East Bengal FC is the newest club to participate in the Indian Super League. The wheels were set in motion when the Kolkata-based club found an investor in Shree Cement and the ISL organizers invited bids for a new team for the upcoming season.
The development cleared the decks for East Bengal to join the top-tier in Indian football in their centenary year.
It is such a happy and proud moment for ISL as we welcome East Bengal FC and their millions of fans into the League.Nita Ambani, Chairperson, FSDL.
It had not been an easy year for the Red & Gold. The club’s title sponsor, Quess Corp, ended their two-year partnership in June.
The club had entered into a partnership with Quess Corp in 2018 selling it a 70% stake. According to the assistant general secretary, Dr. Shanti Ranjan Dasgupta, Quess had inserted a clause that if East Bengal did not play in the Indian Super League within three years, the partnership would be terminated. However, in the autumn of 2019, Quess wrote to the club management saying it would not be continuing beyond May 31, 2020.
Without a sponsor, the club was on the brink. The operating expenses for a club/franchise to play in the ISL is estimated to be in excess of Rs 40 crore per season including a Rs 15 crore franchise fee.
There were talks about a merger with three-time ISL champions, ATK, which fell through. Their rivals, Mohun Bagan swooped in to announce a merger with ATK and paved their way into the ISL. To make matters worse, Mohun Bagan are the reigning I-League champions and alongside 2019-20 ISL Winners ATK stamped their authority on Indian football especially this past season.
After the departure of Quess, the club was on the brink and found it difficult to meet day-to-day expenses. Players’ contracts were terminated including eviction from their homes in May in the middle of the lockdown in Kolkata.
After much speculation, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee involved herself in the negotiation before making the announcement at a press conference along with East Bengal and Shree Cement officials.
The involvement of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the negotiation process is seen as a way to earn the goodwill of East Bengal fans.
One has to decode a very Bengali rivalry to understand the differences between the Ghoti (West) and Bangal (East). The Ghoti-Bangal divide is a perceived cultural superiority of one group over another -and vice versa – magnified by the experience of Partition which cast its shadow over the way the Bangal refugees from East Bengal were seen by the settled Ghotis of West Bengal.
The antagonism centered around the two communities’ support for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. While the players battled it out on the pitch, the fans would hurl insults at each other in a show of support for their respective teams.
There is a major presence of East Bengal fans in North Bengal with the Bangal population settling after the 1971 Bangladesh War. There is speculation that the move could help the Chief Minister woo the North Bengal public for the upcoming 2021 elections where her political party, Trinamool Congress failed to win a single seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
For East Bengal fans, this will not matter, for now, after all it is a Ghoti (Banerjee) has taken them to the promised land in their centennial year.
…and the winner is FSDL
In the 2019-20 season, the Indian Super League recorded a 51% growth in viewership. The presence of ATK Mohun Bagan and East Bengal could push that numbers higher as the tournament will be played behind closed doors in Goa, leaving the fervid fanbase to watch the matches on television.
Mohun Bagan’s merger with ATK will give them a headstart in the ISL while East Bengal is expected to play catch-up in India’s top-tier.
While ATK Mohun Bagan have been busy with transfer signings, the East Bengal backroom staff have to work fast to set up the team for the upcoming season, probably by cementing the head coach position.