On a mournful Monday, Mohammedan Sporting — the Kolkatan club that is older than even FIFA — announced it was stopping short of formally shutting shop. It will disband the senior team for one year to tide over financial woes, but the team will continue to play in local tournaments, though it will not travel outside Kolkata. It’s a huge setback for a club that enjoyed support in pockets across India, from Delhi’s Old City to Mumbai’s Nagpada, besides its Kolkatan faithful.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Sporting was once the most loved football club in India. From Kerala to Kashmir, Goa to Guwahati, it enjoyed passionate support. It had a distinctly Muslim identity. The players’ flair was adored — Iranian Jamshed Nassiri was revered as a hero. Some of the best Indian players, including the legendary Mohammad Salim, have donned the famous white-sleeves on black. It was unique also in the way it was run — primarily on donations made by the fans. Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries sponsors East Bengal and Mohun Bagan but due to religious reasons, Sporting turned down sponsorship offers from the liquor baron.
Lack of finances has severely paralysed the club’s operations and dipping standards have exacerbated the problem of diminishing budgets. Like other Kolkata sides, Sporting is a study in how not to run a football club. Unprofessional and corrupt administration was one of the key reasons for the 123-year-old club’s loss of reputation. Post-Indian Super League (ISL), sponsors have a glamorous alternative to latch on to, further denting Sporting’s hopes to find a backer. Even as the All India Football Federation tries to strike a balance between the fledgling ISL and a struggling I-League, Sporting’s fall from grace will remain one of the most tragic stories of Indian football.