East Bengal: Police lathi-charge supporters after fiery protests erupt in Maidan

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The Leslie Claudis street in Kolkata witnessed a rare sight on Wednesday when two factions of East Bengal supporters clashed with each other leading to a scuffle and subsequent lathi-charge by the Kolkata Police. One set of supporters raised slogans against the club officials specifically demanding Debabrata Sarkar, aka Nitu Da, to offer his resignation. The other group lent their voice in support of the authorities.

Fans had started to gather in front of the club tent from 1 PM in the afternoon after a clarion call on social media called for a protest against the club officials. However, when the situation started to turn violent, mounted police were also called in to disperse the crowd.

Police charges towards a supporter in Maidan. (Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh)

This is the first time that such a scene was witnessed as two groups of red-and-yellow supporters ended up fighting. No supporter was grievously injured but as per the latest update, five of them had to be taken to the hospital after they complained of illness.

It all began after East Bengal club officials decided not to sign the final agreement with investor Shree Cement Limited, citing differences in the term sheet and final agreement. This brought uncertainty for SC East Bengal to participate in Indian Super League (ISL).

With the future of the red and gold brigade in doubt, fans have been very vocal about what they feel about the club, and they have not held themselves back even amidst the pandemic.

Amidst the Covid-19 crisis, more than 500 people thronged the area around Maidan as Covid protocols went for a toss. Using a loudspeaker, police officials urged the crowd to follow the norms but hardly anyone paid heed to it. Female protestors were also present.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, one of the fans present at the protest site, Trinath Das said, “It is a sad day for Indian football. Fans demanding better governance of a storied footballing institution should be heard, not hurt. We hope for better days for East Bengal and its fans. Knew that club officials are corrupted and can go to any extent to stop the protest, but can’t imagine this. They call it “Fan base club” but this is how they treat fans.”

Suman Rath, 40, another fan who got beaten up, said, “I have been at the ground since 1997. When Bhaichung Bhutia scored a hattrick in the derby, it was my first game. But I have never faced such a situation where supporters are being beaten up. I was manhandled by officials who are close to Nitu da, I can identify them because they had blue and white ribbons on their hands.”

Later in the evening, Nitu Sarkar, the man in the eye of the storm, addressed the media and said, “East Bengal club is discussing its problem with Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. Though the club invited all to visit the club and see the agreements, not a single fan availed that opportunity. ShreeCement is not allowing public disclosure of agreement.”

East Bengal General Secretary Kalyan Majumdar, also released a statement which read: “We will not sign the agreement where the members will lose their fundamental rights, where the club will be permanently handed over and we will lose the right over ground, logo, tent.”

Meanwhile, AIFF secretary Kushal Das spoke on the incident and said: “It is an unfortunate event that fans are being beaten by the club. However, I am afraid AIFF cannot interfere as it is a internal matter for East Bengal Club. The transfer window is on and other clubs are signing players, time is running out.”

In the previous ISL season, East Bengal finished ninth.

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