Are ATK Mohun Bagan FC three-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions or two-time I-League champions? Do they have a 6-year-old history or a 130-year-old? There are two separate pages on social media, one for ATK FC and the other for Mohun Bagan — which one to follow now?
One faction says that ATK is the parent club, so the new club are three-time ISL winners. The other argues back, ‘Are you willing to let go of more than a 100 years of history just like that?’
Several questions remain unanswered as ATK and Mohun Bagan announced the name, logo and jersey colours of the newly formed entity following their much hyped merger. But at least some doubts were resolved, right?
Much to the happiness of the Bagan loyalists, the Green and Maroon colours remain, the logo is still intact bar the addition of three characters “ATK” — akin to the name of any investor being added — which they don’t mind. They have at least got a one up over arch rivals and age old nemesis East Bengal — they are in the ISL!
To think the first rumours of this merger had first surfaced almost two years back and now finally it has a form is almost unimaginable. Ever since it was announced in January this year that the RPSG Group was buying 80% stakes of Mohun Bagan’s football club and that the two clubs would merge together to play as a single entity in the ISL, there has been a mini cyclone brewing.
Die-hard Bagan fans were vehemently voicing their opinions over rumoured changes to the logo, which included a lion being drafted in on top of the traditional boat, a change in name and, worst of all, doing away with the prideful Green and Maroon.
“To me, green and maroon are my colours. Green and maroon it is. The logo remains the same, ATK Mohun Bagan is the new name of the club,” answered Sanjiv Goenka, principal owner of ATKMB.
Until yesterday, many had seen it just as a business investment. But his words prove that maybe he cares more than what everyone realised and that he does have the basis of an understanding of what it takes to invest emotionally, not just financially, in a football club. Not just the words, the promise to develop the original Bagan facilities at the centre of the Kolkata maidan, the hub of Indian football, the real Mecca of Indian Football, just about underlines that.
“131-year-old legacy retained”, read the newspaper headlines. But what they did not mention, though, was that it possibly also killed another institution, maybe not so old but yet a significant one.
ATK, or erstwhile Atletico de Kolkata, was introduced as a club meant to bring East Bengal and Mohun Bagan fans together for the first time. But things always don’t go according to plan and over the years, ATK had emerged as a third wheel in the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan rivalry.
The club, which won three ISL titles in six campaigns, the most by any team, built its own fanbase. No, not in lakhs like the two other clubs but definitely in thousands — passionate, vocal and demanding at that, too. Most of these fans were those who grew tired of the two traditional clubs and found a new football team to back.
The only way to win those fans back would be by trophies. And ATK Mohun Bagan have the formula for that. In Antonio Lopes Habas, they have a proven coach. The squad looks complete now that they have managed to retain their biggest stars from last season as well as add fresh new blood. It’s no secret that they are going all out for Sandesh Jhingan and the intentions for next season are clear — win the ISL, get into the AFC Champions League, win the AFC Cup.
If the new club can accomplish even two of these three, there’s a good chance that we will see packed stadiums next to next season, if and when the situation permits.
One more factor to this entire merger that few people are talking about is that of East Bengal. Sports is always about rivalries, it is well documented and any example that can be given is already overused. Unless you are an Indian football newbie who was born just yesterday, you would know East Bengal’s significance in Mohun Bagan’s history or vice versa. Without one, the other is incomplete.
East Bengal has to pull all stops and join the ISL now. They have to find investors and work towards playing in the country’s top flight, compete against Bagan. Only then would Indian football be moving forward. But that’s a thing of future and there’s no point in speculating.
For now, Goenka should know well — it never feels like those days are too far away when the whole of Indian football is rubbernecking in Mohun Bagan’s, sorry, ATK Mohun Bagan’s direction again.