East Bengal contract row: Fans’ protest turn violent, footballing community condemns violence

Ugly scenes unfolded outside the East Bengal club tent in Kolkata on Wednesday as numerous fans of the historic club ended up getting injured following a lathi charge by the Kolkata police.

East Bengal contract row: Fans' protest turn violent, footballing community condemns violence
East Bengal fans (Photo: Twitter/@EBRP)

Ugly scenes unfolded outside the East Bengal club tent in Kolkata on Wednesday as numerous fans of the historic club ended up getting injured following a lathi charge by the Kolkata police.

While some suffered injuries and were hospitalised, police arrested 16 people for breaching COVID-19-related norms. As scenes turned rowdy outside the century-old club, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), administrators and former footballers condemned the attack on fans.

Thousands of East Bengal fans had gathered outside the club tent, in Maidan, and chanted slogans against the legacy club’s officials, regarding the ongoing investor-related contractual impasse.

East Bengal club officials and investors Shree Cement Limited have been at loggerheads about signing the final binding contract.

The two parties had signed a ‘term sheet in 2020 which helped East Bengal get into the Indian Super League (ISL) after the formation of a separate entity – Shree Cement East Bengal Foundation. However, there is no agreement on the final contract.

AIFF general secretary Kushal Das condemned the attack on East Bengal fans while urging the club to sort out the disagreements, as soon as possible.

“What happened with East Bengal fans is very unfortunate and highly condemnable. It doesn’t show Indian football in good light. Fans are the heartbeat of any club and shouldn’t have been lathi-charged or attack. This is a sorry incident and should have been avoided,” Das told TV9 Digital on Wednesday after visuals of clashes outside the club emerged.

The current situation has left the club in jeopardy and the Red and Gold Brigade can’t participate in any competition or take any sporting call without the approval of Shree Cement Ltd, which owns 76 per cent share of the club including sporting rights.

Shree Cement Ltd has made it clear it will not invest a penny into the club unless the contractual dispute is resolved. The stance has put East Bengal’s participation in the upcoming ISL 2021-22 in jeopardy with the historic club also facing the likelihood of relegation in Calcutta Football League (CFL).

“East Bengal should resolve the contractual disagreements, as soon as possible. The ISL transfer window deadline ends next month and they are still inactive. If it continues like this then it would become a huge problem for them in the coming weeks. For the sake of the club, they should come to an agreement,” the AIFF general secretary added.

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There were even clashes among two sets of East Bengal fans part of the agitation as it soon turned into blood-shed. The development forced East Bengal to call an emergency executive committee meeting, scheduled to be held on Friday.

Former India and East Bengal footballer Prasanta Banerjee said the attack on fans is pitiful and no fan base in the world deserve violent treatment.

“I am against any sort of violence. What happened with East Bengal fans is very unfortunate. Fans were there to express their displeasure against the current contractual disagreements between the club and investors and police shouldn’t have resorted to lathi-charge. What is happening inside the club is bad. If there are disagreements then it should be solved peacefully,” Banerjee told TV9 Digital.

In 2020, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was crucial to Shree Cement Ltd chipping in as investors for East Bengal. But the WB CM continues to be silent despite calls from officials and fans to intervene.

While the possibility of both EB officials and SC mutually agreeing to sign the final binding deal remains open, the recent attack on fans by the police and authorities will leave a long-lasting impact on the passionate fan base. This is the last thing Indian football needed.