Sunday, June 20

Where the streets have one name

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In Agantuk, Satyajit Ray’s last movie, central character Manomohan says something that is perhaps a hint that he, despite spending more than three decades outside the country, is at heart a Bengali still. When Manomohan’s family, sceptical about his identity — and learning that he has lived in Brazil — ask him about football and Pelé, he answers that for him, football means Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

To slightly twist a popular saying, you can take the Bengali football fan out of Bengal, but you cannot take the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal rivalry out of a true-blue Bengali football fan. And this Maidan romanticism is what Ray expresses so succinctly through Manomohan. Which is why this marriage — between ATK and Mohun Bagan — has vertically cleaved the latter club’s vast body of fans, whose number could easily rival, if not sometimes eclipse, the entire population of some European countries.

In the heartland of Bagan fandom — Mohun Bagan Lane, Mohun Bagan Row, Kirti Mitra Lane in Fariapukur, opinion is fairly divided, but the majority feels that the marriage was perhaps inevitable in the current scenario. Ranjoy Das — whose father, Mani Das, was the football secretary of Mohun Bagan for 22 years till 2005 — believes the union would be really good for Bagan. Das runs his family shop just 10 metres from the house of Bhupen Bose (Basu Batika), one of the founders of the green-and-maroons in 1889. “We have no other option but to play ISL,” he says. “Only then will we get proper exposure and recognition. See, the I-League is already getting second-division treatment. I feel that soon, entry to the AFC Cup and other international competitions would be through the ISL. Supporters should not be worried about this (the club merger) now.”

Shree Narayan Tandon, who has a family business in Burrabazar, is another ardent supporter of the Mariners. Standing just 100 metres from Mohun Bagan Lane, he confesses he doesn’t know what the outcome of this would be. “I am a third-generation supporter of the club,” he proudly declares, narrating how he even turned away out-of-state customers from his shop because he had to go to the Maidan to watch a match. “This year, I drove down to Kalyani to see my team playing. My elder sister stays in London, but she has made it a point to renew her club membership every year,” he adds.

His only concern is what the new owners will do about members, or how they will use the Mohun Bagan brand.

There are some extreme views as well, like the one expressed by Sayak Das, a die-hard fan who stays near Mohun Bagan Row. “My personal view is that Mohun Bagan has sold out,” he says. “If one club takes over another, the existence of the latter is obviously at stake.” Another supporter, Dhruba Ghosal, who has been a fan for over 50 years, is also critical. “It was perhaps needed, but considering the heritage of our club, our name should come before ATK’s. It should be Mohun Bagan-ATK and not the other way round. Another thing is that our jersey and logo should prevail at any cost. Otherwise, we shall oppose this,” he says.

But for every naysayer, there are at least two fans who see the merger in a positive light. Utpal Bag, who runs a shop just 100 metres from Mohun Bagan Row, welcomes the move. He has been watching his favourite club play since 1976, becoming a member in 1982. “This was required,” he says. “Otherwise, how would the club run? How long will an individual finance the club? If you do not have big sponsors, you stand no chance in ISL, and the I-League will soon become second division.” Souvvik Ghosh, another ardent supporter, also has strong views about the deal. “My only concern is the derby. Otherwise, this is the best thing that could have happened to our team,” he says.


Source: Times of India

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