Football giant East Bengal club finds a new sponsor, hopes to play in this season's ISL

Published : September 02, 2020 21:47 IST

East Bengal supporters take part in a rally ahead of the centenary celebrations of the club, in Kolkata in July 2019. Photo: Ashok Bhaumik/PTI

After months of uncertainty football giant East Bengal club has finally got a sponsor, the Kolkata-headquartered cement major, Shree Cement. Announcing the development, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said at the State Secretariat on August 2, “We did not want East Bengal to be left out of the ISL (Indian Super League) or lose its importance, and lakhs of supporters be denied [the pleasure of watching their club play ISL].” The Chief Minister is believed to have played a crucial role in facilitating the deal between the club and its new sponsor.

The development has come as a welcome relief for the beleaguered club as it celebrated its hundredth year on August 1 this year amid COVID-19 pandemic and financial worries. In April this year East Bengal parted ways with its main sponsor, Quess Corp Ltd, when the latter announced a premature cessation of its professional contract with the club. Earlier, its traditional rival Mohun Bagan had merged with ATK FC, the RP-Sanjiv Goenka-owned football club that plays in the ISL.

Ahead of its 100th birthday, the historic East Bengal club with lakhs of supporters spread out all over the world, found itself in football wilderness. With the All India Football Federation (AIFF) declaring the ISL as the top league of the country, East Bengal, for the first time in its history, faced the possibility of being left out from playing in the top league. “After this agreement we will be in a position to appeal to ISL and hope to participate in the tournament,” said Debabrata Sarkar, a top East Bengal official. The club is looking forward to resuming its legendary rivalry with Mohun Bagan in the ISL.

Although neither Shree Cement nor East Bengal has revealed what the holding pattern under the new ownership will be, according to a source it is most likely the investors will be controlling 76 per cent of the stake. The source also said that the club’s iconic red and gold jersey and emblem denoting a flaming torch will not be altered.

Alvito D’Cunha, the legendary midfield general, who played for East Bengal for 14 seasons, and after retirement continues to serve as an adviser and mentor to the team, was delighted with the development. “It is a great day for all East Bengal supporters. There were so many questions, so many ifs and buts for the last few months—what’s going to happen? Who is going to be our new sponsor? Will the team be playing in the ISL or in the I League? But thanks to the efforts of the club officials and thanks to Didi [Mamata Banerjee], these questions have finally been answered. It is a very proud moment for all of us. Now the next step would be to get into the ISL,” Alvito told Frontline.

Alvito believes that East Bengal has a strong chance of playing in the ISL this season itself. “President [of the AIFF], Praful Patel said a few days ago that East Bengal should get an investor and play in the ISL. The team now has an investor. The good thing is that ISL has not yet declared the final teams that will be playing or the fixtures. I believe there is a big chance of us playing ISL from this season onwards,” said Alvito. According to him, it is a “win-win” situation for both the ISL and East Bengal. “After Mohun Bagan merged with ATK and joined the ISL, football fans were worried that they may not be able to see a derby (an East Bengal versus Mohun Bagan match) for the next few years. The Mohun Bagan fans should also be happy now because if there is no East Bengal-Mohun Bagan derby there is no charm in Indian football. Now, with both teams playing in the league, ISL will also become more glamorous,” said Alvito, one of the main the architects of the historic Asean Cup triumph in 2003.

Alvito hopes to continue his association with the club and contribute to the team’s success. Talking about his own feelings for the club, he said, “I have stuck to one team for the last 18 years. That is no joke, considering the fact that I come from Goa. I have had a lot of tempting offers, but my heart and mind were both with East Bengal, and I never thought of leaving. I am totally addicted to the East Bengal club; and that is something I can share with the players if I am given some responsibility in the team. But that is for the future. Right now we have to celebrate this moment.”