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Inside Story: How Mamata Banerjee pioneered East Bengal’s ‘possible’ entry into ISL

Inside Story: How Mamata Banerjee pioneered East Bengal’s ‘possible’ entry into ISL


Published: 2 Sep 2020 12:13 PM GMT

“Is it happening, then?” Almost everyone in the country’s football fraternity have been asking journalists the same questions, desperately searching for answers, over the summer.

Come November, the seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL) will kickoff in Goa amid restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, and at the moment, it looks like East Bengal FC will very much be a part of it.

As reported by us, on Wednesday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met with representatives of East Bengal and Shree Cement, the group investing in the club, at Nabanna to announce the landmark deal. At the same time, she more or less assured that securing an ISL spot is only a matter of time for the Red and Golds.

“East Bengal club completed 100 years this year. They have been leaders in numerous sports in the state but this year there was some uncertainty when they wanted to play in the ISL.. Mohun Bagan got in after merging, but East Bengal were almost being deprived. None of us wanted that in its centenary year, the club and its fans would miss out on playing the ISL,” the CM said in the meeting.


East Bengal’s dreams of joining the ISL has been well-documented over the last few years. In fact, it was with the same dream that they had brought on Quess Corp. as investors a couple of seasons back but that arrangement went foul midway. Before the start of the 2019-20 season, it was made clear that Quess and East Bengal would part ways, thus leaving the Red and Golds to fend for themselves.

Initially, the idea was that ATK FC would join hands with East Bengal to play as a single entity but the talks did not materialise. When arch nemesis Mohun Bagan merged with ATK FC to secure their pathway into the country’s elite league back in January 2020, tensions started rising in the East Bengal camp.

They began the search for new investors with the belief that they had more than 6-7 months time and it would not be hard. Little had they expected that the coronavirus pandemic, and the financial impact it brought along, would disrupt all their planning. Whatever companies they had approached and begun talks with, seemed to be stalling. At one stage, it seemed that there was zero possibility that the club would play in the ISL.

‘Both my clubs will play, I’ll do whatever is needed’: Mamata Banerjee

It is at this time that they approached Mamata Banerjee to intervene and help pave a way to the ISL, and she obliged. “Didi (Mamata) always wanted both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to play in the ISL. I remember she said something like, ‘Both my clubs (Mohun Bagan and East Bengal) will play, I’ll do whatever is needed’,” a source close to the developments told this reporter.

Mohun Bagan and East Bengal Derby Will we see an ISL match featuring East Bengal and Mohun Bagan soon? (Source: PTI)

The CM promised East Bengal that she would help the club get investors and even talk with Football Sports Development Ltd. (FSDL), the governing body of ISL, to consider the circumstances. That is when fresh drama started unfolding.

Quess Corp. despite dissolving all their stake in the club delayed the process of giving back the sporting rights to East Bengal. The Kolkata giants were then in talks with a potential investor in Prasun Mukherjee, founder of Universal Success Enterprises Ltd. (USE). Almost everything was discussed and the contract was set to be signed. However, due to several reasons the deal fell through at the final stages.

At this point, as per reports by Xtratime, Sourav Ganguly entered the fray and had talks with FSDL and the Ambanis. East Bengal, meanwhile, began talks with representatives of Shree Cement, under the watchful eyes of Mamata and FSDL, who, it is learnt, facilitated the initial talks, and a deal was finally agreed.

However, at the last moment, on Tuesday, there were again some doubts as some conditions were left unresolved. Again the East Bengal officials turned towards Mamata Banerjee for help, and again, she obliged.

What next for East Bengal?

While Mamata Banerjee assured that East Bengal would join the ISL there still remains some ambiguity as to when it will be, this upcoming season or next. East Bengal officials themselves said that several formalities need to be completed before they are granted entry into the country’s top flight.

The entire process has been torturous for all involved, as well as those at the club but having finally secured investors, now at least, the job is half done. At the end of the day, almost a miracle has been pulled off. From a position of zero possibility to here, there has been a lot of drama. Now begins the real work.

As per usual guidelines, East Bengal will now have to officially submit their bid tender which should be evaluated by an independent panel. If all criteria is met, they should be allowed entry into the league this season. The process should be similar to how Bengaluru FC made the shift from the I-League to the ISL.

Nobody knows when things would progress and when the ISL will reach their decision about the prospective entry. They could return their verdict at any moment yet, equally, this uncertainty could fester until an official statement, such is the complexity of the issue that delayed it. Already fatigued by endless delay, the fans have waited anxiously for the start of a fresh era.

Only after confirming a berth in the ISL can the club start planning for the season, build their team, buy players, hire a head coach and what not. If you are asking, the fun has only just begun.

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