Kolkata: Former players on Saturday expressed deep shock at the ban handed on Mohun Bagan by the national parent body and blamed the club officials for bringing the 123-year-old iconic club to disrepute.
Several stalwarts of Mohun Bagan felt that the club should not have refused to play in the second half of their violence-marred derby against East Bengal on December 9, which led to their ban from the current and next two editions of the I-League.
Ex-India captain and Mohun Bagan Ratna Chuni Goswami went to the extent of demanding the sacking of the club's officials.
"The officials should be removed right away and Mohun Bagan should make a fresh appeal at the AIFF," he said.
Another former India stalwart and ex-Mohun Bagan player and coach P K Banerjee was critical of the club quitting midway in the fateful derby match.
"Nobody is greater than the game. The sanctity of the game should be preserved. I have seen many incidents during my playing and coaching career. But I've never thought of quitting midway. I strongly feel that they should have continued playing in the right spirit," he said.
"At the same time, I feel Kolkata will lose some colour without Mohun Bagan," he added.
Former India and Mohun Bagan captain Bhaichung Bhutia also blamed club officials for the ban, saying that "(Mohun Bagan) officials took decision without thinking of the consequences".
"Decision not to play can never be supported. I feel sorry for the fans and the players. Football has to go on. Even if Sachin does not play cricket goes on. I am sure Mohun Bagan will appeal. But rules have been laid down," said Bhutia who was was himself suspended by the club for being irregular in practice sessions and skipping an exhibition match in 2009. Another former Mohun Bagan star Chima Okorie said the ban would set Indian football backwards.
"Mohun Bagan has to stay. If not, East Bengal will not have a derby. Indian Football will be set back, many years. AIFF should think of football and its development in India," he said
The decision to ban Mohun Bagan was taken by the I-League Core Committee, which also declared all of the club's matches in the "I-League Competition 2012-2013 cancelled and considered null and void".
The decision was based on the one-man committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice A K Ganguly's report.
Former players I M Vijayan and Shyam Thapa, however, thought that AIFF should have been a little more lenient and should have taken Mohun Bagan's reputation into account while taking the decision.
"It's a shocking and sad news. Mohun Bagan has been a historical club. We cannot think of Indian football without Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. "They have always produced good football. We already don't have Mahindra United and JCT now without Mohun Bagan, the I-League will go poorer," Vijayan told PTI.
"The decision was a bit harsh on Mohun Bagan. The AIFF could have done away with suspension for three-four months but two year is a bit too much," he said.
Shyam Thapa said, "It's a sad day for Indian football. Mohun Bagan is club known all over the world. I am very upset with the decision. The AIFF should have thought about the future before taking the decision.
"They could have taken a middle path by imposing heavy fine or punishing the captain -- Odafa Okolie heavily. That could also have set a precedent. But suspending the club for next two seasons is a bit too much.
"The club has crores of supporters and to save the Indian football and the I-League the decision is really harsh." Bitter rivals East Bengal too felt sorry for Mohun Bagan and its general secretary Kalyan Majumdar said that the culprits who hurled stones at the ground should be caught and punished heavily.
"Why nobody talks about the real culprits. The ones who hurled stones should be booked and punished. It's a shock no doubt and my full sympathies are with the fans. I feel really sorry," Majumdar said.
"But at the same time, it was inevitable. The rules are very clear if a team flouts the rule. It's very clearly expressed. How will the organisers run a tournament if they start becoming lenient? No one is indispensable. The show will go on even without Mohun Bagan and East Bengal," he added.
Asked about Mohun Bagan officials' decision to quit the derby match after the first half interval, Majumdar said, "It was the most stupid decision I had seen. It not only exposes their lack of knowledge of the rules but also their false ego."
Other former Mohun Bagan players Subrata Bhattacharya and Prasun Banerjee refused to comment.
"Enough has been said about this. I don't want to make any comments," Bhattacharya said.
"No comments, I am very much disappointed," Banerjee said.