Kolkata: Former East Bengal team manager Swapan Ball, who is no more, used to often say, “East Bengal Club amar Maa (East Bengal Club is my mother)”. The exact words were reverberating just in a patch few metres away from the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Wednesday afternoon.
Every supporter present on the day must have been feeling the way Swapan Ball used to decades ago. East Bengal supporters, miffed at the club management, were staging a peaceful protest against the club officials, but it turned violent later as the local police resorted to lathi-charge to disperse the crowd.
It was complete mayhem. Supporters hailing from different parts of the state in good numbers were screaming and baying for the current crop of club administrators’ blood. This is something that a football institution like East Bengal should never have experienced.
“Sign and Resign” was one of the banners read. It summed up the mood in the Kolkata giants’ fans. In its 100th year, the club has faced several threats to survival in the current football set-up of the country thanks to the officials’ whims and fancies.
The situation was warranted by the East Bengal club officials’ brazen refusal to sign the agreement sheet prepared for the joint venture by investor Shree Cement Ltd. putting the century-old club’s future in jeopardy.
A huge part of the red-and-golds’ members-supporters turned up from various pockets blocking the lane leading to the club tent on the Maidan from 2.45 pm. More than 800 fans congregated there and demanded the removal of ‘corrupt’ officials. They trained their guns mainly on executive committee member Debabrata Sarkar (commonly known as Nitu Sarkar) with ‘Nitu Out’ slogans.
The fans and members even put up a picture of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee holding a football and prayed to her to save the institution. It may be recalled that last year Banerjee played a significant role in East Bengal club roping an investor at the last moment to make it to the Indian Super League. After having a disastrous debut in the country’s highest league, the officials have locked horns with the Shree Cement Ltd on multiple occasions leading to the iconic club’s embarrassment in its centenary.
This event which was supposed to be peaceful, suddenly turned violent prompting the police to lathi-charge and disperse the crowd. On why lathi-charge was necessary, DC South Akash Maghoma said that the fans damaged few cars and so they were forced to act.
Interestingly, few men were also seen manning the club gate — seemingly working at the behest of the club officials — and hurling abuses at the fans and journalists alike.
However, it couldn’t be confirmed how they were connected with the protest. Fans accused the club management of deploying musclemen to thwart their peaceful protest. Apart from three fans’ injuries, a journalist working for a local television channel was beaten up badly by men safeguarding the gate of the club tent.
Asked about the presence of unknown faces manning the club gate, Debabrata Sarkar said, “We don’t know who they are.” But he assured the agitators to come and meet them to sort out this impasse. Sarkar said that the club has already invited few former footballers to discuss the matter and take a call on signing the agreement.
“It needs an amicable solution. Violence is no way to protest. We are not registering any police complaint as we know all are East Bengal supporters,” Sarkar told the reporters.
On the incident, he said, “This was definitely not a good advert for the club. The people who are demanding we sign the agreement do not know the clauses of the final agreement. We cannot bring the final agreement to the public as it violates the understanding of the investors. I know both the fans and us officials wish well for the club. We want them to send their representatives to the club so that they can look into the agreement. We cannot allow the club to go into private hands completely,” Sarkar added.
The disgruntled fans though think that it’s an appropriate beginning to the end of the club officials’ high-handedness. “We are happy with the way things have panned out. We will now decide on the future course of action,” a protesting club member told The Lateralz. The member also shared their plans for the weeks ahead to free the club from the clutches of the ‘power greedy’ administrators. “We may resort to a Nabanna Abhijaan (March), but no concrete decision has been made on the date as yet,” the member revealed.