Football is the second most popular sport in India after cricket. The beautiful game is watched and admired by millions across the country. If statistics are to be believed, India has a fan base of 170 million, which is indeed baffling. Football has always been popular in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Goa, Mizoram, Tripura etc. where regional leagues too are followed ardently by the masses. Games like East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan have a huge cultural significance regionally. But somehow football has remained alien to most of India, though the introduction of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014 has led to a renewed interest in the sport across the country.
India is home to some of the oldest football tournaments and football clubs in the world, which underlines the rich heritage and the glory of yesteryears that football in India can boast about. Currently, there are a lot of major tournaments played across India.
- Hero I-league- The national football league of the country conducted by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). The competition, formed as the ONGC I-League in 2007 in an effort to professionalize the game in India after holding the old National Football League for eleven seasons, replaced the NFL as the primary competition in the country. The league consists of 9 clubs and is operated on a system of promotion and relegation.
- Calcutta Football League (CFL) – Started in 1898, it happens to be the oldest football league in Asia and one of the oldest football leagues in the world. The prestigious football league is conducted in the city of Kolkata by 157 city based clubs across 6 divisions. Around 8500 footballers are registered with the Indian Football Association (IFA) for the CFL.
- Indian Super League (ISL) – A recent tournament funded by the corporate houses, which is neither recognized by AFC or FIFA. Started in 2014, the league currently boasts of 8 franchisees which compete for the ISL trophy. Unlike most football leagues in the world, the ISL does not have a promotion and a relegation system in place. ISL has attracted a lot of top stars like Del Peiro, Roberto Carlos, Luis Garcia etc. who are currently in the twilight of their careers. The first edition was won by Atletico De Kolkata, a franchisee co-owned by the former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly.
- Durand Cup- The third oldest cup competition in the world after the Scottish cup and the FA cup. First held in 1888, the Durand Cup has a rich heritage associated with it. The tournament is named after its founder Sir Mortimer Durand, a British official during the Raj era. The tournament shifted its base from Shimla to Delhi in 1940. The most successful teams are currently East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
- Federation Cup- Used to be the premier club competition of India from its inception in 1977 until the introduction of the National Football League in 1997. Currently the winner of the Federation Cup gets to participate in the AFC cup along with the winner of the I-League.
- IFA Shield- The fourth oldest club competition in the world after the Scottish Cup, the FA Cup and the Durand Cup. Founded in 1893, the IFA shield is named after the Indian Football Association (IFA). During its initial years, the IFA shield was dominated by British teams until Mohun Bagan historically defeated Yorkshire Regiment in 1911 to claim the trophy, which happens to be one of the most significant moments in the history of Indian Football.
- Santosh Trophy- The cup competition is contested by various states and government institutions.
- Indian Super Cup- Contested between the winner of the I-league and the federation cup.
Despite having a rich heritage and a decent fan base, Indian Football continues to be in shambles. Poor infrastructure and a faulty administration continue to plague Indian football. Can Indian football ever retrieve its glory days? We shall see . The need of the hour is some stern steps from the AIFF, and with a little help from FIFA, we shall live long enough to see India qualify for the FIFA World Cup.