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Mohun Bagan Super Giants: What do fans feel about the 'ATK' removal?

On 19th March, 2023, ATK Mohun Bagan landed in Kolkata with their maiden Indian Super League title. The team was welcomed with green and maroon flags, a raucous cacophony of chants and cheers, and moreover a huge amount of adulation.

However, if it wasn’t for a certain announcement made by club owner and chairman Dr. Sanjiv Goenka, the team would have been traveling in their bus on empty roads, flanked by little to no fans wearing bandanas and riding their motorbikes along the team.

After defeating Bengaluru FC 4-3 in a penalty shootout, ATK Mohun Bagan clinched the 2022-23 ISL title. In the post-match interview, Goenka announced that from next season onwards, the club would re-christened as ‘Mohun Bagan Super Giants’, a name which follows the RP-Sanjiv Goenka group’s naming philosophy of their sports teams.

With this move, the prefix ‘ATK’ would be removed after a large part of the Mohun Bagan fanbase was against it for the past three years or so.

In the post-match press conference after the final, ATKMB captain Pritam Kotal, who’d been supreme throughout the season in the Mariners’ backline, was elated after winning the title.

“We kept our belief even when we were 1-2 down, and kept going. It was very emotional for me to win my first title as Mohun Bagan’s captain. I congratulate everyone,” Kotal said.

The Bridge was curious to understand what skipper Pritam thought about the removal of the ‘ATK’ prefix and what it would mean to get back the trust of the fans who weren’t necessarily supporting the team in the past seasons.

However, we were cut-off mid question by ATKMB’s media manager, who was of the opinion that the question wasn’t “match-related”, in the post-match press conference.

Nonetheless, we tracked down a few fans of the historic club to understand they thought of the move. Least to say that the answers were quite varied, much like the opinions that would float around Facebook and Twitter feeds, and around the local tea shops in Kolkata, when #RemoveATK was at its peak.

There existed a substantial part of the fanbase who despite being ardent Mohun Bagan supporters for decades, didn’t mind the name of the team. For them, it was simply about playing good football and winning matches.

“The base of being a supporter of any team is the football. People who support Mohun Bagan, support a Manchester United also, and a LaLiga team also. I need to look for quality football first. It can not be denied that our current sponsor at least do not interfere in the matters of squad-building. The concept of ‘cut-money’, which is prevalently heard around Kolkata’s maidan, is not there in the current management. I also do want that Mohun Bagan plays under its own name, but my first priority would be the football. The way the team is playing, it’s okay, I’m okay with ATK Mohun Bagan,” said Debmalya Sinha, a couple of hours before the 2022-23 ISL final at the Fatorda stadium, Goa.

There have been hosts of fans who needed time to be okay with the name, who were previously unhappy with the ‘ATK’ prefix. One such fan is Soumo Bose.

“Initially when the merger happened, I was skeptical as a name of a different football club got added. The technicalities weren’t clear, the 1889 (year of Mohun Bagan’s foundation) wasn’t there. After the first derby, I noticed that the statistics were being added to Mohun Bagan’s legacy,” he said.

“I believed that this team was a continuation of Mohun Bagan. It’s just that the RPSG group took over the football division of the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club with 80 per cent stake. It was sponsorship problems that forced MB to change its name, which was something we didn’t agree with.”

“There were fans who were protesting, but I feel protest should be done at the field itself. It’s a football team, nothing can be achieved without doing it in the galleries. What happened was that with the RemoveATK movement, ‘ATK’ was getting highlighted a lot. This is why Mohun Bagan’s identity was going away,” Bose added.

“It was many of us fans’ view that the sponsors understood the importance of highlighting ‘Mohun Bagan’, which I think they have understood now,” he continued.

With the ‘Super Giants’ being part of the newly announced team name Soumo reveals that he has accepted the increasing corporate culture of Indian football.

“After the IPL’s massive impact in Indian sports, the conventional model of the club being funded by the public has disappeared.”

“A franchise’s name is coming after Mohun Bagan, that’s fine, maybe that will go away one day too. From the bottom of my heart, I hope this goes away too, but it should not be a problem. People did not have a problem back when McDowell used to sponsor the team,” Bose concluded.

We saw two sorts of fans who either never had a problem with the prefix, or slowly learnt to live with it. But there still remains a negligible part of the fanbase, who still have their reservations.

“It was not only about the name. The problem was with the merger of two entities, the arrangement. People like me, which might be a minority, were of the opinion that if it was a merged entity, why were there two separate Facebook, Twitter, and Website handles? This meant that this wasn’t a continuation of the 1889 club. They’d even mentioned that this was a new club which came to existence in 2020,” asserted Gautam Dass – fan who is unmoved by Goenka’s words.

“Our reservations have not ceased to exist with this move. With Super Giants or without, we want to wait and watch and see if there are common social media handles and a common website which boasts of the history of Mohun Bagan alone, and not ATK.”

“After the removal of ATK, 99% of the protesters who were against the prefix are now happy. There still remains the few fans like me who are yet to change their stance,” Dass added.

Gautam is not bluffing when he says this. He was kind enough to throw light on a list of pointers and observations they noted down around events which followed the name change announcement.

These include how no Mohun Bagan officials were present in the felicitation ceremony of the team at the RPSG office, how there were no RPSG officials at the Mohun Bagan grounds when the team’s title was celebrated, and how the trophy went to the RPSG office.

A snippet of what a handful of Mohun Bagan fans feel after the name change

Regardless of what the different kinds of fans of Mohun Bagan feel about this major development, which might be bigger than the ISL title, it is certain that the soon-to-be Mohun Bagan Super Giants will strive to continue their fine form in Indian football, at least a neutral would hope so.

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