ISL, Kolkata clubs live happily ever after

The heavy investments from Hari Mohan Bangur of Shree Cements will propel East Bengal from the Kolkata maidans into the glitz and glamour of the Indian Super League, envisioned to bring in professionalism and global stars to Indian football.

The rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal is the oldest in Indian football. (FILE IMAGE)   -  GETTY IMAGES

Breaking away from the pall of gloom, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The long agonising wait for the club faithful came to an end with East Bengal, in its centenary year, finally getting the nod to play in the Indian Super League, which not so long ago had inherited the mantle of the top football league in the country.

The heavy investments from Hari Mohan Bangur of Shree Cements – which is believed to hand the tycoon an 85 per cent stake in the club – will propel East Bengal from the Kolkata maidans into the glitz and glamour of the six-season-old franchise league, envisioned to bring in professionalism and global stars to Indian football.

READ| East Bengal completes switch to ISL

The ISL’s journey, so far, has been bittersweet and it did not lack the razzmatazz in the initial years with a heady mix of celebrity owners, drawn in from the intoxicating dreamlands of cinema and cricket. The three-month-long window (in the initial years) made it a favourite post-retirement gig for many of Europe’s elite ballplayers. The likes of Robert Pires, Florent Malouda, Lucio, Luis Garcia cavorting on hastily spruced stadiums brought in the attention of the global and the local. Football fans in Indian cities – long fed with the weekend platter of EPL and La Liga – had a newfound interest in watching the past players of these Leagues trying to bring their adroitness to grounds that were just miles away. Indian players, playing with and against technically gifted footballers, under the tutelage of champion drillmasters grew in confidence and stature.

The sprinkled stardust and the ripple effect on the game’s attendance also drew the interest of the world, with the administrative body and those associated with the commercial exploration of the game priming for a sporting revolution in the second-most populous country in the world.

The prayed-for results, however, have not been so forthcoming. That electrifying tension and rumble in the innards of every early romance should envisage the danger of settling into the comfort of diminishing interest and have a flint to reignite the courtship.

The ISL – in its seven-year itch – suffering from dwindling eyeballs and the lurking mediocrity threatening another promised endeavour, have a custom-tailored solution in opening the doors to the country’s two most-followed sporting teams that are steeped in century-old legacies and an equally old rivalry.

The elevation of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will bring to the ISL their years of passion and a fanatical fandom that allows the institutions to draw inspiration both in good times and bad. Every sport, looking to gain a foothold in the collective spirit of its community, needs to create a synergy between the action of the boots on the ground and the voice and noises of the fans in the stands – and without either the sport will not survive.

RELATED| ISL 2020-21: East Bengal should look to build a team for the long term - Bhaichung Bhutia  

The combined might of the pyrotechnist and the onlooker adds to an activity that otherwise should make little difference to their daily lives. The breathless anticipation of a packed ground, following every move of every player, the sudden-bursting euphoria and the sodden heartbreak can take sporting encounters beyond worldly sentimientos.

The Kolkata clubs, despite beaming with such powers of persuasion, had wallowed in their sense of lordliness and failed to provide their supporters with continual upward movement. Caught in a myriad drama of past glories and present uncertainties – in recent years – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal were still playing the derby in front of 60,000 fans but in a league that had long lost its position of eminence in the changing dynamics of Indian football.

The announcement by Nita Ambani, chairperson of Football Sports Development Limited, on Sunday –“It is such a happy and proud moment for ISL as we welcome East Bengal FC and their millions of fans into the League. The inclusion of both legacy clubs, i.e. East Bengal and Mohun Bagan (now ATK Mohun Bagan) opens limitless possibilities for Indian football” –holds true for both the league and the clubs, and Indian football fans can look to live happily ever after.

  Dugout videos