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The Red And Gold Pain: Rantings Of A Frustrated East Bengal Fan

Wednesday, 26 April 2017|Abhranil Roy

Yet another I-League season comes to an end, yet another bout of frustration and desperation welcomes me, a story I am all too familiar with. This is something that is synonymous with not just me, but the millions of people who fervently support East Bengal, across the world --- we have grown accustomed to this, mediocrity is our hallmark now while eternal rivals Mohun Bagan win national leagues and cups.

Founded in 1920, East Bengal is one of the most decorated and historic clubs in India. It is the only club from the country with the highest average attendance, with the only AFC-affiliated trophy in its cabinet and also with the most number of State League titles. However, 2004 was the last time we won the National League, and it has eluded us ever since, particularly after it was rebranded as the I-League in 2007.

The first three editions of the I-League yielded horrible results for the Kolkata giants, as they finished 6th twice and 9th once. Dejected with the poor performances, the club officials sought a complete overhaul and as such, bought in British coach Trevor James Morgan to oversee the proceedings. The former Hull City assistant manager developed a strong core of the team, which included the likes of Tolgay Ozbey, Penn Orji and Uga Okpara. Ably supported by players of the caliber of Mehtab Hossain, Soumik Dey and Ishfaq Ahmed, that team went on to win 9 trophies in 3 seasons but failed to deliver the I-League trophy once again as they came 2nd twice and 3rd once.

Sensing the need to change the team’s dynamics again, Armando Colaco was brought in as the new manager. The Goan, who had led Dempo FC to the league title multiple times before, was expected to end the drought once and for all. However, newbies Bengaluru FC pocketed the league that year, and despite strong performances in the AFC Cup and the Federation Cup, the die seemed to be cast. Coaches came and went, but the order did not change, we would begin the league season on a strong note, but just when the business end of the season would kick in, we would suffer a terrible slump in form and eventually lose the title to the less-fancied opposition. What hurt most was the fact that even our eternal rivals Mohun Bagan ended their 5-year trophy-less streak and went on to win the league in 2014, while we fumed at our players and coaches for letting us down once again.

Morgan was reappointed with only one aim in mind: to win the I-League at any cost. With a depleted squad, we went on to win the Kolkata League for the 7th season in a row, a national record and many of us were impressed with the team’s showings and hoped the curse would finally end this year.

But that was not to be.

Despite an exceptionally strong start to the campaign which saw us beating the mighty Bengaluru FC home and away, shocking defeats to Chennai FC and Mohun Bagan away and to DSK Shivajians and Churchill Brothers at home meant that once again, we ran out of fuel before the race was over. The supporters have been extremely vocal over the past few weeks and rightly so, effigies have been burnt, banners and chants protesting against the players and the management have been on show at every home game while others have openly asked Morgan to be sacked, something that has been duly done. It is hard to pinpoint someone specifically for this continued failure: the top brass has repeatedly interfered with the team selection; the coach has refused to show flexibility and has persisted with picking a fixed set of players despite poor outings while even the players have let us down on multiple occasions. All in all, the suffering continues for us fans: it is something akin to the one Arsenal fans suffer as they keep running out of steam in the English Premier League every season, or what the Benfica fans suffer when it comes to European competitions.

The I-League and ISL are likely to merge with each other next season, and if that does happen, we have already blown the chance thanks to the gross incompetence from all quarters.