Playing in ISL is what millions of East Bengal fans prayed for in their 100th year…
With East Bengal securing Shree Cement as their investor and FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited) inviting bids for an additional team in the Indian Super League (ISL), it is fairly certain that the Kolkata giants will ply their trade in the top division in 2020-21 season.
The odds were stacked against them as they were struggling to rope in an investor which would enhance their chances of participating in ISL. Senior officials of the club kept striving and they knocked on the doors of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to help them find an investor.
Banerjee did not disappoint and due to her intervention, Shree Cement, one of India‘s biggest cement manufacturing companies came on board and virtually secured the club’s participation in ISL.
It would have been a major disappointment for the fans and embarrassment for the officials if they had to continue to ply their trade in the I-League while they celebrating their centenary year. Moreover, since their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan had already jumped ship to ISL, the failure to do so would have rubbed more salt to the wound.
Just over a year back, in July 2019, they started their celebrations from the house of Suresh Chandra Chowdhury (one of the founders of the club) by lighting 100 candles and procession. 100 fan clubs hoisted the club’s flag in 100 cities across the world to commemorate the event.
A theme song, sung by Arijit Singh, which aptly captured the essence of the club was launched with much aplomb which became an instant hit amongst the fans.
Fans thronged to Kumartuli Park in north Kolkata where East Bengal began its journey, playing their first match soon after their formation in 1920.
On the foundation day, on August 1 last year, India’s first cricket World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev was felicitated by the club. P.K. Banerjee was named the coach of the century and was honoured by one of the biggest congregation of legends in Shyam Thapa, Surajit Sengupta, Mohammad Habib and Subhash Bhowmick.
Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri were also conferred with special honours. Even former legend, Majid Bishkar, was flown in from Iran to add more glitz and glamour to the occasion.
But, the fans and officials knew that a crisis was looming large as the relationship with then investor Quess had already hit rock-bottom and the corporate had made their decision to pull out from the club.
There wasn’t much to cheer about in the sporting arena as well. East Bengal were struggling for form in I-League and after the derby loss to Mohun Bagan, coach Alejandro Menendez put in his papers to further complicate matters.
The season ended but there seemed to be no end to their misery as Quess officially backed off as their investor but still held on to the sporting rights for quite some times. After much discussion and negotiation, the rights were handed back and now the officials were standing in front of an abyss with no financial resource.
The centenary celebrations took a back seat and the club started their hunt for a ticket to the big boys’ league. Finally, on last Wednesday, the official announcement of Shree Cement was made which virtually cleared most of the hurdles for them to participate in ISL.
What more could an ardent East Bengal ask for as a gift on the 100th birthday of the club?