The East Bengal Club is stuck in a time loop, it seems. The club’s recurring pattern of tournament end – investor hunt – tournament end – investor hunt has left its future hanging. SC East Bengal, the club’s ISL avatar, recently concluded its terrible campaign in Goa, the tournament’s 8th edition. The Red and Gold Brigade finished at rock-bottom with just one win in 20 matches, their worst showing of the 1928-29 season.
Truly, the only saving grace for the team is the absence of relegation in India’s top-flight football. According to legend, when the club was relegated to the IFA Second Division 94 years ago, the officials back then were “greeted” by the seething fans with hockey sticks.
For now, the focus has shifted from on-field action to the increasing feud between East Bengal and their current investor, Shree Cement Limited. When Srenik Sett, SCEB’s advisor, claimed during an interview that the Bangur family-helmed company would be returning the sporting rights to the club, it was beginning to look like the separation between the two is inevitable. Sett also added that staying at the club is futile since east Bengal “has no intention of signing the final agreement.”
But when Shree Cement Limited’s Managing Director Hari Mohan Bangur was recently interviewed, it’s looking like things are not as bad as they seem. According to Bangur, “There’s no doubt about the fact that we want to stay with East Bengal. But it depends on a few factors. Let’s see what happens. They [the club officials] are mature people, we’re mature people, so we’ve got to see if we can meet their expectations or not.”
East Bengal’s football operations have been patronized by Shree Cement Ltd. since September 2020. This came after the 101-year-old club separated from its former investor, Quess Corp. Shree Cement has so far spent around ₹100 crores on East Bengal, demonstrating its lofty ambitions for the club in several instances. The company heavily invested in scientific training methods, as well as appointed Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler as head coach last season.
The collaboration, however, was anything but smooth. They have been at odds over the drafting of the definitive agreement, which has been made private. Clashes started to surface when club officials refused to sign a definitive agreement after East Bengal’s last-minute foray into the ISL. The officials protested about certain conditions that they thought would compromise the rights of the members and force them to “transfer perpetually everything from the club ground, tent, logo and the name of the club to the investors.” The cement giant refuted these claims and maintained that its intention is to promote the East Bengal brand at the global level.
Bangur further stated that he would like to keep his “options open”. He stressed his philosophy that the organization is greater than any individual.
“See, for me, an individual is never important. What’s more important is the company. Somehow, we need to come out of this individual culture and embrace the corporate culture. We need to understand that the club [East Bengal] is more important than anyone else at the moment.”