MOHUN BAGAN FANS are stil getting mixed signals from the administration regarding their demand of 'Remove ATK', leading to suspicions of manipulative messaging.
The Mariners have been vocally opposing their football division investor KGSPL's ongoing branding narrative that the team that's playing with Mohun Bagan's emblem and jersey right now is not the Mohun Bagan they have supported all their lives, but some "merged club" formed in 2020.
KGSPL, who owned the ISL franchise ATK FC (formerly Atletico de Kolkata), came on board at Mohun Bagan 3 years ago but decided to re-brand the team as 'ATK Mohun Bagan', and claimed it was a merger of two clubs. However, leaked official documents proved that the team plays with Mohun Bagan's registration, while ATK FC was effectively shut down when KGSPL signed the investment deal with the 134 year old club.
Mohun Bagan fans saw KGSPL's "merger" narrative as an attempt to sabotage their club's identity, and demanded that the 'ATK' prefix must be removed from the team's name. They held several protests to push their point, and as of today every major independent Mohun Bagan fan group is boycotting the club's football matches, leading to dwindling attendance at home games despite alleged free ticket distribution to increase the spectator numbers.
Throughout the last 3 years, controversies regarding the "merger" narrative have followed the team, and the latest episode in this ongoing conflict has dragged in Dr Sanjiv Goenka, the majority owner of KGSPL, for the first time.
After the recently concluded ISL playoff tournament match in Salt Lake Stadium, Dr Goenka was asked by journalists when the 'ATK' prefix would be removed. In reply, he made a dismissive gesture and walked away without answering.
This has led to Mohun Bagan fans questioning whether Sanjiv Goenka truly wishes to stay true to the club's identity and history, or whether he is just using one of the most important institutions in Indian football's history as an instrument to promote his 'ATK' brand.
Speaking to TFG, a member of a major fan group said on condition of anonimity,
"First he says 'we are Mohun Bagan', then he talks about a 4th ISL trophy. He is deliberately sending out mixed messages so fans don't realise that he wants to kill Mohun Bagan's identity. They are doing to our club what they did to the HMV brand. First they are using us to promote their brand, then if they get their way they will slowly erase our identity and history. They kill legacies."
The fan also alleged that he received warnings from people close to Mohun Bagan officials for participating in protests against KGSPL.
However, the reality may be a lot more complicated than the fans perceive. The current set of Mohun Bagan officials and KGSPL don't seem to see eye to eye about the 'ATK' prefix.
In a recent interview with the media after the inauguration of the Mohun Bagan Sports Library, Debashish Dutta, the General Secretary of Mohun Bagan and a board member of the football team, claimed that the legal process to remove the 'ATK' prefix has already been completed, and all he is waiting for is for Dr Sanjiv Goenka to formally announce it,
"When I wake up every day, I think maybe today is the day. I pray to God every day, because the sooner the day comes, the more joyous it will be for everybody. If Mohun Bagan becomes ISL champion and it's announced that day, it will be extra special. So let's see, when Mr Goenka decides to announce it. The legal process is done. Only the announcement remains."
So, for the first time, Mohun Bagan officials are directly pointing to Dr Goenka as the reason the removal of the 'ATK' prefix has not been announced yet.
According to internal leaks, the process for removing the 'ATK' prefix was actively progressing in 2022; with KGSPL choosing either 'Mohun Bagan Super Giants' or 'Mohun Bagan Super Giant' as the new brand name for the team. They looked at new logo designs for it, and underwent all the paperwork. They also acquired website url's. The Twitter handle '@MohunBaganSG' was also offered to them by this reporter and they received it. However, at the last minute, the process was not completed due to "a number of reasons", as claimed by someone inside the company.
This left Mohun Bagan fans, who had dialed down on their protests and opposition to KGSPL and club officials in hope of their demands being fulfilled, feeling betrayed. And even today, they are refusing to trust them again.
The aforementioned fan group member said,
"The club officials always do what KGSPL says. Who is to say they are not sending out conflicting messages deliberately to placate fans before semi-finals? This way Mohun Bagan officials can pretend they are doing right by the club and the fanbase, while KGSPL get to keep using the 'ATK' prefix. They are still sabotaging our identity. All the players and coaches call this team just ATK, that's not a coincidence. We saw that the team hotel during Durand Cup was using labels calling the team ATK. That shows the management is actively trying to erase Mohun Bagan from the team's internal culture."
To justify his mistrust, the fan cited KGSPL's past attempts to crack down on 'Remove ATK' protests by banning Mohun Bagan flags and banners from the stadium,
"Who does that? Where does something like this ever happen in modern world football? Are you telling me that a company that tells Mohun Bagan fans they can't bring in Mohun Bagan flags to a match is going to do right by Mohun Bagan club? I don't buy it for a second."
The flag ban led to heated arguments between Mohun Bagan fans and policemen outside the arena, which went on until the police ultimately allowed the flags to be carried in.
The growing cynicism from the hardcore fans of the club who have kept it going for almost a century and a half is alarming for the club's long term prospects; and it's clear that the longer the 'ATK' brand prefix stays in place the more difficult it will be for the management to regain the Mariners' trust.