Mohammedan Sporting, one of three iconic football clubs of India, is shutting down football activities for this season due to financial crisis. The more than 100-year-old club has not been able to pay wages to its staff for the last three months. Effectively, the club will not play the upcoming Durand Cup in Goa and the I-League's second division. (Also Read: I-League Gets Priority Over Indian Super League From FIFA, AIFF)
Mohammedan Sporting was known as one of the Big Three of Indian football. Based in Kolkata Maidan, Mohammedan Sporting share a history only matched by the other two 'big' clubs of the city, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. But in recent times, the club's football reputation had taken a massive beating. It was unable to put together a decent team and were steadily overtaken by rival clubs. Unlike East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, sponsored by Vijay Mallya's United Breweries, Mohammedan Sporting doesn't have a major sponsor.
The governing body of football in West Bengal, the IFA, said Mohammedan Sporting were yet to inform that they were stopping football activities for this season. "So far, we have no information. If this happens, it will be unfortunate. Mohammedan Sporting is one club that has a pan-India support base and any decision like this is sad," said IFA president Subrata Dutta. (Grassroots not Indian Super League Should be Focus for India: FIFA)
Dutta said neither the IFA nor the All India Football Federation has ever bailed out any club that is struggling financially. "All Indian clubs arrange for their own sponsors. With such a brand name, Mohammedan Sporting should have been able to get funds and sponsors," Dutta said.
The club has been reeling under financial crisis for several years now. But it remained afloat after members and well-wishes, like Trinamool Congress MP Sultan Ahmed, who is the also the club president, kept funding the club's mostly football-related activities. (Related: ISL Will Take Off, Says Arsene Wenger)
At a working committee meeting on Saturday, the club decided to stop football activities. Mohammedan Sporting were scheduled to play in the Durand Cup, which is being held in Goa for the first time.
Mohammedan Sporting, distinguished by their famous black-and-white shirts, were founded in 1887 as the Jubilee Club. It was formally known as Mohammedan Sporting from 1891. Mohammedan Sporting first tasted success when they won the Calcutta Football League in 1934. (ISL Will Change the Face of Indian Football: Sachin Tendulkar)
The club, blessed by several gifted players, went on to create history by becoming the first Indian club to win the Calcutta Football League continuously for five years from 1934 to 1938. Mohammedan Sporting was the only Indian club to reach the semi-final of the Nehru Club Cup in 1990, the only international club tourney held in India.
Mohammedan Sporting, won the league in 1940 and 1941 along with the IFA Shield. It was also the first Indian team to break the monopoly of the British football teams in the Durand Cup, the oldest football tournament in India, when they became champions in 1941. (Success of Indian Super League Important for Football: John Abraham)
As a reflection of its financial status, the club's football fortunes have fluctuated in recent times. However, there was a flicker of hope when Mohammedan Sporting won the Durand Cup and IFA Shield in the 2013-14 season. They also qualified for the I-League first division but were once again relegated to Tier Two.
Financial problems have translated into other issues. Mohammedan Sporting are yet to fulfill I-League regulations like club licensing. While several new clubs like Bangalore FC and Pune FC have progressed as per international regulations, Kolkata's historic clubs have been relatively slow off the blocks. While East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have been able to adopt the new challenges, Mohammedan Sporting have failed to do.
But there is a bigger 'danger' lurking and that is the Indian Super League. Senior football writer Rupayan Bhattacharya says: "There were 60,000 people at Salt Lake Stadium paying their way in to watch Atletico Kolkata play Delhi. If the cash-rich franchise-based ISL survives for five years, it will kill the I-League. The ISL and I-League will eventually merge. Why Mohammedan Sporting, even East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will be in trouble."
Dutta, who is also the AIFF senior vice-president, pooh-poohs such fears. "I-League will remain the flagship tournament of India. FIFA is very clear about that. ISL is not yet threatening the I-League. It never will. Mohammedan Sporting's case is unique. Football clubs around the world get their own sponsors and are not profit-making associations. It's how you sell your brand name."
There are clear signs of trouble in the Mecca of Indian football. History and tradition have no place in modern-day sport and the way it is run. If you don't have deep pockets, you don't survive. In the topsy-turvy world of Indian football, ISL is being seen as a threat by many. Have money, will play seems to be the clear message for top players. It's not a level playing field any more.