A club that started in 1960 hit its pinnacle two decades later and now is the talk of the town for housing a casino.
A lowly club, always under the radar, maybe a big upset here and there, mid to bottom table finishes, but producer of national talents.
That was Fakirapool Young Men's Club. A club that started in 1960 hit its pinnacle two decades later and now is the talk of the town for housing a casino.
The 80s was the time when Young Men's produced talents like Monir Hossein Monu, Hassan Al Mamun, Mohammad Ponir and Golam Rabbani Chhoton, who later became stalwarts of the national team and the local football scene.
After initial periods of struggle, the club finally made it to the top tier for the first time in 1988.
One of their biggest names from the 80s and the incumbent head coach of the Women's National team, Golam Rabbani Chhoton, recalls those days with a smile on his face, "I had to cross a bridge made of bamboos to go to the club for training. It had a tin-roofed building in the beginning.
"The club was not at all a hot-shot or a footballing elite. But passion was there. Local support for the club was as good as any other from the big league."
Apart from the players, most of the club's success was due to the hard work and dedication of the administrators. The club's legendary administrator Monzur Hossain Malu treated the club like his own family.
In reminiscence of the beloved Malu Bhai, as he was popularly known, Chhoton shared a fond memory, "At times, we would have meals from his kitchen after a gruelling practice session. Malu Bhai and his wife treated us like their own, and were fully committed to the cause of the club."
The passion that Chhoton talked about drove the club and its players. After securing a top-tier spot, Young Men's beat the mighty Abahani on their first attempt. Their success and performance attracted a lot of big clubs.
An exodus followed in 1990. Chhoton has vivid memories of that time: "Our performance caught the eyes of the league elites. Fifteen players left the club and most of them joined Brother's Union the next season. I was bound by the regulations and could not change the club."
Nevertheless, Young Men's kept producing star names and talents one after another in the 90s and even though they could not land silverwares or big trophies, their supporters held on to the club.
"This area used to be renowned for producing players. Young Men's was no exception. A lot of good players emerged from the club tent and went on to serve the national team," Chhoton recalls.
But the scenario of the sports club and a popular recreational spot for the locals started changing drastically in the 90s. The clubhouse and premises which were allocated by the National Sports Council in 1988 became less familiar for the players and supporters.
The seemingly harmless card and board games became intense as more and more outsiders flooded in. New games like one-ten and one-eight (variations of dart games) were introduced.
High-scale gambling soon took over and football took a back seat.
The club remained successful in the lower tiers. But a top-tier competition still eluded them. In 2017, the club achieved promotion to the Premier Division but withdrew themselves from playing, citing financial difficulties.
Meanwhile, the illegal gambling and casino activities went on until it was busted by the law enforcement agencies recently. The club, which had been desperate to make it big since its inception, finally made the headlines but for all the wrong reasons.
Amongst the shambles and ongoing fiasco, one concern, however, arises very poignantly. What will happen to all the players now?
A new football season is on the horizon. Soon the clubs will enter the transfer season. Will Young Men's field a team? If so, how are they going to manage the finance?
These are the questions that should be of genuine concern. At least Golam Rabbani Chhoton thinks so. For him, football cannot stop.
"The sport in the country should carry on. The players should not suffer from the consequences. It is now on the Football Federation and the ministry to design a way out for the footballers of these clubs," he said.
How the authorities and the football fraternity resolve the situation regarding the club and handles the aftermath remains to be seen. Until then, Fakirapool Young Men's Club will – and should – always be remembered for what it could have been rather than what it became.