Mohun Bagan, one of the oldest football clubs in Asia, has a cult following among Indian football fans with several players from the club donning the national colours. However, while Indian football is seeing a sunshine era with Indian Super League, the Kolkata-based club is staring at a dark future due to cash crunch.
United Spirits Limited (USL), which Diageo Plc took over from liquor baron Vijay Mallya, has apparently decided to slash its sponsorship money to around Rs 5 crore from Rs 8 crore for the club. "There has been a substantial cut on funds on account of USL going to a different company," said a top club official.
The minority shareholders of USL, on December 28, 2014, had turned down nine resolutions including the sponsorship deal with United Mohun Bagan Football Team. Club secretary Anjan Mitra had earlier said a club like Mohun Bagan would need at least Rs 11 crore a year to function smoothly.
The club was already facing fund crunch after the Saradha scam was busted. Saradha had a sponsorship deal with the club.
According to a top official of the club, USL decided to cut on the Budget because there were multiple irregularities on the part of club officials. "The functioning collapsed because the current leadership did not furnish any details to the Registrar of Companies (ROC) for the past two years; I suspect some foul play," said Atin Ghosh, an executive committee member.
The deal, which was inked between Vijay Mallya's United Breweries (UB) group and Mohun Bagan club, changed the club's fortune in 1998. Mohun Bagan formed a 50:50 joint venture with United Breweries (Holdings) under which UB has been sponsoring the team through USL's MC Dowell's brand.
Under the deal, four officials of the club - Mitra; club president Swapan Sadhan Bose; finance secretary Debashish Dutta; and Srinjoy Bose - jointly took a 50 per cent stake.
"A few persons became a party to the deal; they were the shareholders and not the club. Why so?" said Ghosh.
Ghosh's statements point towards the power struggle that has gripped the club. Mitra, Bose and Dutta stepped down from the board of United Mohun Bagan on January 4. Their resignations were not accepted and they are still serving in their positions. While Trinamool Congress (TMC) general-secretary Subrata Mukherjee has thrown his weight behind the Mitra camp, Ghosh - another TMC strongman - is vehemently against continuing with the current management.
When contacted, Mitra claimed there were no financial irregularities. "The club could not sign a deal as it was not registered at that time. So we took stake as ex-officio shareholders. Whoever is elected in our positions will be the owner of the stake," he said.
The club hasn't been able to pay players' salary for the past three months and a sponsorship money cut in such times might put its future in jeopardy.