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Mohammedan SC: A fallen giant rises again

Eight years after 131-year-old football club Mohammedan SC faced a shutdown due to bankruptcy, they are back as the torchbearers of Kolkata football.

Mohammedan SC: A fallen giant rises again

Mohammedan Sporting Club ground.


Rajdeep Saha

Updated: 14 Sep 2022 5:09 PM GMT

Kolkata: Mohammedan SC bowed out of the Durand Cup 2022 after going down to a 90th minute winner by Mumbai City FC in the semi-final, but the spirit of a resurrection continues to burn bright at the Black Panthers camp.

This year, Mohammedan SC were the only I-League team to have made it into the last four of the Durand Cup. With their ISL counterparts from the city ATK Mohun Bagan and East Bengal both knocked out early, the entire city rallied behind them at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Wednesday. But this is only the latest chapter of Mohammedan's rise from the ashes.

From losing their ground to the two Kolkata giants since the 1990s to being on the verge of a shutdown in 2014, the last two years have seen a miraculous turn of fortunes for the 131-year-old club. It is in this period they have also won the Calcutta Football League (CFL) after 40 years.

"I was in the team in 2014. We were in a bad spot then financially, but 32 of our officials contributed and kept us going. Since then we haven't looked back," said Dipendu Biswas, the current team manager at Mohammedan SC.

Dipendu Biswas

Biswas, a footballing legend who had been just the second Indian after Chuni Goswami to score 250 goals in domestic football, is one of very few players to have played for all of Kolkata's 'Big Three'.

One of the problems he has faced as he has moved to an administrative career is trying to convince local talent to stick on at Mohammedan, given the financial problems at the club and incentive of getting to play in the top leagues by moving across the road to Mohun Bagan and East Bengal's training grounds. But not any more. Like he had himself done many years ago, many young players from those two clubs now want to move to Mohammedan, Biswas said.

"This was one of our main problems (keeping up with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal)," he told The Bridge.

"Earlier, players would refuse to play in the Mohammedan training ground due to its poor state. Now, the ground has been improved, funds are coming in for a drainage system and the overall infrastructure around the ground is getting a makeover.

"The revival has happened. Earlier, players used to shirk our club, they had doubts over their payments if they played for us. Now, many ISL players call us expressing their wish to play for Mohammedan. This is our biggest achievement," Biswas said.

Return of free-flowing football

Last year heralded Mohammedan's resurgence, when they regained the CFL title after four decades with new head coach Andrey Chernyshov at the helm and Trinidadian talisman Marcus Joseph leading the charge. The forward was the I-league's top goal-scorer last season with 15 goals.

A cool customer on and off the pitch, Joseph has had an undeniable influence on the pitch. Sipping lebu jol (lemonade) from a local cart outside the Mohammedan training ground one day before providing a cool assist in the Durand Cup quarters, Joseph said, "It is not only about me. Without the staff, the coaches and all the players, I wouldn't have scored all these goals. I just try to go out there and give my best."

Captain Marcus Joseph (left) and Coach Andrey Chernyshov (right)

Playing a brand of free-flowing attacking football, Mohammedan SC have held their own against ISL outfits like FC Goa, Kerala Blasters, and Jamshedpur FC at this year's Durand Cup. Players like Faslu Rahman, Pritam Singh, Sheikh Faiaz, new signing Abiloa Dauda and skipper Marcus Joseph have all chipped in with crucial goals.

A lot of the credit can be given to head coach Andrey Chernyshov, who has overseen this revival.

"I don't see what happened at a club before me, that's not my life. If ever the club decides to part ways with me, I'll accept that and go on my way. But, I have done my job well last season and the management is happy. I hope we will continue to play more attractive football and bring good results," the coach said.

A financial boost

The biggest reason why Mohammedan SC fell away from the other two Kolkata giants was money. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, they were left playing catch-up both financially and on the field with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. The nadir came in 2014, when the club announced bankruptcy and was on the verge of getting shut down.

Dipendu Biswas said the revival was possible only after Gurgaon-based investors Bunkerhill Sports jumped in in 2020.

"I would like to thank Dipak Kumar Singh (Bunkerhill founder) a lot because it was only after Bunkerhill joined hands with us that Mohammedan started to rise again. We got promoted to the I-League, were able to bring in new players, and also give them better accommodation," he said.

With the ISL having already declared plans of granting a direct slot to the I-League winner on 'sporting merit' from 2023, it would seem the time is ripe for Mohammedan to officially return to their spot in the 'Big Three' as three clubs from Kolkata vie for supremacy in India's top-most football tier.

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