. They felt it was a minor victory in a major loss. A permanent loss, one may add. They can’t forget the fact that Mohun Bagan AC football team would now play as ATK Mohun Bagan. For good. No amount of social media campaigns can change it. 

One octogenarian member said: “I can’t open my mouth. If I do, I will be castigated, heckled. Mohun Bagan AC’s existence now depends on cricket, athletics or tennis. To me, that’s a joke. ”

He added: “True, top class hockey and cricket players like Keshav Dutt, Gurbux Singh, Sourav Ganguly, Manoj Tiwari, Mohammed Shami have donned national colours while playing for Mohun Bagan. 

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“Still, the club remained a household name because of its football activities. To take away football from Mohun Bagan AC is like cutting away Kolkata from the state of West Bengal,” the member said.

Former India captain and midfielder Satyajit Chatterjee is currently the elected assistant secretary of Mohun Bagan AC. He doesn’t like the pessimism. Being an office bearer, he, understandably, sees things differently.

“True, we do not have much football related activities these days. But, it could be a loss for the club officials, not for the fans. There is a strong team training in Goa. They are playing in the top league of the country. Why would fans bother about who all are running the club? They want results and this team is capable of producing them. Then where is the contradiction,” wondered Chatterjee, who played 14 seasons for the green and maroon brigade.  

Yet, there are people, who are not ready to feel consoled. What hurts them is the way nearly the entire squad of Mohun Bagan that won the I-League last season, was ignored while building up the combined squad for ATK Mohun Bagan. Sajal Baag, who received the best under-18 footballer award from the club, was not even considered. Barring Seikh Sahil, all others had to look for new clubs.

Contracts of highly successful foreign recruits of last season such as Joseba Betia and Baba Diawara were not renewed much to the surprise of the supporters. The entire support staff of Mohun Bagan AC found themselves jobless once the much publicized amalgamation took place.

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Neither the dissident members, nor the club management could be blamed for the stunning changes the 131-year-old club has gone through in the last few months. The bosses in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its marketing partners have played their cards consciously and carefully. It has created a situation where only rich and powerful can survive. 

Indian football was up for sale. Mohun Bagan AC was part of the items on display. As per the rule of the market economy, it had to go to the highest bidders. Now the question is, even if the fans feel Mohun Bagan, the historic football club, is still a public entity, the reality lies inked in the stamp papers that stipulate the percentage of shares the original club actually owns. 

The truth is the fans have only managed to melt the tip of an iceberg with their social media clout. Does the victory or two online -- erasing three stars and taking out a video -- even mean anything? They should introspect. Acceptance is the next logical step. Then it is bliss for football, after all, is opium... Switch on the telly, watch the ISL, and tweet out the goals and results. Repeat!

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