MOHUN BAGAN FANS HAVE raised their voices again, online and offline, against their club officials and football team investors.
Sanjiv Goenka led KGSPL, who are the majority shareholders of the 133 year old club's football division, drew the ire of the Mariners when they branded their deal with Mohun Bagan as a "merger of two clubs," adding the brand prefix 'ATK' (Associated with their defunct franchise Atletico de Kolkata, later called ATK FC after Atletico de Madrid left the venture) to the team's name.
Over time, KGSPL made several self-contradictory claims about the team's identity. At times they called it a "merged club" born in 2020, while in other occasions they tried to pass it off as a continuation of the defunct ATK FC by calling it a "defending ISL champion," although this particular branding policy was abandoned after the fans protested. But when the Prime Minister and Chief Minister congratulated Mohun Bagan on their I-League title, chairman Sanjiv Goenka was quick to take credit, acknowledging that the team is Mohun Bagan with a re-branded name. The team plays with Mohun Bagan's registration.
For the last 2 years, Mohun Bagan fans protested against the incursion on their club's identity, despite many roadblocks including a ban on club flags and banners - something unheard of in modern day football - imposed by KGSPL during AFC Cup 2022. When the fans managed to sneak in their flags and banners anyway, the management sent police to the galleries in an attempt to take down the banners.
Their hopes of a peaceful resolution to the situation went up during the summer when Mohun Bagan officials spoke favourable about the 'Remove ATK' movement and assured the fans that they were in talks with KGSPL to sort the matter out. Even KGSPL took multiple steps that signalled they were going to remove the controversial 'ATK' prefix.
According to leaks from within KGSPL, three names were considered for the team: Mohun Bagan FC, Mohun Bagan Super Giants and Mohun Bagan Mariners. It was the second option that appeared to be favoured by the investors. And on 14th August, the company acquired the @MohunBaganSG twitter account. On the same day, the mohunbagansupergiants dot com domain name was registered.
Rumours of the name change appeared in every major Bengali newspaper, as well as some national outlets. These moves were made just before the team's Durand Cup 2022 and AFC Cup matches in Kolkata, and had a calming effect on the Mohun Bagan fans' protests.
But right after the matches were over, KGSPL backtracked and did not implement the prefix removal process, leading to Mohun Bagan fans claiming the whole process was a bad faith betrayal of the club by the Sanjiv Goenka-led company.
The fans are now calling for KGSPL's departure from Mohun Bagan. The hashtag '#GoenkaOut' trends has trended every day for the past couple of weeks on Twitter. And yesterday, a protest was organised by some of the fan groups in front of the club gates.
The whole area in front of the club gate was barricaded and there was significant police presence when the fans showed up to protest. But in a surprise twist, it turned out that the protest in front of the club was a diversion. While some fans kept raising slogans in Gostha Pal Sarani, others went over to the house of club secretary Debashish Dutta. They held their demonstrations there and raised slogans calling for Dutta's resignation.
Debashish Dutta, who played a signficiant role in calming the fans down during the summer assuring them on multiple locations that steps were being taken by the management to remove the prefix and safeguard Mohun Bagan's identity, has not yet spoken about KGSPL's decision to continue with the 'ATK Mohun Bagan' brand name, thereby further undermining Mohun Bagan's identity.
This is the first time Mohun Bagan fans have singled out a club official's residence for a peaceful protest, signalling a level of desperation and anger previously unseen.
The tension between the management and Mohun Bagan fans is constantly rising. Recently, the club decided not to field their team in the Calcutta Football League, although their arch rivals East Bengal as well as Mohammedan Sporting, the other major club from Kolkata, are playing in the state league as promised. Reports in the media suggested that the management decided not to play in the CFL because they were apprehensive of 'Remove ATK' protests disrupting matches in the Mohun Bagan Ground, where it's more difficult to contain unruly fans than the Salt Lake Stadium.
Last month, when the team was scheduled to play a friendly match with Chennaiyin FC, the management banned regular fans from attending the game, allowing entry only to card-holding members. But the protesting supporters showed up outside the stadium and held protests in front of the team bus as the players arrived. The match was cancelled, with waterlogging due to rain being cited as the reason.