We were on our way to see-off a guest from Europe at the Howrah Station for his onward journey. As the car took the left turn from Red Road towards Strand Road, while I was about to show-case what we consider to be the Mecca of Cricket, my late father had, matter-of-factly turned, away from the cricket field and bowing his head in reverence, touched his folded hands to his forehead, a gesture that did not miss the eye of our guest.
“Is that another one of your temples” he had asked?
“Yes” my father had said equally nonchalantly “that is the Mohun Bagan Club tent: the temple of our self-esteem, where the God of football, in the avatar as the protector of our pride resides.”
The incredulous foreigner could not digest the fact that a Nation that is nowhere in the FIFA rankings can have a football club as a temple and revere it with the awe and pride with which my father had recounted the story of eleven bare-footed natives taking on the might of the Raj in the football field and winning, which had, in its own way, instilled in the people the resolve to throw off the foreign yoke. He had talked of the tradition that was Mohun Bagan, listed the innumerable successes of what is now the “National Club of India”, about the postage stamp that proudly depicts the club’s sail boat and the high ethical standards of sportsmanship that is almost generic – synonymous with the Mohun Bagan name.
I was more astounded than the foreigner. For, I had always known my father as a no-nonsense, strict Government Officer, someone who had never let us know of his interest in sports, any sport, even if he had it. A man of few words, his towering presence was reassuring, benevolent even, but not the type that would marvel at a million dollar through pass or a spectacular goal, even with his son. Naturally, the reverence with which he had referred to Mohun Bagan, putting it in the same pedestal with the Gods and Goddesses without worshipping whom he would not drink his morning cup of tea had sent a current through my veins.
I was of tender age then, a school going boy, naturally, I had not fathomed the true purport, or the enormity of his statement when he had described Mohun Bagan as “the temple of our self-esteem, where the God of football, in the avatar as the protector of our pride resides”. Today, many many years on, I realise that one does not necessarily have to be a football aficionado, leave alone a die-hard Maroon and Green supporter to hold the Club with the kind of respect with which my late father had bowed his extremely principled, rigid and upright head before it.
“The temple of our self esteem, where the protector of our pride resides” – pride as a people, honour of a Nation, the God of Football, the mark of sportsmanship, a living thriving ode to all that is good, honest and exemplary – especially before generations of young people. That is my Mohun Bagan. A Club that is much more than the sum total of the game it plays or the matches it wins – it is a way of life.
Every time Mohun Bagan dies …
And this Mohun Bagan dies an inglorious death when a Tughlaghi “official” instructs his lackeys to withdraw the team – stamping all and sundry as turncoats, fleeing the battlefield. This Mohun Bagan dies when the politics of money and power stifles all democratic norms to convert the institution – the temple – into a personal fiefdom that is used for furthering vested interests. This Mohun Bagan dies when her bravest sons are denied the honour that they have earned with their blood, sweat and tears. This Mohun Bagan dies when the feelings and emotions of myriad Mohun Bagan supporters spread across the world are trampled over by a few self seeking people to whom the club is no more than a mere cow to be milched. This Mohun Bagan dies when we have to knock at the gates of Chit Funds and other sundry entities with dubious funds to spare to recruit soldiers of fortune – hired guns from unknown lands with questionable capabilities that are consigned to the dustbins even before the end of the season. This Mohun Bagan dies when I see the tears in the eyes of little boys who have reached their teens but are yet to celebrate their club winning a trophy.
And every time Mohun Bagan dies, it takes a piece of me with it. It takes a piece of my Father and everything, everyone like him stood and fought for.
“What then? sang Plato’s Ghost, What Then?”
We have to change with the times. I remember the pain in my father’s eyes when I had professed for the inclusion of Okorie Cheema in the club squad. My father, a traditionalist to the core and a puritan to boot had considered it to be the end of civilisation as he knew it. “Mohun Bagan does not seek the help of imported wage earners to win matches” he had said with all the pompous arrogance of our crumbling, albeit Zamindari lineage that was immortalized by Pahari Sanyal in Satyajit Ray’s epic “Jolsha Ghar”. My protestations about the importance of winning matches, trophies and setting yardsticks of performance were brushed aside with the disdain he thought they deserved. And when I had protested that we needed “foreign” players to “defeat” our arch rivals by paying them back in their own coin, he had looked down on me with sheer, naked, disgusted, contempt. “You, my son of all the animals out there, want to go down to their level to win a match? Mohun Bagan does not play for the result. Mohun Bagan does not react to the Rules set by aliens who like to call themselves our rivals…”
The Late Dhiren Dey could have uttered the same words, and stood steadfast for the same values, but we, armed with our youthful worldview had stormed the citadel of tradition throwing all norms of civility and respect to the air. I think it is time the Generation Next does the same and bring us down from the pulpits we have created for ourselves.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep…
First things first. What we need the most now, is to open the windows and allow a burst of fresh, clean air, which will bring with it fresh ideas, new hopes, aspirations and an ability to surpass everything we have achieved in our life time. It is time the children of tomorrow, force us “Selfish Giants” to change our hearts and open our painstakingly built “Bagan” for the children to play.
* For doing this, we have to change our thinking and become truly professional. And the first step towards this will be to appoint paid Managers. Professional people, who will run the football team and will be answerable for all failures, just the way the team’s successes will be linked to their bonuses. The Coach too will be a professional who will be hired for a fixed term and the current practice of sacrificing coaches by the so-called officials should be discontinued immediately. If it is so desired, a committee of Ex-Football professionals can be formed to assist the coach, which has often been done in the past for all the wrong reasons.
- The second major step will involve the listing of the club’s shares in the Stock Exchanges. This way, considering the huge supporter base, raising a corpus fund will not be an issue. The scrip’s price will rise and fall following the laws of demand-supply, success and failures.
- The current system of Membership cards, which contributes a pittance to the club’s coffers in any case can be replaced with the original members becoming the promoting shareholders if it is so desired. Millions of supporters who, despite their best intentions cannot contribute financially to the club can be roped in with each paying according to their abilities. Yes, the rich and the mighty of the land will try to corner the shares, take over the management and play all the dirty corporate games that one reads about in the pink papers, but then, how clean is the current system, prey?
- Listing will also ensure that a bulk of the financial transactions of the club will become above board and transparent. When footballers are paid, taxes will be deducted and payments will be made through Bank Transfers which will be recorded, audited, scrutinized by the concerned authorities and known to the shareholders, members and supporters. The flow of dubious, dirty monies will slowly ebb, footballers will get their payments in a fair and transparent manner and whispers like “such and such had only paid a pittance to XYZ while billing the club an astronomical sum” will cease. The number of quasi-officials too will decrease dramatically as they will have no access to the funds.
- Supporters should be encouraged to form “Fan Clubs” so that they can contribute constructively for the success and well being of the club. By “Fan Clubs” I do not mean the opening of a facebook page where Fan Club Members post their own photographs and use the same as a bargaining point for free tickets but genuine organisations that will act as think tanks on the one hand and ombudsmen on the other. These fan clubs can be embraced by the Management of the club and select members can even join the professional Board of Directors which will become the supreme Management Authority, just the way other limited, listed public companies are.
- The Mohun Bagan Board of Directors should reflect the glory of the Institution. Lawyers, bureaucrats, journalists, politicians, academicians, sportspersons, Jurists … eminent persons who are proud Mohun Bagan supporters are there in every corner of the world. Why not use their talents to set an example of good governance before the world and help our favourite club regain its place in the sun in the process?
- Football is a spectator game with immense potential in a country like India, which has a young population that has monies to spare. However, it is a sad fact the football has never been marketed the way Cricket has been packaged which is why, despite its universal appeal and grass roots popularity, it continues to be treated as a distant, poor cousin. We must leave the marketing aspect in the hands of trained, professional managers who will not only package the team’s USP’s but will also use professional networks to raise sponsorship funds. It is a myth that so-called corporates who pay “because so and so used his influence”. Corporates pay because they want to connect with the millions of supporters like you and me. Corporates pay because they want to attract our eyeballs. Corporates pay because they want to associate their brands with the century old behemoth that is Mohun Bagan. Let the paid managers do the negotiations and get the moolah. The more they bring in, the fatter will their commission become – and it will all be over board. Give this system a free run for five years and you will see how stars from the Soccer capitals of the world line up to don the M&G jersey, for done properly, this one step can take the club to a different financial orbit.
- Similarly, does anyone know what is the brand value of Mohun Bagan? Has anyone even bothered to find out? Does anyone even care? If Amitabh Bachchan could have done the exercise more than a decade back, and when even two bit politicians are hiring experts to put on the grease paint, why will our brand languish in the cobwebbed attic of our consciousness? Let us put the sheen back and ensure that it makes its way into the top list of brands, here in India, if not in the top 500 of the world.
- Professional firms should be immediately hired to help the club with its merchandising efforts. This is one area which can be utilised to open up a revenue source for the club. If Manchester United can open a shop in the Forum Mall why can’t Mohun Bagan do the same in Asansol or Aizal?
- Similarly two other areas that need professional management are Corporate Communication – handling of the Media for the best manner in which channels of communication can be established and maintained and Social Media integration.
- Globally, there is a perceptible shift in the way people are accessing news and utilizing them. The social media phenomenon is not merely a website, a facebook page and a twitter account – it is about reaching out to like-minded people around the world and communicating with them through Search Engine Optimised content and rising to the top of Search Engine Results. Let Mohun Bagan take the lead and straddle the social media space even before the others can think about it.
Today as I write this I can see my father smiling from wherever he is. Yes father, you were right – whatever we do, let the primary focus be on building character – young sons of the soil who will be fired by the spirit of Mohun Bagan and give their lives for the cause. Let Mohun Bagan be known for the young talents we groom for the Nation and let this nursery be our pool from where the stars of tomorrow will emerge. And yes, bless me so that I too can one day tell my son, “Mohun Bagan does not play for the results. Mohun Bagan does not react to Rules set by others – what Mohun Bagan does, has always been and will continue to be the Rule by which lesser mortals play the Game!”
PS. This is the 125th year of Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, which was founded in 1889. The piece was written as a contribution to a magazine which was taken out by a Fan Club – MohunBagan Gorbo to commemorate the occassion.