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Promoted to ISL, I-League champion Mohammedan Sporting ready to retrieve golden years

Mohammedan Sporting, who went down in the pecking order of Indian football over the years, look set to retrieve golden days in the ISL.

Promoted to ISL, I-League champion Mohammedan Sporting ready to retrieve golden years

Mohammedan Sporting players celebrate after winning the I-League 2023-24 title in Shillong on March 6, 2024. 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 8 April 2024 8:04 AM GMT

Mohammedan Sporting are finally back in the mainstream. After years of failure and loss of dignity, the Black Panthers finally earned a promotion to the top tier of the Indian Super League (ISL) on Saturday after securing the I-League, the second tier of Indian football, with a 2-1 win over Shillong Lajong.

Despite being one of three giants of Kolkata football and older than the institution of FIFA, Mohammedan Sporting went down in the pecking order of Indian football over the years. With their two famed rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal joining ISL, Mohammedan Sporting's relevance further took a hit.

Since success had become far and few between, fans deserted the club.

It was disappointing to see the 133-year-old club, which became the first Indian side to win the prestigious Calcutta League in their first appearance in 1934, failing to retrieve their golden days and losing track.

In their three outings in the National Football League, the predecessor of the I-League, Mohammedan Sporting could not do justice to their name and fame as they could not finish higher than eighth. There were worse than this. They were relegated twice in the I-League.

In 2020, they played in the second division I-League.

In the I-League, their best finish apart from being runners-up in 2021-22 was sixth in the season prior.

Founded in 1891, two years after Mohun Bagan came into existence, to persuade Muslim youth to improve their physique to take on 'manly' Western athletes in order to prove superiority in the country's struggle for independence, Mohammedan Sporting soon became an emotion and the darling of the Muslim community with youth falling for the club and their players.

With the club exerting their domination in the Calcutta League annexing it for five seasons in a row between 1934 and 1938, rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam had composed a poem in honour of the team.

"These feet that have so incredibly woven wonders with football -

May the power of all India rise from those very feet,

May those feet break our chains. And our fear, and our dread -

May those feet kick them. Allah-u-Akbar!"

Impressively, in 1936, they attained the feat of winning both the League and the IFA Shield in the same season, displaying their remarkable consistency with Muslim players setting the core of the team. Legendary players like Bacchi Khan, Rashid, the top scorer in the 1934 Calcutta League, and Usman Jaan were the top players for the club.

Their domination was steady at the national level as well, as they clinched the Durand Cup in 1940, enhancing their popularity and establishing them as a dominant force in Indian football.

The club's popularity was at its peak in the 1960s.

Old timers still feel the pinch, recalling the time of the team's 1967 Durand Cup campaign. As two brothers from Karnataka weaved magic those days, fans sang a chorus from the stands from the famous movie Milan: "Sawan ka mahina Sporting kare shor, Ramanna kare centre, Papanna kare score.”

The club's connection with Bollywood is no less storied, as legendary actor Dilip Kumar never missed a chance to watch Mohammedan Sporting playing in Bombay's famous Rovers Cup.

But the club's fortune dried up since the early 1990s, forcing it to gradually lose tempo in the famed rivalry in Kolkata's football cauldron.

Now, as Mohammedan Sporting earned their promotion to the ISL, putting up a consistent show in the I-League, the prospect of seeing them playing in the next season of ISL is just a matter of time, subject to fulfilling licensing requirements.

Unlike their rivals Mohun Bagan, who needed to join ATK to play in the ISL, and East Bengal, who needed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's helping hand to get on board the top league, Mohammedan Sporting secured their promotion to the premier division through the fairest way possible. They lost only one of their 23 matches this season, firming their position at the peak of the league ladder.

As it happened in the past with the arrival of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, Indian football will be richer by the legacy of Mohammedan Sporting rise to the top tier. As success has come, fans will be back in the stands in huge numbers to cheer for their favourite club.

The redemption process started in August 2023, when Mohammedan Sporting, under the coach Mehrajuddin Wadoo, looked set for a new challenge.

But the club's investor Bunkerhill insisted that the team's I-League campaign should be led by a foreign coach. This move saw the return of Andrey Chernyshov, a season after the Russian was fired from the post in December 2022.

On Saturday, Argentine Alexis Gomes’ strike from 40 yards 50 seconds into the first half put Mohammedan Sporting in the lead. Though Shillong Lajong's Brazilian forward Douglas Tardin drew level with a 15th-minute penalty, Evgenii Kozlov, a replacement for injured Gomes, scored with a left-foot curler from 20 yards in the 62nd minute to help Mohammedan annex the I-League.

As Mohammedan Sporting scripted a revival, a club official would say, "It is completely on merit. Not through the backdoor."

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