West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s personal intervention saw East Bengal find an investor that might pave the way for the club to play in the Indian Super League (ISL) this season. Shree Cement, headquartered in Kolkata, would be East Bengal’s new investor, as Banerjee announced the tie-up at the state secretariat on Wednesday. The red-and-gold brigade will now apply to the Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) to play in the upcoming ISL.
“This is a new sunrise for East Bengal. There was an uncertainty. Indian football is incomplete without Bengal – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. Mohun Bagan have already joined the ISL and now East Bengal will be there. We will have an ISL derby,” Banerjee said.
An East Bengal official made no bones about the political intervention that came to the club’s aid at a critical juncture.
“The chief minister had a pivotal role (to make this happen). She took interest and initiative, and mediated between us (club and investor), and finally terms and conditions have been agreed. Credit goes to her,” Kalyan Majumdar, general secretary of East Bengal club, told The Indian Express.
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Majumdar, however, refused to disclose the shareholding pattern between the two parties. “That is absolutely a private matter between the two entities,” he said.
Asked about East Bengal’s chances of playing the ISL this season, Majumdar said: “If you ask a new-born baby if he/she could speak, this is like that. It’s not even a couple of hours that we have come to an agreement (with the investor). Yes, we have reached the shore. We will find out what is lying in the shore for us.”
The club’s assistant general secretary Shanti Ranjan Dasgupta, however, told this paper that East Bengal would now formally apply to the FSDL to play in the ISL apart from doing other paperwork, including depositing the annual franchise fee of Rs 15 crore. He also informed that East Bengal would retain their red-and-gold colours and the club emblem (flame torch).
Ever since Bagan merged with ATK and confirmed their participation in the country’s top-tier football league this year, East Bengal had been under serious pressure from their fans to play in the ISL this term. But as Quess Corp severed ties with the club earlier this year, East Bengal seemed to be fighting for a lost cause without an investor. The club officials approached the chief minister, who promised help.
East Bengal joining the ISL fold this season will be subject to FSDL’s approval. FSDL has already communicated to the ISL stakeholders that the 2020-21 season of the tournament will be played in Goa with 10 teams. At the same time, though, it hasn’t put out the tournament fixtures yet. On the face of it, an extra team in the time of a pandemic might cause added logistical problems. But with the West Bengal chief minister looking after East Bengal’s case, the matter could be sorted out.
East Bengal are celebrating their centenary this year and Majumdar pointed out how the club went through a very frustrating period. “The centenary was very, very frustrating for us. The dreams that we had at the beginning of our centenary celebrations weren’t fulfilled because of real reasons (Covid-19).”
He informed that the new investor has also “expressed its interest” to look after the club’s other sporting activities, like cricket, apart from football.