The Mariners ended their 2018-19 I-League campaign with a fifth-place finish.
Netflix has made a name for itself by making some cutting-edge football documentaries of late, be it on a well-known club like Juventus or a tale of desperation and mismanagement as that of Sunderland or on the raucous supporters of Boca Juniors. However, if a Netflix producer were to be brave enough to step out of Europe and South America in his or her search of a story to grip the viewers, their ideal stop would be at the tent-houses of Asia’s oldest football club, Mohun Bagan.
Established in 1889, the Mariners are one of the most well-established names in the Indian football circuit. They played a significant part in the Freedom movement and are one of the most decorated clubs in the land. They share a historic rivalry with East Bengal FC and the Kolkata Derby is known as one of the greatest matches in world football. All that glamour, however, does little to conceal the fact that the Mariners are an organization in disarray, fractured by deception and internal politics by the warring factions to monopolize power. Game of Thrones, anyone?
For over two decades now, Mohun Bagan has been run by the duo of Anjan Mitra and Tutu Bose, who to their credit, have bought many success to the club. However, they have not been the most efficient of administrators and that has taken a toll on the image of the club. With the AIFF backing the Indian Super League (ISL) for a while now, talks of a rearrangement of the leagues and a possible merger between the ISL and I-League had been making the rounds since the start of the season.
With eternal enemies East Bengal having already secured a huge investment from Quess Corporation at the dawn of the season, the pressure was on the Mohun Bagan management to ensure their coffers would be full and the club would be prepared to bear the expenses of a full-fledged ISL season if needed.
And that is where it all went wrong.
Back in September, Mohun Bagan picked up their first Calcutta League title in eight years and in exuberance, Tutu Bose declared that his faction had already sealed a deal with a multi-billion dollar corporation called Streamcast which would be operating the club before the I-League season started in late October.
Having failed to complete the due diligence before the announcement, Bose and his faction lost the trust of the supporters of the club when it was eventually found out that such a corporation does not exist in reality. The club management was duped by a reportedly bankrupt organization for months, and they had no idea about what was going on.
Of course, other sources reported that the entire story was a hoax spread by Tutu and his comrades to garner public favor before the elections, while other sources reported that Streamcast was actually going to fund the club only if Tutu’s rival Anjan Mitra would be in power. When that did not happen, they backed out from the agreed deal. According to a Mohun Bagan fan who has been supporting the club for decades but chose to rename unnamed, the story of Mitra roping in Streamcast and then dropping them at the last moment because he realized that he would not win the elections, made the most sense.
However, what is undeniable is that this announcement did help Bose to win the club elections, which led to several insiders suggesting that the declaration was nothing but a hoax to win over club members and make them vote for his faction.
As the months progressed, news of potential sponsors kept making the rounds. Several of them tickled the supporter’s imagination, but they were losing patience now. The Mariners have an infamously impatient fanbase, and the extended dilly-dallying by their management did not help the cause at all.
With the turn of the new year, rumors emerged of ATK owner Sanjeev Goenka reportedly interesting in buying the club and merging it with the franchise. This infuriated the fans, who protested against the move and then, practically declared war on those at the round table. Once again, the management did not help their cause either, they not only failed to assure the fans that Goenka was only looking to buy majority stakes at the club (and not merge it) but also prevented the supporters from carrying banners and tifos at the second Kolkata derby in January. The fans were at the edge, they just needed a push to go over and that is what exactly happened following the Derby.
Massive protests, both on social media and outside the club premises was staged to protest against the incompetence of those in charge, games were boycotted and demands of corporate investment and better efficiency was placed. This made life tougher for Bose and his boys, who were already under pressure from Goenka who wanted to completely rebrand Mohun Bagan and impose severe limits on the power of those in charge currently.
As such, talks between the parties hit an impasse. With increasing supporter pressure and miscommunication from the management, the good deeds done by Bose and his troops were lost in translation. Legally registering the club and it’s trademark, fending off the “insulting” proposals from Goenka and standing up to the AIFF in order to clarify the roadmap for Indian football up ahead were several of the smart moves made, but a lack of clarification and years of distrust has turned the supporters’ group into the mortal enemy of the management.
From being one of the premier clubs in India to being one in complete incoherence with its fans and mocked and ridiculed nationwide, the story will no doubt be a riveting one to watch. As of now, Mohun Bagan have withdrawn from participating in the Super Cup and have participated in the protest of the I-League clubs against the AIFF in making an all-inclusive league from the next campaign.
There is a long road to go, for nothing is certain as to who sits on the throne of Asia’s oldest football club as of now. Cue for a season 2, maybe?