Ownership impasse prompts clashes between rival East Bengal factions

Two factions of East Bengal supporters clashed with each other in front of the club tent on Wednesday. Three persons got injured and were hospitalised, while police arrested 16 people for flouting Covid norms. As the pre-arranged fan protest turned ugly, former players and administrators called it “a sad day” for the century-old club.

Mounted police intervened and a lathi-charge had to be initiated to disperse an angry mob of over 500 who ignored Covid guidelines and demanded resignation of club officials over the ongoing investor-related impasse. The dissidents were met with force by a section of fans who allegedly had the backing of club officials. East Bengal has called an emergent executive committee meeting on Friday.

Dissent had been brewing over the last few weeks, with the future of the club in doubt as regards to participating in next season’s Indian Super League (ISL). It all began after club officials decided not to sign the contract with investor Shree Cement Limited, citing differences in the term-sheet and final agreement.

On July 16, the club‘s executive committee decided to pull the plug on the agreement, claiming that it breached the “fundamental principles” of a legacy institution, while disrespecting its fans by calling them “trespassers”.

Shree Cement became the club’s investor last year, thanks to intervention from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. After the red-and-gold lost their previous investor, Quess Corp, the club was in limbo in terms of its future participation in Indian football, especially the ISL. The chief minister’s intervention resolved the issue and allowed the club to build a team under head coach and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler. The hastily-arranged squad was a failure in the ISL last term, finishing ninth.

At the moment though, there’s a question mark over East Bengal’s participation in the Calcutta Football League that commences in August, let alone the ISL. The investor acquired a 76 per cent stake in the club, allowing the company to hold the sporting rights. As things stand, East Bengal cannot register for a tournament unless it is approved by Shree Cement. The company’s managing director Hari Mohan Bangur had recently expressed concern over the club’s participation in this season’s ISL, with the club management delaying signing the final agreement.

A call on social media saw hundreds of fans assemble in front of the tent on Wednesday afternoon, demanding club official Debabrata Sarkar’s resignation. The latter yet again spoke about taking the matter before the chief minister. “East Bengal club is discussing its problems with Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. Although the club invited all to come (at the tent) and see the agreement, not a single fan availed the opportunity. Shree Cement is not allowing public disclosure of the agreement,” he told reporters.

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