SEVERAL MOHUN BAGAN FANS were stopped from entering the Eden Gardens during Saturday's IPL game despite possessing legitimate match tickets.
According to the affected supporters, they were targeted by Kolkata Knight Riders franchise personnel because they were wearing t-shirts and scarfs displaying the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club logo.
The fans had turned up in support of the visiting team, Lucknow Super Giants, after the franchise announced that they would wear a special green and maroon jersey during this match in a tribute to Mohun Bagan.
LSG are owned by Sanjiv Goenka's RPSG, who are the majority shareholders of Mohun Bagan's football division. This shared connection has created a sister club relationship between Lucknow and Mohun Bagan, and the LSG management rightly chose to appeal to them to boost their support at Eden Gardens.
But KKR responded negatively to this move by LSG. Allegedly, they cited a "conflict of interest" rule to suppress LSG's efforts to reach out to Mohun Bagan, who have millions of fans throughout West Bengal. As a result, LSG were forced to delete social media posts appealing to the Mariners.
But KKR did not stop at that. They even stopped Mohun Bagan fans from entering the Eden Gardens wearing their club's logo to support LSG.
Interestingly, KKR owner Shah Rukh Khan is a self-declared fan of East Bengal, the arch rivals of Mohun Bagan.
Several fans and mediapersons spoke out about KKR's mistreatment of the Mariners on Saturday night, and on Sunday afternoon Mohun Bagan issued a statement condemning KKR's act.
It's notable that Mohun Bagan's football and cricket teams have been playing at the Eden Gardens for over a century. In the past, major football matches like the Kolkata Derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan took place at Eden; and were a major reason why the stadium had a high capacity stand. Eden is also the venue where Mohun Bagan's cricket team plays regularly, acting as a major pipeline for the Bengal Ranji team.
This ground also witnessed the mass boycotts organised by Kolkata's cricket clubs, led by Mohun Bagan, during the Swadeshi Movement. The popularity of Indian-owned cricket clubs skyrocketed with the local population after this, which contributed majorly to the popularity of cricket itself.
In many ways, KKR are benefiting from the Bengal sports culture that was created by clubs like Mohun Bagan. And their attempt to ban the Mohun Bagan logo from the stadium displays a contempt for the very tradition that made them popular among Kolkata's cricket fans in the first place.
Eventually the fans were allowed to enter the stadium after they turned their t-shirts inside out to hide the Mohun Bagan logo. But KKR's suppressive actions have left a bad taste in the mouth of the Mariners, who are arguably the biggest sports fan community in the state of West Bengal.
This is not the first time KKR have clashed with the football clubs of Kolkata. In 2013, the IPL opening ceremony was held in Kolkata due to KKR being the defending champions. For an inexplicable reason the song and dance event was held at the Salt Lake Stadium - despite there being plenty of options in Kolkata for holding such a non-sporting event - which heavily disrupted the matches of I-League and AFC Cup that were scheduled to take place in that stadium. Afterwards, East Bengal players complained to the media that during their AFC Cup match they found debris on the pitch left over from the IPL event.
Back then several athletes had held a protest outside the Salt Lake Stadium against IPL's opening ceremony. On Saturday night, too, some protests were held by Mohun Bagan fans who were stopped from entering the stadium.
It remains to be seen how the Mohun Bagan fanbase reacts to KKR's show of disrespect towards their club's logo, and whether it will cause Mohun Bagan fans who also support KKR to rethink their choice of teams in the IPL.
It may be the case that KKR didn't just lose a match on Saturday night but they lost the respect of half of West Bengal.