Kolkata: East Bengal Club must remain true to its centenary tagline – “Spordhar Sotoborsho” (a centenary of spunk) and not get sucked into playing in the top-tier Indian Super League (ISL), the club’s yesteryear greats unanimously said on Saturday.
The Red and Gold celebrated 100 years of its trophy-filled existence with a cake-cutting and flag hoisting ceremony at its Maidan premises amidst the presence of West Bengal sports minister Arup Biswas. A centenary magazine was also unveiled by the club to mark the occasion.
But commemoration of the momentous occasion has been subdued, partly because of COVID-19 pandemic induced restrictions and the club’s inability to land a financial backer after an acrimonious split from Quess Corp.
The club officials are running from pillar to post to land an investor that would help them comply with ISL’s strict financial conditions. From political help to the unrecognised Football Players Association of India’s (FPAI) letter, intervention has been lobbed towards the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its marketing partners from varied quarters.
But nothing has materialised so far and reports say ISL organisers have already decided to go ahead with its 10-team relegation exempt structure for the coronavirus hit 2020-21 season, likely to be played in Goa from November to March.
To add insult to injury, Mohun Bagan has enabled its entry into the ISL via a merger with ATK and the uncertain fate of their beloved club has kept EB supporters on tenterhooks.
But some of its former stars, who have helped shape the fortune of the club and are unabashedly proud about their loyalty to the red and gold jersey, felt spending sleepless nights over ISL participation is self demeaning and contrary to East Bengal’s foundation history, borne out of defiance and protest against discrimination.
The East Bengal Club turns 100 years today. No matter how hard the situation is, we shall not halt the celebration for our glorious 100 years. It is indeed a moment of pride and we are happy to have your support. #Ebfc #100years #Centenary pic.twitter.com/EoFLjBasox
— East Bengal FC (@eastbengalfc) August 1, 2020
“Don’t chant ISL, ISL, ISL and lose focus. If we play in I-League so be it. But we will return triumphant,” Subhas Bhowmick, the club’s former player and coach, said to a rapt audience inside the club tent.
Former defender and the club’s youth development coach Tarun Dey seconded Bhowmick’s opinion. “Whether we get an investor or not is secondary. If East Bengal doesn’t play ISL, it is ISL’s loss not East Bengal’s. It should be ISL’s misfortune if EB doesn’t play in ISL,” he said, amidst vehement clapping.
Legendary defender Manoranjan Bhattacharya invoked East Bengal’s history of battling adversities to come in aid of the club during its difficult times.
“The present financial climate might be bleak due to COVID-19. The supporters might be disheartened as the club’s financial health might not be rosy. But East Bengal has a history of overturning odds and I believe things would look up in the future,” the man who masterminded EB’s first National Football League (NFL) triumph said.
“We don’t need anyone alms or charity. When the opportune time comes, we will find a way and we will decide which tournament to play and not others,” former India captain and legendary goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly said.
Earlier, the club’s Asean Cup-winning players, including Bhaichung Bhutia, wrote a letter reminding the club that “We think playing in ISL is not our primary issue, but our main motto is to stand by the millions of suffering people.”