A new season is about to begin in Indian Football, probably a new era too awaits for the spectators, players and for the club management as well. They had to keep pace with the with ever changing scenarios of the game. The battle from the grounds shifted to corporate tables and the introduction of IMG-Reliance league only made the life difficult for the recruiters. As we are proceeding towards the curtain-raiser of this year’s I-League, the fate of the players signed with Reliance are still in doubt. The big question of letting the players play for the glamorous new league is still under consideration for the big guns of Indian football. And even when Indian players played their heart out to win SAFF Cup against Afghanistan, some of them (Nabi, Subrata Paul, Nirmal Chettri) were also be keeping an eye on the progress of the much awaited meeting between association of I-League club and IMG corporate.
The money and instant fame are the biggest factors that created a lot of buzz in the air, and an opportunity to rub the shoulders with some of the big names of International football compelled the players to sign for the alternative league. But an unprecedented gesture from the players of United SC. players left a lot of football fans surprised. United had difficulty in finding sponsor after a big chit-fund scam shook Bengal economics to some extent. Despite finishing in the top-four in I-League and winning IFA Shield, they found the team-building to be a monumental task, and they had to let go some of their players like Lester Fernandez, Sankar Oraon etc.
The big three from Kolkata, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohameddan Sporting had already started their pre-season campaign with almost full team, when Prayag neither had finalized their final squad, nor they started the practice. The team’s future looked in jeopardy, and some seniors like Deepak Mondal, Sangram Mukherjee and Lalkamal Bhowmick etc. came to the rescue. They initiated a meeting with the club officials and promised to start the season without any signing fee. The officials along with the fans and supporters of the club were astonished, and grateful to the players to say the least. Not only did they settled the matters with the club management, the seniors took all the burden of convincing their fellow teammates, which included their highest paid and the biggest possession Ranty Martins, who had just got a call for a friendly for Nigerian national team, and the new recruit Eric Brown among others.
The negotiation with the Nigerian was successful, who had a huge speculation and rumour mill going on of joining Mohun Bagan to partner Odafa in the upfront. Mohun Bagan had signed three out of four foreigners much before the season started, but the fourth spot was yet to be filled. Though Bagan team management was never open to comment on Martin’s move to the club, but they were surely keeping an eye on how things go between Ranty and United. It was obvious United would not be able to pay the wages to the players until they find suitable sponsors for their club. But the players took the risk of sticking to the team and the coach Eelco Shattorie was inspired as well, and he too joined aboard soon.
The history of this Kolkata based club is a fascinating story of struggle, determined efforts and success. Established in 1927, the club, then known as the Everready Association, was languishing in the fifth division of the Kolkata Football League (KFL) when a group of youngsters took over the management in 1994. The name was changed to United SC. in 2006 to attract title sponsors for the club and in 2011 Prayag Group of Companies associated with the club, the team was given the name–Prayag United.
The last season Prayag United created a lot of buzz in the transfer market when they managed to sign some of the best Indian and foreigners players playing in the country. The inclusion of Gourmangi Singh, Subrata Paul, Ranty Martins and new face to Indian football Carlos Hernandez from Costa Rica. The responsibility of managing the team was given to the Dutchman Eelco Schattorie. Under his guidance team performed well on the pitch and they won IFA shield that year and finished fourth in I-League. Carlos Hernandez, though a bit on the slower side, gifted some fantastic goals to cheer for, Bello was as usual instrumental in central defence. Their star striker Ranty Martins once again became the top-scorer with 26 goals in I-League leaving behind Bagan captain Odafa. Lalkamal’s performance as a midfield marshal was also appreciated and everyone felt a call from Indian National team was due. Subrata Paul had an injury-prone season, but Sangram’s performance under the bar didn’t let the team feel the absence of the national goalkeeper.
But the happy days didn’t last long for the club as the financial debacle shook the base of Kolkata football. Moreover the calling from IMG-R was too strong to avoid for many of the players. But then there are players like Deepak, Sangram, Lalkamal, who showed some real commitment towards their team and didn’t leave the team despite having lucrative offers from various I-League clubs and made sure their team stays at the right track. The club officials are still in search of potential sponsors, meanwhile twenty-five players, including the three foreigners, signed for the club, without a single penny, and that is something which would be remembered for long. Now as everyone awaits for the new season, it remains to be seen how the United SC team feature on the ground, but one thing is certain this gesture already made them winners in the eyes all football lovers in India.