Football makes it to the top 3 list of the most watched sports in India in terms of TV and live match viewership and player participation. There is no shortage of football tournaments in India, as there are up to seven of them, with the Indian Super League being the most popular among all.
The India Super League started in 2014 to promote Indian football in the country and worldwide. Three years later, AFC began calling it the National football league, putting it at the same level as the i-league. In 2022, India became one of the few countries having two popular and well-organized football leagues.
There is also the Santosh Trophy which is a knockout competition between states and provinces. Below is a list of top football tournaments in India;
National Football League
The national football league started in 1996, the first football league set up in the country. The national football league was organized to promote football in India and create a platform where Indian star players could display their talents. Due to challenges from different sectors in the state, they had to cancel the National Football league to give room for another league – The I-League.
After the conclusion of the 2006/2007 season, the India Football Federation AIFF canceled the National Football League, and one of the reasons for that action was that the tournament was beginning to divert from professionalism. Other reasons for eradicating the National Football League were the poor infrastructure, like playing fields, training fields, medical materials, etc., and the fact that some teams were financially limited.
In place of the National Football League, India Football Federation AIFF launched the I-League, with ten teams from the NFL participating in the first edition of the I-Legue. In the first edition of the I-League, each team played 18 matches, and teams like Dempo and Churchill Brothers earned 36 points, but Dempo won the league that season with a goal difference rule.
For a long time, the -League was popular among the football tournaments in India; however, the Indian football association introduced another league.
Indian Super League
The I-league, believed to be a more professional league, started to decline due to poor commercials and popularity. Zee Sports terminated its deal with India Football Federation AIFF in 2010, which was sooner than initially agreed. However, the Reliance Industries, International Management, and the Indian Super League struck a massive 700-crore agreement with AIFF on December 9th, 2010, and the league began play in 2013 as a result.
The league was launched in 2013 by Star Sports, IMG-Reliance, and the All India Football Association. The main aim of the League is to develop football in India and increase its exposure in the country and worldwide. The Indian Super League featured big names; big companies, Bollywood stars, and top cricketers purchased a total of eight franchises.
As expected and planned, the Indian Super League arrived with all the glamour and attention. Eight teams participated in the 2014 edition, with onlt the top 4 teams making it to the knockout stages. Atletico de Kolkata won the 2014 edition by defeating Kerala Blasters 1-0 in the final match.
Since then, Atletico de Kolkata has won the Indian Super League, the most successful Indian team in the competition. Chennaiyin FC is another successful team in that competition; they have won it twice. The Indian Super League did not get any form of recognition from FIFA and the Asian Football Federation in the first three seasons.
In 2017, several controversies concerned which league should be the standard in India. AFC did not support ISL as the primary goal in India, while I-league clubs wanted a merger of the ISL and I-league. Long after, AIFF suggested that the ISL and I-league should take place in the same period but on a short basis.
However, in 2019, Indian Football Association made it official that the Indian Super League would subsequently be the first-tier league in the state while the I-league would become the second tire tournament. The 2024-2025 season will feature relegations, and the winners of the I-league will automatically qualify for the ISL in 2022 and 2023.
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Indian Women’s League
AIFF president announced that an Indian Women’s league would start in 2016 with six teams, and the aim is to expand as the year goes by. AIFF held a workshop in july of the same year, and five Indian Super League clubs, including Delhi Dynamos, Chennaiyin FC, Kerala Blasters, FC Pune City, and Atlético de Kolkata, as well as three I-League clubs, Bengaluru FC, Aizawl FC, and Mumbai FC, attended the workshop. It was organized to table every issue regarding women’s football .
They decided that the eight clubs in the league would participate in the Indian Women’s League while there would be a qualifier contest to determine the clubs that would take up the last two spots. The first edition of the Indian Women’s League started on October 2016, featuring ten teams grouped into two groups of five each. The winners from each of the groups were then selected to compete against themselves in the national finals.
The Indian Women’s League is India’s most popular women’s football tournament, and four seasons have been played since it started in 2016 with four different winners. In the 2019-2020 final of the IWL, Gokulam Kerala defeated KRYPHSA Football Club 3-2 to claim the trophy.
The Federation Cup commenced in 1977, an annual football competition featuring a round-robin and knockout format. The Federation Cup can be compared with the English FA Cup, which involves every team from different divisions in the country. The winner of the Federation Cup, in addition to getting the trophy, will also get an automatic qualification for the AFC Cup, which is Asia’s Europa League.
The Federation Cup existed till 1997 and was canceled to avoid a clash of fixtures with the Indian Super League. Bengaluru FC, in the year 2017, Won the last edition of the Federation Cup. In April 2015, IFFF announced that the Federation cup would be ‘put on hold,’ which means scrapped.
The Durand cup started in 1888, originated in Shimla, and was organized by Sir Mortimer Durand. Durand cup originally started and was established by British soldiers even after independence. The military transferred the administration of the Durand cup to civilians in 2005; however, there are still military teams full of defense administrators in the competition.
The traditional venue of the Durand cup is the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi, but plans are annoying to change the venue to KOLKATA. The Durand Cup was suspended twice during the world wars 1 and 2, and the tournament has lost its prestige because of ISL and I-league. Mohammedan SC won the Durand Cup in 2013, while Real Kashmir FC participated in the 2016 edition but was humiliated.
Football originated from Calcutta because the British treated that area as their capital. The IFA shield is organized once every year by the Indian Football Association. This competition allowed the footballers to showcase that they were as good as the British. Mohun Bagan created history in 1911 by defeating East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1.
Mohun Began has won the IFA Shield a record 22 times, while East Bengal is the most successful team in the IFA shield; they have won it 29 times. What made this competition enjoyable was the rivalry between the teams; For Instance, the rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Began. Several foreign clubs have hosted the IFA shield, while some international clubs have been invited to participate.
Teams from Brazil, Russia, North Korea, and even Germany have been invited to participate in the IFA shield; The reserve team from Bayern Munich has participated too.
The Santosh Trophy is one of the world’s oldest football tournaments; it commenced in 1997, and it is in this tournament that every state in India contests against each other. The Santosh trophy featured 29 teams, including other teams from the railway service and defense department; talented players like ‘Chuni’ Goswami & Mewa Lal & Bhaichung Bhutia once participated in the tournament.
The Santosh Trophy existed before the I-league and is one of the top domestic football tournaments. The Santosh Trophy is a knockout tournament, and its first edition was played in the 1941-42 season as West Bengal defeated Delhi in the final 5-1.
In 2009, Sunil Chhetri stained an injury in the Santosh Trophy contest days before the Nehru cup. The national team coach of India then instructed the other players not to participate in the tournament.
Seventy editions of the Santosh Trophy have taken place since its launching, and West Bengal is the most successful team in the competition; they have won it 32 times. The Santosh trophy has lost its prestige due to the emergence of the I-league and ISL, but hopefully, the tournament will get the glamour it deserves.
It first started as the Federation Cup, the Super Cup is a knockout tournament that began in 2018. Due to several controversies in 2019, up to six I-league clubs pulled out of the Super Cup, claiming their teams were not treated with respect. Two editions of the Super Cup have been held since it started, with FC Goa and Bengaluru FC being the winners.
The Subroto Cup is an annual football competition organized by the AIFF. The Subroto cup commenced in 1960 and is among the most important tournaments in India. Students from different continents come together to participate in the Subroto Cup.
The Rovers Cup is one of the oldest football tournaments in India, and it was started in 1891 by British football lovers in Bombay. Mohun Began is the first club from India to play in this tournament, and they lost to Durham Light Infantry in the final. Mohun Began won the trophy 14 times and became the most successful team in the tournament’s history.
East Bengal has won the tournament ten times. In modern times, the Western India Football Association (WIFA) organized and supervised the tournament. This governing body is related to the IFA in Maharashtra, and the last Rovers Cup competition took place in 2000. WIFA said the tournament would return in 2013.
Indian State Leagues
The AIFF controls close to 37 states, and each state has an Indian football league associated with them. The best teams in the Indian football state leagues are qualified to register for the I-league 2, and some of the state leagues have several divisions and relegation/promotion formats.
The Calcutta football league in West Bengal is the oldest state league, with up to seven divisions. The state leagues are also important football tournaments in India.
I-League Second Division
This is another crucial Indian football league, and it started in 2008. The FAs from all states select the best teams and present them to AIFF, who then make the final selection based on criteria. It is a second-division league organized for football sports development, and the number of participants varies yearly. This Indian football league was eradicated after the I-league seized to exist too.
NFL Third Division
The NFL’s third division is an off-shoot of the NFL, and it was launched ten years after the NFL started. It is a promotional Indian football tournament where the best teams promote to the second division and are widely recognized in India. The game commences from November 25th to December 18th, and five teams will b promoted to the second division once the 2022-2023 season starts.
That is all about the football tournaments in India; however, there are other Indian football tournaments such as DCM (Delhi Cloth Mills) Trophy, Stafford Cup, Nizam Gold Cup, Sait Nagjee Cup, Bordoloi Trophy, Scissors Cup, Independence Cup, Nadkarni Cup, Sikkim Gold Cup, Bandodkar Gold Trophy.
All these Indian football tournaments are either defunct or have not yet reached the peak of recognition.