The Black Panthers’ players and officials have all dedicated qualification to I-League to the fans.

After seven years away from the Hero I-League, Mohammedan Sporting Club have finally returned to the competition by virtue of their victory in the Hero I-League Qualifiers 2020 on Friday. For the players of the team, it’s a ‘gift’ to the fans who had faithfully supported them even during the tough times.

Captain Priyant Singh, who has been leading the side from the back, kept two clean sheets between the sticks for Mohammedan Sporting in their three matches and said that giving delight to the loyal Mohammedan faithful is the ‘biggest thing’ for the whole team.

“Lakhs of our supporters have been shedding tears for so many years, so now I feel really well for them. They used to leave all their daily work and routines and come to watch us play and train at the Maidan,” Priyant told I-League media.

He continued, “So, it felt bad that we could not give them Hero I-League action in return. But the happiness that we’ve brought to all the Mohammedan supporters after this win, that’s the biggest thing for us players. I feel proud to be a player and a captain of Mohammedan Sporting.”

Mohammedan Sporting Club General Secretary Sk Wasim Akram said that he let out a sigh of relief when qualification for the Hero I-League was finally confirmed for his club.

“What can I even say? It’s just a relief that we are finally through. Year after year, we have been trying to get back to the Hero I-League, and our fans have been backing us like anything over the years,” said Mr. Akram. “I’m just happy that we have finally been able to fulfil that desire.”

He added that he felt that this victory by Mohammedan Sporting was made even more special due to the fact that it was the first sporting event in the country since the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This really feels like a cherry on top of the cake. It was anyway a historic moment because the Hero I-League Qualifiers was the first tournament to be held in India after the lockdown. And the fact that we have confirmed our victory makes it all the more special,” he stated.

“In a situation where the whole world was left wondering how to deal with the pandemic, a hassle-free bubble environment was created for the teams to participate in. This is not just a win for Mohammedan Sporting, but it is also a win for Indian football and Indian sports,” Mr. Akram averred.

Eze Kingsley, who has been a rock at the heart of the Mohammedan Sporting defence, felt that the club deserves to be at the Hero I-League level and credited the victory to the fans.

“It’s a very special moment for me and the club. Even more so for the fans,” said Kingsley. “I give all the credit to the fans. They deserve this.”

The Nigerian defender, who had previously won the Hero I-League with Mohun Bagan five years back, echoed the sentiments of the club management, stating that the fact that the Hero I-League Qualifiers have been held successfully, is a victory for football.

“It really is amazing. Of course, I’m happy that we have won, but I also feel that football has triumphed here,” he stated.

The 28-year-old stated that he ‘felt the angst’ of the Mohammedan fans, and hence made a return to the club to help the Black Panthers make their way back to the Hero I-League for the first time since 2013-14.

“They have been trying to get back to the Hero I-League. That’s where they are supposed to be, because this is a very big club in India, and playing in this division has not been easy for the fans. Coming back here to help them qualify means a lot to me,” Kingsley mentioned.

The Head of Football Operations at Odisha FC, Mr. Abhik Chatterjee explained, “This training session was a very special one for all the players and the staff because everybody set foot on the pitch after a long period of time. The joy and the enthusiasm that the players had was very visible and it showed in the training session.”

“Everybody was just grateful to be practising and training again. Hopefully, the players can keep this level of commitment and enthusiasm going as we will look to go from strength to strength in our pre-season training window under Head Coach Stuart Baxter soon and prepare and give our best in the Indian Super League season.”

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