Fan protests. Internal turmoil. Untimely injuries and suspensions. These are but a few of the obstacles ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) had to overcome before reaching the summit. But once it did, a new chapter was written in the opus of the Kolkata club. The sun shone bright- radiating the legacy-rich colours of Green and Maroon.
Given how ATKMB’s Indian Super League (ISL 2022-23) journey oscillated between hope and uncertainty throughout the season, the very fact that the diary was greeted with Journey’s iconic rock song, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, upon entry inside the stadium, is ironic in itself. The song talks about fighting to realise one’s dream- exactly what Juan Ferrando and his team did, as they beat Bengaluru FC (BFC) to lift the ISL title.
March 18 was a good day for football. The skies were clear, and the ever-present smell of salt lingered in the humid air of Margao. The diary got his first surprise of the day as he prepared to enter a run-of-the-mill departmental store in search of a bottle of ‘Thums Up.’ Approaching the entrance, the diary saw a tall man making his way out of the shop. Taking a second to digest the random nature of the moment, the diary saw Chennaiyin FC head coach Thomas Brdaric hurry towards his car.
The journey from the hotel to the venue was mostly scenic, with scattered pockets of civilization. So, the shift from pastoral to urban was sudden as the diary approached the venue. From idyllic scenes of open fields engulfed with coconut trees, the diary was hit with booming music coming from the high-quality music systems inside the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (PJN) Stadium. Flags and scarves were plentiful, with the streets bustling with faces tinted with the recognisable shades of blue and the famed green-maroon combination.
“ Etodur eschi, ebar trophy ta ghore niyei phirte hobe” (We have come so far, now we have to return home with the trophy)- the diary heard, which prompted a familiar urge to converse in Bengali with strangers, somewhere far away from Bengal.
It was a mistake on the diary’s part to assume that the five individuals were part of the same group. They got acquainted just 15 minutes before the diary met them. In other circumstances, it would have been tough to believe a group could share such a warm demeanour amongst themselves in such a short time, but sports is a strong adhesive that binds strangers quicker than one can imagine.
“I came to Goa on holiday with my older brother on the 10th. When I heard my team had qualified, I extended my trip and decided to go home after watching the final,” said a Mohun Bagan fan Soumitra Chowdhury.
For Swarnajit Sapui, the love for Mohun Bagan started at home and from a young age.
“Watched [Jose] Barreto in my childhood, grew up with Sony Norde and now, I am a married man with a chance to see my team lift the ISL title, with my wife beside me,” Sapui said.
Building up to kick-off, the atmosphere around the PJN Stadium was not just of merriment and positive energy. Tension broke out when a band of Mohun Bagan faithful chose the violent route and ganged up on an individual who wore a jersey of the erstwhile ATK football club. Fortunately for him, Goa police were prompt in dissipating the situation.
The final match, in itself, was an embodiment of ATKMB’s fighting spirit throughout its campaign. When former Mariner Roy Krishna scored for BFC in the 78th minute to make it 2-1, it would have been easy for shoulders to droop in the ATKMB camp. But Ferrando and his players kept their boat steady and did not let their sails drop. The team fought, took the match to penalties, and emerged victorious 4-3 in the shootout.
While the players celebrated the title win, co-owner Sanjeev Goenka made it doubly sweet for the Mariners with his big announcement. He said that from the next season, the club would be known as ‘Mohun Bagan Super Giants.’
As the diary boarded his flight from Goa to Bengaluru the next morning, he saw Bengaluru FC’s Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu enter the aircraft. As they made their way to their seats, the adulation they received from the Bengaluru fans will surely fuel them to motor to the top next season.
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