Sourav Ganguly had been an amazing leader of the Indian cricket team. In fact, he is considered to be a catalyst in the forward movement of the team post the match fixing controversies in early 2000s. Sourav took over the captaincy of the team in a dark era of Indian cricket. Subsequently, his team achieved a lot in the later period of time. However, a sect of his fans has gone upset with Sourav Ganguly for appearing on a commercial about ISL 2020.
Sourav retired from all forms of professional cricket in 2012. But, that did not mark an end to his roles in cricket. Instead, he took up multiple responsibilities in the coming years in different fields of sports.
Recently, Sourav got himself involved in a massive controversy. It all began with an promotional featuring him that made his fans really upset.
Roles after Retirement from Professional Cricket
Sourav began his administrative career in cricket with the Cricket Association of Bengal in the early 2010s. Since 2015, He served as the president of the state board for four straight years. Last year, he took over as the president of BCCI.
The BCCI President
As the face of the most dominant national cricket board in the world, Sourav already performed few tough tasks. For instance, BCCI accepted the concept of Day/Night pink ball test cricket in 2019 after years of denial. In fact, Sourav organized the first ever such game for the Indian cricket team at his own city. India is all set to play its first Day/Night test, when they meet Australia in Adelaide this December.
Sourav and IPL 2020
Above all, Sourav received huge applaud for organizing the IPL this year at the United Arab Emirates. Earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic almost forced cancellation of the premier T20 league of India this summer. But, BCCI hosted it successfully despite all the challenges, under the leadership of Sourav.
Involvement in Football
Apart from cricket, Sourav also holds high amount of interest in the game of football. Although it is the most popular game globally, India does not really hold its name on the international level. However, the story appeared to change since the year 2014.
Football and India
Despite its absence in the international football map, the game is deeply popular in several parts of India. In fact, football is associated even with the colonial history of this country.
Professional Footballer Sourav
Interestingly, Sourav holds one professional football match appearance in his career. He played for the Mohammedan FC, a Kolkata-based football club in a one-off game versus East Bengal FC in 2010.
As Football Club Owner
In 2014, Sourav Ganguly became the co-owner of Atletico de Kolkata – the Kolkata-based club in the fresh franchise football league called the ISL (Indian Super League).
Journey of Atletico de Kolkata
The club had an initial partnership with the Spanish football club Atletico de Madrid. Hence, it got such a name to itself. After the partnership expired in 2017, the club was renamed as ATK.
ATK has been the most successful franchise in the history of ISL. To clarify, they have won the title thrice in 6 seasons. Only Chennaiyin FC, a Chennai-based club have been closest with 2 titles to its name.
Sourav and ATK
Sourav has managed a number of roles for this club. Starting as the celebrity co-owner, he has been the face of team. A few months ago, he became one of the directors of the club as well.
Everything was going fine with his role in the club. Meanwhile, a major event in the history of Indian football took place at the beginning of the year. Above all, this escalated to the recent event that left fans of Sourav visibly upset with him.
Let’s find out what the issue has been.
Mohun Bagan Athletic Club
The city of Kolkata has been the heart of Indian football. This city hosts some major successful and popular clubs in the history of Indian football. Mohun Bagan Athletic Club would be one of the most crucial team in this list.
Legacy of Mohun Bagan
Mohun Bagan AC is one of the most renowned Asian football clubs. It is the oldest active football club in Asia. Established in 1889, this team holds its name in the pages of history. In the year 1911, Mohun Bagan became the first all-Indian club to beat a British football team, when they beat East Yorkshire Regiment in the IFA Shield final. The Indian side played barefoot in this game. During that game, from trailing at 0-1, Bagan made a brilliant comeback to win the contest by a margin of 2-1. In fact, this victory is considered to be an explosive source of inspiration to the Indian freedom movement against the British colonizers.
Bagan has been one of the most successful clubs in the national scene of football. No other team has won 5 national league titles (3 National Football League and 2 I-League) unlike Bagan. They have 14 Fed Cups, 16 Durand Cups, 22 IFA Shields and 30 Calcutta Football League trophies as well.
The Kolkata Derby
The Kolkata Derby is considered to be one of the fiercest football rivalries in the world. It involves Bagan and its arch-rivals East Bengal FC, another Kolkata-based club. Because, both these clubs bear a sea of emotion among its respective supporters. The aboriginal residents of West Bengal supports Bagan since its inception. On the other hand, settlers from East Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War devotes East Bengal. Even, the differences in fondness for fish is a part of this football rivalry. While Bagan fans savor the prawn, the East Bengal fans hold the Hilsa in high regard.
Merger of ATK with Mohun Bagan
However, Bagan went through a rough patch in the last few years economically. Bagan was unable to find proper sponsorship for years in a row. This affected the retention and purchase of star footballers in the club badly. As a result, the fans repeatedly displayed their outburst of anger on the owners of the club for their inefficiency. A sect of the Bagan supporters even organized protest rallies in Kolkata asking for resignation of its owners.
Inception of ISL
Meanwhile, the Indian football administration brought a revolutionary change in the football scene of the country. Earlier, I-League was considered to be the top division tournament of India. The winners of the annual tournament used to earn a chance to feature in the AFC Cup – the secondary continental club tournament of Asia.
ISL over I-League
In 2017, ISL was instead promoted as the top division league of India. Above all, the winner of ISL qualified to the AFC Champions League – the premier club league of Asia. On the other hand, I-League lost its charm with all the glamor invested in ISL.
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal still continued to attract crowds in I-League. But, the financial woes hit both the teams badly as time passed. All these affected into the biggest controversy of the decade in Indian football.
The Bagan owners came up with an agreement with the stakeholders of ATK earlier this year. After a series of discussions, ATK bought 80% shares of the Mohun Bagan club.
What the Merger Means
The merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan this January meant a lot of things in the current scenario of Indian football. To clarify, let’s have a look at the major features of this merger below.
- A new entity formed out of the merger named the ATK Mohun Bagan FC
- ATK holds the financial majority in this entity
- The entity will participate in ISL instead of I-League from 2020 onward
- The new club will feature in Calcutta Football League
- As both 2019 I-League champions Mohun Bagan and 2019 ISL champions ATK qualified for the 2020 AFC Cup that got postponed due to COVID-19, the new entity will feature in its 2021 edition as one single club
- Bagan’s financial worries come to an end
- ATK catches hold of the fan following of Bagan
- The new entity will bear the emblem of Mohun Bagan AC instead of the one of ATK
- ATK Mohun Bagan will sport the iconic green and maroon jersey of Bagan instead of the red and white of ATK
- The board of directors include owners of both the clubs including BCCI president Sourav Ganguly
Benefits of the Merger
During its inaugural season, ISL was promoted as the brand new football entertainer of India with celeb faces like Sourav Ganguly in front. It had the same IPL-like structure of eight teams fighting for one trophy in a three-month long tournament. However, the Asian football administration refused to approve it as the premier football league of India due to this format.
Hence, ISL was restructured into the format of its counterpart I-League itself in 2017. But, the existence of two top leagues really confused the football fans of Bengal. With Bagan and East Bengal not a part of ISL, it failed to grab hold of the emotion of football lovers in this part of the country, despite the representation of ATK owned by Sourav Ganguly. In addition, ATK also struggled to find its loyal fan base despite its successful run.
The merger of ATK with Mohun Bagan was aimed to solve both the problems.
On the other hand, even East Bengal earned sponsorship from Shree Cement after involvement of the state government. It ended the financial struggle of this club. Also, East Bengal finally made it to ISL.
The technique used by the two rival clubs were pretty different to reach the same goals. While, Bagan was almost sold out to ATK, East Bengal was gifted a sponsorship to make it happen. This increased both fallout and confusions among the fans of the two sides.
The Controversial Promotional
Amidst all the confusion, ISL released a promotional to announce the beginning of its latest edition this November, that features Sourav Ganguly. He is seen endorsing the upcoming season of the league to the audience of Bengal. Here is the video:
The video focuses upon the merger of ATK with Mohun Bagan. It shows how the Bagan jersey of a father and the ATK jersey of his son gets mixed in a washing machine to come out as the new ATK Mohun Bagan jersey. Another father-son duo from the neighborhood reminds them of the evergreen rivalry with East Bengal. Meanwhile, Sourav Ganguly walks between the houses terming the clubs as ‘double trouble’ for the existing ISL teams.
What went wrong
A majority of the Bagan fans found the ad as an insult to the heritage of the club. According to them, the washing machine scene actually washed out all the respect on ATK from the heart of Bagan supporters.
Just Six Years?
In addition, the initial dialogue from Sourav rubbed salt on the wound. He termed that the football madness of Bengal ages just six years. As per the accuses, Sourav Ganguly meant to indicate at the beginning of ISL with that statement.
However, football has been the first love of Bengal in the field of sports for more than a century. Mohun Bagan itself holds a history of 130 years. According to the fans, the ad attempted to emphasize the stake of ATK in ATK Mohun Bagan FC.
In addition, the practice jersey of the club featured three stars as per images shared on the social media. It was promised earlier that the merger would mean the dissolution of ATK. But, the three stars refer to the 3 ISL titles won by ATK. This hypocrisy enraged the Bagan fans to some more extent.
The Bagan fans described it as an attempt to dismiss the heritage identity of Bagan and instead showcase only ATK through the ATK Mohun Bagan club.
Within minutes of the release of the promotional on Saturday, 31 October, the fans started protest on the social media. They blamed the ATK owners for trying to damage the legacy of the century-old club. They accused ATK of trying to promote its brand misusing their sentiments. Also, they asked for justice from the representatives of Bagan in the new entity.
Football accounts with an great deal of sentiment in the state of Bengal. As the scenario intensified, the owners decided to take a step to calm down the outrage.
On 31 October, ATKMB director Debasish Dutta issued a statement as follows.
He followed it up with another letter addressed to the fans of the club.
As it can be seen, the issue has been considered seriously. The fans were able to send their message to the owners. Consequently, the owners decided to make amends to meet the demands of the supporters.
Time will tell in which direction the water flows. The incident highlighted the existing confusions regarding the merger of the two top football clubs. In conclusion, it would be a thing to check how Sourav along with ATK gains the trust of his fans back.
Cover Image Courtesy: Sourav Ganguly at Eden Gardens in Kolkata by
Rishav2014, Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 / Modified from Original
About The Author
Related Articles by this Author