Football in India
Football is a popular sport in India. Football has enjoyed popularity in Kerala, West Bengal, Goa and north-eastern India which consists of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
|Governing body||All India Football Federation (AIFF)|
(formed in 1937, joined FIFA in 1948)
|Nickname(s)||The Blue Tigers|
(1997 Federation Cup Semifinal: East Bengal F.C. v Mohun Bagan A.C. at Salt Lake Stadium, 1997)
India's current top domestic league, I-League, was formed in 2007 in an attempt to professionalize domestic football. In 2013 the Indian Super League was formed as an unrecognised professional league with eight teams to promote Indian football to the country and world. After three season, the it was recognised as a top tier league, running parallel with the I-League, thus leaving India as one of the few countries with two fully recognised top tier leagues. Also contested is Santosh Trophy, a knock-out competition between states (provinces) and government institutions.
The 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup was hosted by India in the month of October in 2017 and the first time the country had hosted a FIFA event. The tournament was touted as the most successful FIFA U-17 World Cup ever, with the attendance being a record 1,347,133 surpassing China's 1985 edition where it was 1,230,976. India is also going to host the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. Owing to this, India has also bid to host the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup and is considering a bid for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup
The origin of football in India can be traced back to mid-nineteenth century when the game was introduced by British soldiers. Initially, games were played between army teams. However, clubs were soon set up around the country. Calcutta FC was the first club to be established in 1872, though reports suggest that they were initially a rugby club and switched their attentions to football as late as 1894. Other early clubs include Dalhousie Club, Traders Club and Naval Volunteers Club. Several other football clubs like Sovabazar, Mohun Bagan and Aryan Club were established in Calcutta around the 1890s. Calcutta, then capital of British India, soon became the hub of Indian football. Tournaments like Gladstone Cup, Trades Cup and Cooch Behar Cup was also started around this time. The Durand Cup and IFA Shield were both started in late nineteenth century.
The first Indian team to achieve success was Sovabazar Club, which won the Trades Cup in 1892. Mohun Bagan Athletic Club was set up in what is now West Bengal in 1889. The club became famous in 1911 when it became the first Indian team to lift the IFA Shield, a tournament previously won only by British teams based in India. It defeated the East Yorkshire Regiment 2–1 in the final of the tournament in a victory that is still regarded by many as the greatest win by an Indian team before Independence.
The Indian Football Association (IFA) was established in Calcutta in 1893, but did not have a single Indian on its board until the 1930s. The All India Football Federation, which runs the game in India, was formed in 1937, but took more than a decade to get affiliated with FIFA. India also insisted on playing barefoot when other nations were putting their boots on and the game was changing fast.
India qualified by default for the 1950 FIFA World Cup as a result of the withdrawal of all of their scheduled opponents. But lack of financial assistance to purchase tickets including the prospects of a very long sea journey meant that the team never made it to Brazil. Although FIFA imposed a rule banning barefoot play following 1948 Olympics where India had played barefoot. The myth that Indians refused to play because they were not allowed to play barefoot is not entirely true, according to the then Indian captain Shailen Manna, it was just a story to cover up the disastrous decision of the AIFF. The team has never since come close to qualifying for the World Cup.
India even picked up the gold medal in football in the first Asian Games in 1951, beating a "booted" Iran by a solitary goal. In 1956, after having put on its boots, India reached the semi-final in Melbourne Olympics football, the first Asian country to do so. It stood fourth in the tournament. In 1962, India again picked up the football gold in the Asian Games. 1951–1962 is usually considered as "golden phase" of Indian football. The National team won numerous titles in this era under the coaching of Syed Abdul Rahim. Other than success in Asian Games football, India also won Merdeka Cup and Quadrangular Tournament while East Bengal garnered rave reviews after its tour of Romania. Rahim's death in the early 1960s pegged Indian football back after a successful period. The former FIFA president Sepp Blatter once famously said that India is "the sleeping giant of world football".
India never qualified for the Olympics after 1960. India did qualify for its first Asian Cup in 1964 but failed to capture the title. India's last important performance in an international tournament was in 1970 Asian Games, when it won the bronze medal by defeating Japan 1–0. In the mid-70s, Indian youth team jointly won the Youth Asian Cup with Iran. 24 September 1977, was a golden day for Indian Club football, when Mohun Bagan managed to hold on for a memorable 2–2 draw at the legendary Eden Gardens stadium in Calcutta, against a Pele led New York Cosmos. Mohun Bagan would have gone on and won the tie, had it not been for a controversial penalty awarded to the visitors that ensured the spoils were shared. The next day, the Ananda Bazar Patrika described Goutam Sarkar as "India's very own Beckenbaur". Indian football would however go through a barren phase in 70s, 80s and 90s, gradually losing its foothold as a top Asian team.
In August 2007, the Indian national team won the Nehru Cup for the first time in its history beating Syria 1–0. In August the following year, India defeated Tajikistan 4–1 to lift the AFC Challenge Cup and in turn qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. In August 2009, India again won the Nehru Cup beating Syria on penalties (6–5).
In January 2011 India played in the 2011 Asian Cup which was the first time India has played in the Asian Cup for 24 years. India were knocked out in the group stage which contained South Korea, Australia, and Bahrain.
Ever since the 2011 Asian Cup the All India Football Federation has been working very hard on Indian Football. For instance they allowed former coach Bob Houghton coach the Indian side in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. After going first in there AFC Challenge Cup group Bob Houghton was sacked and replaced by Wim Koevermans. Meanwhile, the India national under-23 football team won the first round of the 2012 Olympics qualifiers against Myanmar but were knocked out by Qatar. India played their next official matches against United Arab Emirates in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers which India lost on aggregate 5–2.
India has participated for the first time in FIFA U-17 World Cup as hosts in the 2017 edition of the tournament. This was the first time ever that a team representing India participated in the finals of a FIFA-organised world tournament. India was placed in Group A along with U.S.A, Ghana and Columbia. On 6 October 2017, India played their first ever match in FIFA-U17 World Cup history in front of 47,000 people against the United States. But unfortunately, India lost the match by 3–0. India played their Second match against Colombia. In 82nd minute Jeakson Singh became the first Indian goal scorer in the finals of any FIFA organised tournaments. For the third match of group stage, India faced Ghana where they went down to lose 4–0, finishing bottom of the group A.
The game in India is administered by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), which is affiliated with the regional Asian Football Confederation, as well as with the worldwide body FIFA. The Indian national team has entered into the regional Asian Cup but has never competed in any World Cup. The Indian women's national team has also played in various competitions; moreover, women's football has its own separate inter-state and state competitions. Youth football is administered by the governmental Sports Authority of India.
The India national football team is the national football team of India and is governed by the All India Football Federation. It is a member of the Asian Football Confederation. Since 1948, the AIFF has been affiliated with FIFA, the international governing body for world football. In 1954, AIFF became one of the founder members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
At the peak of its success during the 1950s and 60s, the team was automatically advanced to play in the 1950 FIFA World Cup (all the other Asian teams withdrew), but ultimately they did not go to the tournament in Brazil due to the cost of travel, lack of practice time, team selection issues, the issue of the AIFF valuing Olympics over the World Cup, and, unusually, their instance on playing barefoot when FIFA required all players to wear football boots. They won gold medals at two Asian Games, and held the record for the best performance by an Asian football team at the Olympics.
Indian Super League
The Indian Super League, a tournament just recently recognized by AFC or FIFA, was founded in 2013 in an effort to make football a top sport in India and to make Indian football a major player worldwide. The league operates along the lines of the Twenty20 cricket Indian Premier League, and Major League Soccer of the United States. Unlike the vast majority of football leagues around the world, the ISL does not use the promotion and relegation system. Instead, it uses an American style franchise system in which ten teams were specifically created to participate in the league. Each team in the ISL is composed of players from I league or state league, apart from the foreigners who may or may not be a part of the I league. In July 2017, it was proposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) that the Indian Super League champion be granted a spot in the AFC Cup, Asia's second-tier club competition. On 25 July 2017, the AFC approved the AIFF's proposal. Thus, from the 2017–18 season, the Indian Super League champions were allowed to participate in the AFC Cup from the qualification stages of the competition. Meanwhile, India's spot in the AFC Champions League, Asia's top club competition, was still kept by the I-League, thus two leagues were parallelly running in the country. In October 2019, a roadmap for developement of league in India was proposed. All stakeholders accepted the proposal where it was announced that ISL champions would now be entitled to the AFC Champions League playoffs, starting from 2021 edition and the I-League champion will get to play the AFC Cup play-off.
In November 2019, AFC Competitions Committee decided to expand the AFC Champions League from existing 32 teams to 40 teams from the 2021 edition. India currently ranked 8th in the club competitions in the west zone. The champions of the associations ranked 7th to 10th in both the West Region and East Region are expected to get an AFC Champions League direct group stage slot starting from 2021, as long as they fulfill the AFC Champions League criteria. If India get the AFC Champions League group stage slot from 2021 edition, then the parallel league system will cease to exist and ISL will be the premier league of India and the winner will be the champions of India.
National Football League, established in 1996 by governing body All India Football Federation (AIFF) was the first "semi-professional" football league in India. The League was renamed and restructured and the I-League was founded in 2006 after India's former top league the National Football League disbanded in a successful effort aimed at increasing the game in India. Links with clubs that were not in the I-League were maintained, and each season the bottom two clubs are relegated from the I-League and replaced by two from the I-League 2nd Division. The I-League is currently contested between 11 clubs. The Kolkata Derby in the I League (and other tournaments) played between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal is one of the most fierce rivalries in the world (featured in FIFA website) and one of the oldest derbies in the world (90 years). An average 80,000 to 100,000 supporters throng the stadium in this special fixture. It was the former top domestic football league in India. The I-League champions were granted to participate in the AFC Champions League Quallification slot till 2020 edition. As per new roadmap announced in October 2019 by AFC, the ISL champions would now be entitled to the AFC Champions League playoffs, starting from 2021 edition and the I-League champion will get to play the AFC Cup play-off.
I-League 2nd Division
The I-League 2nd Division ranks third in the hierarchy of Indian football since the disbanding of India's top league in 2005. The I-League 2nd Division has 16 member clubs divided among three divisions for the 2018-19 season. Promotion and relegation of clubs takes place between the I-league and the I-League 2nd Division.
Right now the official youth leagues in India are I-League U18, U15 Youth league and U13 Youth league. I league U18 started as U19 tournament in 2011. 2017–18 season U18 champions are Shillong Lajong. AIFF started U16 Youth League in 2015 (later renamed U15 Youth league) in the wake of 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup (hosted by India). Minerva Academy is the reigning three-time champions of U16 League.
Winners of U18 Youth league
|2012||Pune F.C. Academy|
|2013||Pune F.C. Academy|
|2014||Tata Football Academy|
|2014–15||AIFF Elite Academy|
|2015–16||AIFF Elite Academy|
|2016–17||AIFF Elite Academy|
|Youth League U18|
List of winners
|AIFF Elite Academy||0||1||2|
|Tata FA U19||0||1||0|
|Shillong Lajong U18||0||0||1|
|Minerva Punjab U18||0||0||1|
Winners of U15 Youth League
|U15 Youth League|
|2015–16||Minerva Academy||1–1 (4–3p)||Royal Wahingdoh|
|U16 Youth League|
|2016–17||Minerva Punjab||3–0||Ozone FC|
|U15 Youth League|
|2017–18||Minerva Academy||4–0||DSK Shivajians|
Winners OF U13 Youth League
|U13 Youth League|
|2017–18||Minerva Academy||3–0||Mohammedan SC|
State League football
State league football is considered the best amateur leagues in India. Each state has their own league in India. There is no promotion/relegation between the state leagues and the I-League 2nd Division but there could be promotion/relegation between leagues within the state. For example, the Calcutta Football League has five divisions with promotion/relegation but the winner of the Calcutta Football League will not get promoted to the I-League 2nd Division. However, apart from the clubs already featuring in the I League, AIFF may select the next best achiever of the state league as an entrant to the I league 2nd Division.
Calcutta Football League
Calcutta Football League (CFL) is the football league system where several football clubs of the Indian city of Kolkata (Calcutta) participate. It currently consists of six-tier pyramid system. Indian Football Association (IFA) conducts the CFL with 157 mostly Kolkata based clubs and units. Started in 1898, this league is the oldest league in Asia and one of the oldest in the world. There are about 8,500 directly registered players of IFA who participate in CFL.
Federation Cup (abbreviated as Fed cup) is an annual knockout style club football tournament in India. It has started in 1977. From its inception till I-League has been started in 1997 (then called NFL), it was the most prestigious national level club football tournament in India. Previously, the winning club of Federation fused to get a chance to compete in the continental level in AFC Cup along with I-League champion team. Presently, the cup has been discontinued since the 2017–18 season and a new Super Cup was inaugurated from the same season and this tournament is the country's top tier cup competition.
The Durand Football Tournament was started by then, India's Foreign Secretary, Mortimer Durand at Simla, India, in 1888, initial matches were played in Dagshai. It was basically initiated, as a recreation for British troops stationed in India. The Durand Cup was twice suspended, during the two world wars. In 1940 the venue was shifted to New Delhi.
The Super Cup is a knockout football tournament. The top six teams from both the top tier leagues for professional football in India, the I-League and Indian Super League, qualify directly for the main round of the competition. The bottom four clubs from each league participate in qualification round to complete.
The IFA Shield is an annual football competition organized by the Indian Football Association, Calcutta. It is the fourth oldest club cup competition in the world (Started in 1893) after the English and Scottish FA cup's and the Durand Cup.
Santosh Trophy is an annual Indian football tournament which is contested by states and government institutions. The trophy is named after the late Maharaja Sir Manmatha Nath Roy Chowdhary of Santosh. The first winners were Bengal, who also lead the all-time winners list with 31 titles till date.
Qualification for Asian competitions
|AFC Cup||Champion of I-League||Qualification to the Group Stage|
|Runner-up of Indian Super League Regular Season||Qualification to the Qualifying Play-off|
|AFC Champions League||Premier of Indian Super League Regular Season||Qualification to the Group Stage|
Women's football has not had the relative head start over the rest of the world that the men's game has had, and also has not had the chance to spread through the country like its male counterpart. The game was administered by the Women's Football Federation of India (WFFI) from 1975 until the early 1990s when they were absorbed into the AIFF. However, there are complaints that women's football is treated as a poor relation to the men's game leading to (unfulfilled) plans to de-merge the WFFI.
The women's game, like the men's game, also has its early pioneers in the state of West Bengal. The large Kolkata teams, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, started women's club sides in the 2000–01 season, and they participate with other teams in the Calcutta Women's Football League. However, it has been seen recently that players from Odisha and Manipur have made advances in the game. Players from these two states make up a large part of the India women's national football team.
The women's national competition is played on a state vs. state basis in the India women's football championship. There are also similar national championships for junior teams like the Junior Girls National Championship (for under 19s) and the Under-17 Girls National Championship.
Some female players have become internationally recognised. Among them are Chitra Gangadharan who was selected to play for the All Asian Star team. Jaanki Kotecha was selected as captain to the All Asian Star Team in 2008–2009, where she led her team to victory. In February 2000, Sujata Kar and Alpana Sil became the first Indian footballers to sign a contract outside India. They signed with the German team TSV Crailsheim, but had to return after a month due to problems with the clearance of their international transfer.
Until 1983, women's football took part in international tournaments like the AFC Women's Asian Cup. For example, the team won silver in 1980 at Calicut. In later years it had become poor in status just like its male counterpart. During the 2003 AFC Women's Championship, the Indian team were embarrassed by a 12–0 defeat to China.
The poor support of the national team by the AIFF became evident, when the team's trip to Germany was only made possible by Non Resident Indians in the country, and by the support of the German Football Association. Furthermore, championships are held in remote locations, and national media coverage is said to be restricted to state and local newspapers.
The women's game reached a new low in June 2009 when FIFA delisted the side from its world rankings for being out of action for more than 18 months. This comes at a time when the game was gaining in popularity amongst the younger generation as evident by the local leagues conducted around the country. The recently concluded Mumbai Women's Football League 2009–10 organised by the MDFA (Mumbai District Football Association) was a major success and featured many talented players who had played for the national team. Furthermore, the popularity of the event gave hope that the women's game could rise in India.
Indian Women's League
On 21 April 2016, over a year after the AIFF started plans for a women's football league, the AIFF President, Praful Patel, said that a women's football league would kick off in October 2016 with six teams to be decided, with the goal to expand to eight teams by 2017. Just over two months later, on 5 July 2016, the AIFF organized a workshop to discuss the India women's national team and discuss the proposed women's football league. Five Indian Super League sides (Delhi Dynamos, Chennaiyin FC, Kerala Blasters, FC Pune City, Atletico de Kolkata) and three I-League teams (Bengaluru FC, Aizawl FC, Mumbai FC) attended the workshop. It was announced that the league would feature the eight teams in the league and two other spots would be determined through a pre-qualification round.
On 14 October, the AIFF announced that the preliminary rounds for the Women's League would begin on 17 October 2016 in which ten teams are split into two groups of five teams each, with the winner from each group qualifying for the national finals.
Stadiums in India
There are many football stadiums in India, however only a few of them are currently of world standards. These are namely the largest stadium in India, the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata with a seating capacity of 85,000 , Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi with a capacity of over 60,000 and the Ambedkar Stadium with a capacity of 20,000 (but is known to have had crowds of 35,000 in the 2009 Nehru Cup). Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, with seating capacity of over 45,000 and Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, with seating capacity approximately 55,000 are two major arenas for football events in Odisha. In Sikkim, the Paljor Stadium in Gangtok which seats over 25,000 is famous as one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world as it is situated in the backdrop of Himalayas. In Shillong the main stadium is the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with a capacity of 25,000 standing. Both the Paljor and the JLN in Shillong have been renovated and now have artificial playing surfaces. Some other stadiums important stadiums are the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune, the Barasat Stadium in Barasat, the Fatorda in Goa, the Kaloor International Stadium in Kochi, Municipal Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Guwahati, the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad. Apart from the above-mentioned stadiums, there are hundreds of more stadiums in the country. However, with India likely to host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup there is definitely going to be massive renovation of said stadiums around the country. The following tournaments are affiliated by All India Football Federation.
Note. † denotes stadiums that have hosted international football matches.
The competitions currently active in Indian football.
|Indian Super League||Bengaluru|
|Super Cup||FC Goa|
|I-League 2nd Division||TRAU F.C.|
|I-League U18||Minerva Punjab|
|I-League U15||Minerva Punjab|
|I-League U13||Minerva Punjab|
|Santosh Trophy||West Bengal|
|Competition||Edition||Winner||India's position||Venues||Final venue|
|AFC U-19 Championship||2006 AFC Youth Championship||Group stage||4 (in 2 cities)||Salt Lake Stadium|
|AFC Challenge Cup||2008 AFC Challenge Cup||Champions||3 (in 2 cities)||Ambedkar Stadium|
|AFC U-16 Championship||2016 AFC U-16 Championship||Group Stage||2 (in 2 cities)||Fatorda Stadium|
|FIFA U-17 World Cup||2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup||Group Stage||6 (in 6 cities)||Salt Lake Stadium|
|FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup||2020 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup||TBD|
Star Networks was announced as the official broadcaster for I-League since the 2017–18 season.
Seasons in Indian football
The following articles detail the major results and events in each season since 2011.
- India national football team
- India national under-23 football team
- India national under-20 football team
- India national under-17 football team
- India women's national football team
- India women's national under-19 football team
- India women's national under-17 football team
- Indian Super League
- Indian Women's League
- Women's football in India
- I-League U19
- List of football clubs in India
- Kolkata derby
- Football around the world
- Mission XI Million
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