It was a club that defined several generations. It had one of the largest fan bases in the country. Mohammedan Sporting Club (MSC) was a sporting giant in the true sense of the word. And it was their fall that hurt the sport aficionados the most, supporters and haters alike.
The journey began in Hajaribagh. Members of the famed Nawab family of Dhaka wanted to establish a local club for the youth. As a result, Muslim Sports Club came into being in 1927. Nine years later, it was renamed Mohammedan Sporting Club, after its more renowned predecessor the Kolkata Mohammedan.
Though it was established to create enthusiasm for sports amongst the local Muslim community, the club later broke the race, class and ethnic barrier and became a crowd favourite.
In the late 40s, MSC started to flourish with Mohammad Shahjahan at the helm. Shahjahan left Kolkata Mohammedan and came to Bangladesh after the partition. The 1950s was a time for Dhaka Wanderers. They were the top dog in the sporting arena. In 1956, some of their star players and senior officials joined MSC and started restructuring the club.
The results were evident as MSC secured their first league title in 1957. The same year they won the Independence Cup, thus ensuring their domestic double. The trophies kept coming over the next two decades.
After the independence of Bangladesh, Mohammedan Sporting Club found an arch-nemesis in Abahani Kria Chakra (later Abahani Limited). These two became the local giants and the two most supported clubs in the country. The derby between the clubs gained legendary status and was once one of the fiercest in the world.
Reminiscing about those intense and absorbing encounters, former star batsman of the MSC, Selim Shahed, told The Business Standard that those matches were considered to be the most important of their career.
"In the 80s and 90s, the Abahani-Mohammedan match was considered the most important one. Crowds used to flock the stadiums. It was way more anticipated than the match of the national team. Most of the local stars used to play for the teams. A number of test cricketers from abroad used to participate in the big match. We do not see that kind of frenzy these days."
"Stakes were high. We could not afford to lose the match. A win meant boundless ecstasy for fans. Likewise, a loss would bring panic and at times hazard for the participants", Shahed added.
The 1990s star cricketer and one of the earliest superstars of Bangladesh National Cricket team, Hasibul Hossain Shanto agrees with Shahed about the crowd involvement.
"I remember once we could not leave the dressing room till 9 in the night after losing against Abahani. Supporters surrounded the dressing room and started cursing us. That was the level of passion for the club."
Despite the crowd antics, which at times would turn in to a frenzy outside the stadium, young players and the veterans alike waited for this match. As this was the biggest stage, performing well meant catching the eyes of the selectors. "We used to look forward to the match. As youngsters, there was excitement. And performing well in an Abahani-Mohammedan game paved the way to the national team. So it was very important for us", Shanto explains.
Amid this high octane rivalry, the trophies kept coming on all fronts. Mohammedan fend off the threat of Abahani to win major local titles in football, cricket, and hockey. Success and MSC almost became synonymous.
However, the scenario started to change briskly at the turn of the millennium. The once favourite club started losing its appeal and charm due to lacklustre management. Silverwares dried off soon. The club have not won a football league title since 2002. And after the Dhaka Premier Division cricket received 'List A' status in 2013, they failed to win a trophy in cricket. Their last success in sport was a league championship in Hockey in 2018.
The gloss finally wore off in the recent casino busts. The club, which once was among the elite, was caught in the gambling act with local minnows like Young Men's, Dilkusha, Wari and Victoria. MSC's current predicament surprised many. The supporters and former players were hurt as their pride was tarnished.
"Mohammedan is not a club anymore, it has become an institution. People still have a soft corner for the club. Urban, suburban or in any rural area, you will find Mohammedan supporters. This is something you cannot let go. If a club of this magnitude, heritage and history cannot survive, it would a massive drawback to sport itself," said an aggrieved Shahed.
Some like Shanto could only hope that the club would survive the debacle and come back strongly. "The craze that we get to see about the national cricket team once existed during Abahani-Mohammedan clashes. The demise of such an iconic club is very sad and I wish its resurrection."
Even after the recent turmoil, the level of optimism surrounding the club is high. Formers players and supporters believe that resurrection is always on the cards. What is missing is a structured system, believes Shahed.
"The clubs should go through a structured reform. There are two things, one is financial reform and the other is assuring quality players for the club. The board and the federation should make sure that the clubs, who are in turmoil, take a systematic and professional approach towards the solution. Also there has to be an appropriate environment for the players and for the sport at the clubs."