It was a truly forgettable season for United Sports due to both on and off-field incidents. The Kolkata club, who were without a sponsor for the best part of the 2013/14 campaign, endured a trophy less season. The Purple Brigade’s performances in the tournaments they played throughout the course of the season, namely, the Calcutta League, the IFA Shield, the Federation Cup and the I-League, were woeful to say the least. United Sports failed to progress beyond the group stages of the Federation Cup, were knocked out of the semi-finals of the IFA Shield and finished the Calcutta League and the I-League in disappointing ninth and tenth spots respectively.
The season started in the worst possible manner for United Sports. Despite the club hierarchy’s best possible efforts, no sponsors were roped in. There were doubts creeping in as to whether the club will be able to field 11 players, let alone a whole squad. But the players came to the rescue; they signed on the dotted lines for very nominal amounts and vowed to give their best on the field. Hence, star players like Lalkamal Bhowmick and Deepak Mondal were retained. Foreign footballers Bello Razaq and Ranty Martins also accepted a pay-cut to continue playing for the club. Eelco Schattorie, under whose guidance United Sports finished fourth in the I-League in the previous season in addition to winning the IFA Shield, too decided in continuing coaching the Kolkata outfit. However, all those sponsorship issues had an impact as the club started the 2013/14 campaign without any pre-season training. In spite of that, many were happy and relieved to see the club take to the field, but they were soon to realise that it was going to be one of the poorest seasons in the club’s brief history.
With no pre-season training under his players’ belt, Schattorie decided to treat the Calcutta League as a preparatory tournament for the I-League and the Federation Cup. The Dutch tactician’s approach reflected in the results as United Sports finished the tournament in the ninth spot with 10 points from as many matches. The effects of lack of pre-season training were also profound as the Purple Brigade, who won just two of their 10 Calcutta League matches, had to give walk-over to East Bengal. A cluster of injuries plus suspensions meant that the club were not in a position to field a team against the Red and Gold.
United Sports failed to progress to the knockout rounds of the Federation Cup after finishing their group in third spot with just three points from three outings. The Kolkata club were pitted alongside Churchill Brothers, Pune FC and Eagles FC in Group A of the domestic cup competition. United Sports started their Federation Cup adventure with a 2-1 defeat to eventual winners Churchill Brothers. Schattorie’s side returned to winning ways following their slender 1-0 win over Pune FC in their second game of the competition. However, a 2-0 loss to Eagles FC in their final group stage game condemned the Purple Brigade to a third place finish in the Group A.
Schattorie parted ways with the club after the Federation Cup and assistant coach Anjan Nath took charge for the IFA Shield. United Sports, who were the defending champions, started the tournament in a positive manner with a 2-1 win over Sunmoon University. Despite losing 2-0 to East Bengal in the next match, United Sports booked their place in the semi-finals of the competition after beating Geylang University 2-1 in their final group game. The Purple Brigade faced Mohammedan Sporting in the semi-finals, and after a grueling 120 minutes encounter, Penn Orji’s extra-time winner was the only difference between the sides. United Sports, however, ended their IFA Shield campaign with a win over East Bengal in the third-place deciding match. The match ended 1-1 after extra-time, but Nath’s boys won the ensuing penalty shootout 5-4.
United Sports started the I-League in great fashion, notching up back-to-back victories against Rangdajied United and Sporting Clube de Goa. However, the club started falling down the table after a string of poor results. Schattorie’s departure along with star striker Ranty Martins midway through the season made matters worse. Even the appointment of experienced and shrewd tactician Subrata Bhattacharya as the technical-director of the club failed to stem the rot. By then, the lack of motivation surrounding the club was getting dense with every passing round. But a few positive results during the fag-end of the season helped United Sports to maintain their I-League status as they finished the campaign in 10th spot with 26 points from 24 games, just two points more than Mohammedan Sporting, who were relegated.
Best Player – Eric Brown
The Liberian midfielder had a stellar season in United Sports colours, scoring 10 vital goals in the I-League which helped the club from getting relegated. The 23-year-old was sympathetic towards the club’s sponsorship issues and stayed put in the dark times. Brown’s brace in his side’s 2-0 win over fellow relegation contenders Churchill Brothers in the penultimate round helped the Purple Brigade to beat the drop with a match remaining.
Most Disappointing Player – Ranty Martins
Although there were a lot of players for this position, Ranty Martins tops the least. The lethal striker was nowhere near his best at United Sports, scoring just four I-League goals for the Kolkata club before moving to Rangdajied United, where he scored eight goals in as many appearances to steer the club to safety from a precarious position. Maybe the pay-cut was a reason behind Martin’s lackluster performances for United Sports.
Versatile defender Dhanachandra Singh was a revelation at United Sports in the 2013/14 campaign. The 24-year-old, who was rock-solid in defence, also helped his side in going forward. The Manipuri scored a single I-League goal but his impressive outings did not go unnoticed as Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan roped him for the next season. The Green and Maroon’s fierce rivals East Bengal were also interested in acquiring the services of the defender.
Deepak Mondal, the experienced full-back had a good season alongside Dhanachandra Singh in United Sports’ defence. Despite being 34 years old, Mondal put in tireless displays throughout the course of the campaign. Although he failed to find the back of the net, his exciting runs down the flank were a treat to watch. He also performed his defensive duties with equal élan, making it difficult for rival players to skip past him.
Churchill Brothers 2-0 United Sports
With their backs to the wall, United Sports desperately needed a positive result against Churchill Brothers in the penultimate round of the I-League. What made the significance of the match doubly important was that the defending champions were also struggling and a win for Churchill could have meant a return to the second division for the Kolkata club. However, the Purple Brigade responded in spectacular fashion at the Tilak Maidan Stadium. After a goalless first half, Brown broke the deadlock in the 49th minute before completing his brace in the 71st minute. The win helped United Sports to beat the drop with a round of matches still to be played.
Rangdajied United 4-0 United Sports
United Sports suffered one of their heaviest defeats of the season against I-League debutants Rangdajied United. The Shillong-based club totally outplayed the Kolkata outfit, who meekly surrendered after the opening 45 minutes. Seong-Yong Kim breached United Sports’ defence in the 53rd minute and the goal opened the floodgates. Ranty Martins haunted his former club by doubling Rangdajied’s lead in the 69th minute before a late Lalnunpuia brace sealed the deal for the north-east club.
Eric Brown vs Mumbai FC
Brown’s goal against Mumbai FC was not spectacular by any means; instead it was a team-effort. The United Sports players slowly built up the attack before threading a superb through pass to the Liberian midfielder, who rounded off the goalkeeper before slotting the ball home into an open net. The goal handed the Purple Brigade a vital 1-0 lead going into the half-time break at the Kalyani Stadium. However, Nicholas Rodrigues scored an injury time equaliser to split the points.