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The love-affair with Calcutta football started way back in 1979 when I was not even in my teens. But through those myriad football magazines, I was already attracted to the charm of Calcutta football clubs – Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal. It was not an era when EPL made inroads. Satellite and digital TV were still unknown to Indian football fans who loved and admired the most popular game listening to the running commentary.

I can still vaguely recall my first visit to the Maidan. It was in 1977 or 1978. Mohammedan Sporting was playing against a smaller team. After former India star Mohammad Habib had scored for Sporting, I only saw the fans jumping on the rickety wooden stands. I was quite young to understand the depth of their joy. But three years later in 1981, I watched Sporting for the first time. They were up against against Aryans on a neutral venue (at the historic Mohun Bagan ground). At the entrance, I watched with open-mouthed wonder some the stars (Bhaskar Ganguly, Prasun Banerjee, Shabbir Ali, Mohammad Akbar, Prasanto Banerjee, upcoming Kartick Seth, mercurial Manas Bhattacharya and the livewire winger Bidesh Bose) who played for the black and white during that season. Incidentally, that was the last time when Sporting had won the Calcutta League, which, now of course, has been replaced with a more gruelling I-League.

From left – Pem Dorji, Atanu Bhattacharya and Jamshid Nasiri pose with 1984 Fed Cup

Mohammedan Sporting, which stands right there on the landmark Red Road in Calcutta Maidan, holds an important place in Indian football. If Bagan was all about national sentiments, Sporting in 30s & 40s too left an indelible impression about their grit and courage against their British teams. For all these tid-bits about Sporting, I’m really indebted to my father who narrated all these great stories of Bagan and Sporting. He was passionate about football and Sporting during those halcyon days of Calcutta football and never missed a single match during the scorching summers and blinding rains.

Last week, the century-old club, which is struggling to stage a comeback into the mainstream football, made it to the final round of the 2nd Division I-Leauge. Interestingly, for the Calcutta club, it has been a topsy-turvy ride in I-League where they qualified twice but unfortunately ended up at the bottom only to be relegated. Last year, the club management recruited Nigerian coach Fuja Tope Adeousi to resuscitate the struggling team which hopes to bounce back into the mainstream action. Early this year, the club recruited South Korean Han Wook for a one-and-half-year contract.

I strongly feel that the club deserves to do a lot better than just fighting for a survival. In fact, today we don’t see any innovations coming out from the club officials who like East Bengal and Bagan follow a routine pattern. Club management has witnessed a sea change since last two decades. Sporting like any other Indian football club too is surviving on some stale ideas. Most of these club officials lack management skills. Player management is quite amateurish. Surprisingly, nobody follows the ethics of financial management. Besides they are also clueless about understanding the sentiments of its huge fan base which runs from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Calcutta to Bombay. As a matter of fact, while two other top clubs have been able to garner lot of support from the corporate houses, Mohammedan Sporting lost out on some brownie points both from the corporate houses as well as from its fans.

Sporting’s ticket back to the top ?

Despite such shortcomings, still the club with its fascinating history and its reputation, is cruising along. Also, bringing in Saurav Ganguly – known as ‘Dada’ – as club’s brand ambassador was a clever decision. The idea was to keep Sporting in the news. But then, an emphatic win at the national level would be more important to inject confidence among the officials, players and the club followers. Maybe, this coming season, if they ward off the challenges in the final round matches of 2nd Division, Sporting will once again go head-to-head with the best in India’s high-profile league.

~ by a lifelong Sporting fan – Mohammad Amin-ul Islam – http://www.footballwallah.blogspot.com

Pictures courtesy Zia Ur Rahman and http://mdsportingclub.webs.com