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I-League’s Mohun Bagan ‘to merge with ISL’s ATK’

Indian Super League team scarves prior to an AFC Asian Cup match between India and Bahrain on January 14, 2019 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

Two leading Indian football teams from Kolkata, the I-League’s Mohun Bagan and the Indian Super League’s ATK, are to merge and play in the Indian Super League, according to media reports.

The Sony ESPN and The Bridge sports news websites both reported that the two clubs have signed a memorandum of understanding and that an official announcement is to soon follow.

Mohun Bagan is one of the oldest and most storied teams in Indian football. ESPN reported that Football Sports Development Limited, the organiser of the ISL, has been keen for either Mohun Bagan or its same-city rivals East Bengal to join the league for several seasons. Both teams play in Kolkata and contest the Kolkata Derby, one of the biggest fixtures in Indian football.

The Bridge reported that that Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have been interested in joining the ISL, but have baulked at the Rs15 crore ($2.1m) franchise fee and requirements to give up rights to their names, logos and jerseys. The website now reports that Mohun Bagan and ATK have agreed on details including the colour of the jersey and the logo.

ATK is reported to have had merger talks with both teams, but East Bengal’s current sponsorship deal with business services provider Quess Corp stopped it from rebranding, leaving Mohun Bagan as the only viable choice.

ESPN reported that a ‘high-placed official’ at Mohun Bagan told it: “There have been reports about our merger for more than two years now. Every club looks to consolidate, either through tie-ups with sponsors or with other clubs. We’ll announce any change in structure, which has been planned for some time now, as and when it happens.”

ESPN reported that ATK’s attendances have dropped sharply since it started in the ISL in 2014. In its first two seasons, 2014 and 2015, it had average home attendances of 45,171 and 50,707, respectively. In 2018-19, the average was around 18,000. The team plays at the giant, 80,000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium.

The Bridge reported that some fans of ATK and Mohun Bagan are unhappy about the proposed merger. ATK fans attending a game played last weekend unfurled a banner that said ‘no merger’. The Bridge reported that an official from ATK fan club said: “Before ATK had come into the picture, some of us supported either East Bengal or Mohun Bagan but we were frustrated. Some others only followed European football. Why? Because of the low quality of football, the famously infamous fan culture, lack of any grassroots development, among other things.”

Both the Indian Super League and I-League 2019-20 seasons are currently underway. ATK is in third place in the ISL after 12 games. In the I-League, Mohun Bagan is top after seven games and East Bengal fourth after five games.