Football in India

Football in India

Country India
Governing body

All India Football Federation (AIFF)

(formed in 1937, joined FIFA in 1948)[1]
National team India
Nickname(s) The Blue Tigers
First played 1800s
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions
Audience records
Single match 131,781
(East Bengal 41 Mohun Bagan at Salt Lake Stadium, 1997)[3]

Football is India's second most popular sport, next to the game of cricket.[4] Traditionally it has enjoyed popularity in the regions such as West Bengal, Goa, Kerala, Odisha, and the entire north-eastern India, especially Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim.[2]

India's current top domestic league, I-League, was formed in 2007 in an attempt to professionalize domestic football and in 2013 the Indian Super League was formed with 8 teams to promote Indian football to the country and world.[5] Also contested is Santosh Trophy, a knock-out competition between states (provinces) and government institutions. The current captain of the Indian national team is Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and the team is coached by Stephen Constantine. India is currently ranked 137th the FIFA World Rankings, published in October 2016.[6]

The 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup is scheduled to take place in India. By virtue of being the host country, the Indian team will automatically play in the tournament. Depending on the performance of the U-17 team, the All India Football Federation has indicated consideration for a World Cup bid.[7]


For more details on this topic, see History of Indian Football.

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.[8] 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. Later under RTI Act filed with Reg No PMOIN/R/2015/61395, the Government of India made it clear that Mohun Bagan Athletic Club is not the "National Club of India".

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.[9]

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 foreign exchange, the prospects of a long sea journey and an insistence on playing barefoot meant that the team never made it to Brazil.[9][10] 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.[10][11][12][13]

India even picked up the gold 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.[9] 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.

India never qualified for the Olympics after 1960.[9] 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. 24th 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.[14] 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 in penalty (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 the current Indian coach 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.

In 2014, India hosted the first-ever Unity World Cup in Goa, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

League system


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 contested between 14 clubs each season. The Calcutta Derby in the I League (and other tournaments) played between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal is one of the most fierce rivalries of 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.

I-League 2nd Division

The I-League 2nd Division ranks second in the hierarchy of Indian football since the disbanding of India's top league in 2005. The I-League 2nd Division has 21 member clubs evenly divided among three divisions. Promotion and relegation of clubs still takes place between the I-league and the I-League 2nd Division.

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 8500 directly registered players of IFA who participate in CFL.

Youth leagues

Right now the official youth leagues in India are I-League U18 and U16 Youth league. I league U18 started as U19 tournament in 2011. 2015–16 season U18 champions are AIFF Elite Academy. AIFF started U16 Youth League in 2015 in the wake of 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup(will be hosted by India). Minerva Academy is the reigning champion of U16 League.


Season Winner Final Result Runners-up
U15 Youth League
2015-16 Minerva Academy 1-1(4-3p) Royal Wahingdoh
U16 Youth League
2016-17 TBD TBD

Indian Super League

The Indian Super League, a tournament not 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.[15] The league operates along the lines of the Twenty20 cricket Indian Premier League, and Major League Soccer of the United States.[16] Unlike the majority of football leagues around the world, the ISL does not use the promotion and relegation system. Instead, it uses a franchise system in which eight teams were 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. It has been conceptualized as a promotion league and FIFA General Secretary Jeremy Velke has clearly stated that I League is the only recognized national football league in India.

Cup competitions

Qualification for Asian competitions

Competition Who Qualifies Notes
AFC Cup Champion of I-LeagueQualification to the Group Stage
Runners-Up of I-LeagueQualification to the Play-off round
AFC Champions League Champion of I-LeagueQualification to the Play-off round

National team

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 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 they did not go to the tournament in Brazil due to the cost of travel,[10] lack of practice time, team selection issues, their refusal to not play barefoot and valuing Olympics over the World Cup.[17] They won gold medals at two Asian Games, and held the record for the best performance by an Asian football team at the Olympics.

There are also a number of other national teams from the Under-23 team to the Under-17 team, the under-23's is considered to be a feeder team for the national team.


For more details on this topic, see All India Football Federation.

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 standard of Indian football (compared globally) is poor. According to FIFA rankings, the national team is ranked 165th place in the world as of April 2011, and is said to struggle to qualify for both the World Cup and the Asian Cup. Part of this has been put down to the lack of opportunities for proper training and development of players in the country.

Women's football

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 administerd 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.[18]

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 main women's national competition is played on a state vs. state basis in the India women's football championship.[19] 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.[20]

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.[18]

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.[21]

Stadiums in India

There are many football stadiums in India, however only a few of these stadiums are of World Standards. These are namely the largest stadium in India, the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata with a capacity of 68,000, 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. 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.

Major events

Competition Edition Winner India's position Venues Final venue
AFC U-19 Championship 2006 AFC Youth Championship  North Korea Group stage 4 (in 2 cities) Salt Lake Stadium
AFC Challenge Cup 2008 AFC Challenge Cup  India Champions 3 (in 2 cities) Ambedkar Stadium
This year
AFC U-16 Championship 2016 AFC U-16 Championship  Iraq Group Stage 2 (in 2 cities) Fatorda Stadium
FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup TBD TBD 6 (in 6 cities) TBA


The Indian Super League is officially broadcast on Star Sports network in India. International coverage is done by Fox Sports.[22]

Ten Sports broadcasts I-League matches.

Seasons in Indian football

The following articles detail the major results and events in each season since 2011.

2010s: 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20

See also


  1. Sharma, Mukesh (2010-07-11). "BBC Sport — Football — World Cup 2010: India's football absence examined". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  2. 1 2 Wilson, Bill (2012-04-10). "BBC News — Football looks to score in India". Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  3. "Mohun Bagan and East Bengal: A derby to remember". Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  4. Kannan, Shilpa (2011-09-01). "BBC News — Messi boost as Indian football challenges cricket". Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  5. "BBC News — Can India ever learn to love football?". Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  6. FIFA Men's Ranking.
  7. "2013: U-17 WC host rights only high point for Indian football". The Hindu. 2013-12-27. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  8. "History of Football in India". 2008-05-19. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  9. 1 2 3 4 "Soutik Biswas's India: Why is India not at the World Cup?". BBC. 2010-06-18. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  10. 1 2 3 "Fit to Post: Yahoo! India News » Blog Archive Barefoot in Bengal and Other Stories «". Archived from the original on June 14, 2010. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  11. Lisi (2007), p. 49
  12. "1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil – Overview". FIFA. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  13. Arunava Chaudhuri. "The Indian National Team's World Cup qualifying". Archived from the original on June 14, 2010. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  14. "India upstage Syria 1–0 to lift Nehru Cup". Reuters. 2007-08-29.
  16. Bali, Rahul. "IMG-Reliance keen to start an eight team franchisee competition, I-League likely to follow the MLS". Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  17. "Barefoot in Bengal and Other Stories". Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  18. 1 2 Autor. "Gender and sport in India: aspects of women's football by Arunava Chaudhuri (english)". Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  19. "The Official Website Of All India Football Federation". 2005-02-04. Archived from the original on February 4, 2005. Retrieved 2014-02-15.
  20. "Sound planning needed". Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  21. "Women's Home". Football Mumbai. 2009-06-27. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  22. "HERO ISL being broadcast in over 100 countries". Indian Super League. 15 October 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.

External links

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