Bagan, EB ask fans to turn out in large numbers to show strength
Showing solidarity, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal on Monday pledged to send a message to the rival Indian Super League by showing their supporters' strength on the field in the upcoming I-League.
There will be two official leagues in the upcoming season with the All India Football Federation striking out a compromise formula to deal with the ISL and I-League stalemate.
India's two premier football clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, decided to opt out of the IMG-Reliance-run ISL as the Big Two were against giving franchisee fees among other things. Running parallel with the lucrative ISL, I-League may lose its sheen but Mohun Bagan and East Bengal today said they would stand the test of time and they found support from AIFF vice-president Subrata Dutta.
"We have agreed in totality that if we have to show our strength, we will do it on the field," Mohun Bagan finance secretary Debasish Dutta said, sitting alongside East Bengal assistant secretary Shanti Ranjan Dasgupta in a panel discussion at the Calcutta Sports Journalists' Club.
"We request all our fans to fill in the ground in such a way the stands are packed and there's 5000 more outside. And no tickets will be free. We want to show our strength," said the Mohun Bagan official.
"At the same time we won't ask them (fans) to not go to ISL. They are free to support ISL but our request is to show our strength for each of our matches in the I-League."
He went on to draw a parallel with their epic 1911 IFA Shield triumph over British team of East Yorkshire Regiment that played a role in country's Independence movement.
"History says we have won bigger battles that too in barefoot. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are the clubs because of their fans, their performances on field. We have always been in top five of country's league. We have seen many clubs — Dempo, Pune FC, Mahindra United to name a few — come and go but we are permanent. These eight (ISL) clubs are jut three-year-olds," Debasish said.
He also praised IMG-Reliance for choosing to develop the financially-stricken Indian football. "We must thank them. They have chosen football over cricket. We must not forget that we could not participate in the World Cup due to lack of funds!"
Blaming the AIFF, he said: "They should have shown them the right path, of reviving the I-League instead of creating a new league (ISL)."
AIFF vice-president Subrata Dutta came out in support of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and said it's about the interest of Indian football.
"They are not opposing ISL but it's a battle between ISL versus I-League. We must not forget we are talking about one club (Mohun Bagan) which is 128-years-old and another (East Bengal) of 97," he said.
"ISL would not have been born without I-League. By not including Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, it's not being fair to them. Their annual budget is worth around Rs 15-17 crores and to expect them to pay a franchisee fee of Rs 15 crore is not fair. Even the companies do not double their turnover in one year. They (AIFF and IMG-Reliance) should have been more flexible," Dutta, who is also the president of state football body Indian Football Association, said. "Football is club-based. The more we develop players and infrastructure, the better it would be for the country."