At a time when the Indian footballing ecosystem is undergoing rapid corporatization, a 131-year-old legacy stood tall holding its colours high.
Mohun Bagan’s iconic red and maroon stripes will continue to grace Indian football for many more years to come, it was confirmed on Friday.
For context, in what was a landmark move in Indian football, 2019-20 I-League champions Mohun Bagan and reigning Indian Super League champions ATK merged to form a new entity - ATK Mohun Bagan.
While the merger was announced earlier this year, football-related details, including the official name of the new club, jersey colours and emblem were not released, until now.
In the highly anticipated unveiling, it was also revealed that the iconic ‘sail boat’ logo of Mohun Bagan is set to stay relatively unchanged, with only ATK being added to the text encompassing it. Bagan are called Mariners by fans.
But for supporters of Indian football, perhaps the biggest news was that the century-old club will be retaining the iconic green and maroon colours of Mohun Bagan – a club with a special place in the country’s football history.
With ATK owners holding 80 per cent stake in ATK Mohun Bagan, speculation loomed large that Mohun Bagan’s green and maroon may be replaced by red and white – ATK’s colours in their six seasons in the ISL.
The green and maroon legacy in Indian football
In team sports, especially football, colours hold the most profound significance.
Just like Manchester United or Liverpool’s red, Real Madrid’s white, Barcelona’s blue and garnet red, Juventus’ black and white, amongst others, have grown beyond the clubs’ respective fan bases and seeped into the very identity of their country’s, and even global, football; Mohun Bagan’s green and maroon holds a similar stature in Indian football.
Founded in 1889, Mohun Bagan’s victory over East Yorkshire regiment in the 1911 IFA Shield final wasn’t only the first time an all-Indian team beat a British side to win a football trophy but is also considered a keynote chapter in India’s push for Independence.
Additionally, their rivalry against Kolkata rivals East Bengal – a battle of the green and maroons against the red and golds - is considered one of the most intense and oldest rivalries in not just India but world football as well.
Such are the emotions attached to these two clubs in Bengal - the region considered the Mecca of Indian football - it’s not surprising to find buildings, even neighbourhoods, coloured in the team shades.
Some fans even regard the club tents in Maidan, Kolkata, as places of worship and pilgrimage.
Bhaichung Bhutia hails the move
ATK, meanwhile, began their journey in 2014 and within a short time has established itself as a big name in the corporate-backed Indian Super League, winning the trophy thrice in six years.
While the merger, without any doubts, was a watershed moment for Indian football, safeguarding Mohun Bagan’s history and legacy through its colours was a necessity to preserve the heritage of Indian football.
“Keeping Mohun Bagan colours was very important for the identity. They have kept the logo which is also a very welcome sign,” Indian football icon Bhaichung Bhutia, a former Mohun Bagan player himself, told PTI.
“East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are two iconic clubs and they are known for their colours. Imagine what would happen if tomorrow Manchester United completely take out the red colour, never use them...The colours are part of the legacy so it’s a very good step,” he explained.
Bhaichung Bhutia’s sentiments mirror most, if not all, of passionate football fans’ opinions across the country.