Mohammedan Sporting, club older than Fifa, disbands senior team
The bright light made the patch near a busy central Kolkata crossing look darker than usual. As rush-hour traffic whizzed by, Amanat Hussain, a lifelong Mohammedan Sporting fan, was telling a television news channel on Monday evening how they would transform the Salt Lake Stadium on some match days.
"The atmosphere would be like an India-Pakistan cricket match. This is a club that has given India so many footballers," he said, standing outside club president Sultan Ahmed's office. Before Hussain, Naveen Das, who said he isn't a club supporter, urged people to help Mohammedan Sporting form the senior football team again.
That was also what Ahmed had said a little earlier. "Help me get a sponsor. I have been with the club for the past 16 years and while we have consciously turned down companies that sell alcohol, no other corporate has shown long-term interest. How long can you run a club with money pooled by a handful of people," he said.
Last season, Ahmed said the 123-year-old club spent approximately Rs 10 crore on the senior football team which was relegated from the I-League and failed the All India Football Federation's club licensing test. This term, they spent Rs 1.5 crore but have been struggling to pay salaries, he said.
Mohammedan Sporting will now run junior teams and form a senior side for the Kolkata league in 2015, said Ahmed. "We can't play the Federation Cup in December and don't have the funds to participate in the Durand Cup. We will not play the I-League second division because we won't pass the licensing test if we qualify. So, we will now focus on the youth teams and on upgrading infrastructure instead.
"With the ISL now, Kolkata clubs with a traditional fan base will find it even more difficult to get sponsors," said Ahmed, explaining why the senior football team had to be disbanded.
Ahmed's prediction of a bleak future for traditional powerhouses may or may not come true as the buzz around the Indian Super League grows louder by the day. But the signs are ominous.
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have had bank accounts frozen by the enforcement directorate which is probing a ponzi scheme. A senior East Bengal official is in jail since August 21 as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) too investigates this.
Mohun Bagan have pulled out of the Sikkim Governor's Gold Cup and called off practice now. The club's star recruit, Haitian striker Sony Norde, reached Kolkata last month but can't train.
"Every day we are assuring him (Norde) that we would pay him but what can we do now with our account frozen? We are appealing again to the enforcement directorate on Tuesday. We have asked players to report on November 3 but not being able to pay means we can't really force them," said Anjan Mitra, Mohun Bagan general secretary.
East Bengal too have appealed and given the players a holiday since winning the Kolkata league on September 16. They will also restart only on November 3.
United SC, which finished 10th in the 13-team I-League last season, started training last week after scouring unsuccessfully for a backer since mid-2013.
With no Kolkata team winning the I-League since the competition started in 2007, things were bad enough for the city that prides itself as India's football capital.
"The ISL is here to stay and could mean the end of some clubs," said East Bengal coach Armando Colaco, speaking over the phone from Goa.
Unless some clubs relook at how they are run, Colaco could well be right.