With East Bengal's hopes of playing in the Indian Super League all but over, their 2003 ASEAN Cup-winning members on Sunday came out in support of the club, saying the priority should be to support the people suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the 17th anniversary of the club's momentous ASEAN Cup triumph, Bhaichung Bhutia and the other team members wrote to East Bengal general secretary Kalyan Majumdar, making a pledge to support the people affected by the pandemic.
"Unfortunately sports has been affected the most by this deadly virus. The entire world is suffering because of the Covid-19," the former players, including captain Suley Musah, wrote.
"We wish to stand heartily with the people who are suffering due to the deadly virus. In this condition we think, playing in ISL is not our primary issue but our main motto is to stand by the millions of suffering people.
"Our motto is 'With the people, next to the people' and we promise to be with you all …. Joy East Bengal!!!" they said.
They said this time East Bengal club is trying its best to build a strong team and also keen to search for good investor/sponsors for the upcoming season and to participate in ISL.
Coached by Subhas Bhowmick, East Bengal beat Thailand heavyweights BEC Tero Sasana 3-1 in the ASEAN Cup final for their most famous triumph on July 26, 2003. BEC Tero later that year went on to become the runners-up in the Asian Champions League.
The ASEAN Cup winning members also congratulated East Bengal Club for completing "glorious 100 years".
"From the beginning East Bengal Club has held its flame with Glory and Pride and it has continued in all the ten decades with tremendous success and the support of its millions of supporters worldwide."
The ISL has not yet made it official but the organisers, Football Sports Development Limited, during a meeting with club representatives on Friday have made it clear that they would stick to 10 teams and there would not be any tenders for a new team.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020-21 ISL is set to be held behind closed doors either in Goa or Kerala from November to March.