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Airtel I-League Logo.png
Country India
Confederation AFC
Founded 2007
Number of teams 14
Levels on pyramid 1
Relegation to I-League 2nd Division
Domestic cup(s) Federation Cup
League cup(s) Durand Cup
International cup(s) AFC Champions League (1 play-off spot)
Current champions Bengaluru FC (1st title)
Most championships Dempo (3 titles)
TV partners TEN Action+
Website http://i-league.org
2014–15 I-League

The I-League is an Indian professional league for association football clubs. At the top of the Indian football league system, it is the country's top football competition. Contested by 14 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the I-League 2nd Division. Seasons run from October to May, with teams playing 26 matches each, totalling 182 matches in the season. Most games are played on Saturdays and Sundays, with a few games played during weekdays.

The competition formed as the ONGC I-League in 2007 following the decision to fold the old National Football League and make a new professional league.[1] The league also started by signing Zee Sports as the official broadcaster of the I-League.[2] The aim of the league was to have 16 clubs by the third season in which teams would be spread from all over India.[2]

Since 2007, a total of four clubs have been crowned champions. Of the sixteen to have played in the league since the inception of the I-League in 2006, the four teams to have won the title are: Dempo (3 titles), Churchill Brothers (2 titles), Salgaocar (1) and Bengaluru FC (1). The current champions are Bengaluru FC who won the title during the 2013–14 season.



Following the decline of the National Football League (NFL), the All India Football Federation (AIFF) relaunched the national league for the 2007–08 season. It was renamed the I-League and consisted of eight teams from the NFL plus two promoted teams from the former Division Two. The first I-League was sponsored by ONGC, who were the previous sponsors of the now-defunct NFL. For the first time, clubs in the I-League were allowed to register four foreigners, though teams will only be allowed to field three during a match. All matches were telecast live and exclusive on Zee Sports.[3]

The following additional incentives have been provided for clubs participating in the I-League:[3]

  1. A subsidy of INR 250,000 for fielding a team in the U19 I-League and a subsidy of INR 250,000 for appointing administrative staff.
  2. To promote greater attendances and improve the revenues of the clubs, after deducting the stadium hire charges, 90% of the gate collection will go to the host club. The club will be responsible for the selling of tickets.
  3. The club will be given two perimeter boards, six fence level boards and six boards at the first tier level at their home games.
  4. Prize money for winners has been increased from INR 4 million to INR 5 million, while the runners-up would get INR 2.8 million, INR 600,000 more than earlier.
  5. The winners of each match will get INR 35,000, an increase of INR 5,000.

The early years (2007–2010)[edit]

I-League Champions
Season Champions
2007–08 Dempo
2008–09 Churchill Brothers
2009–10 Dempo
2010–11 Salgaocar
2011–12 Dempo
2012–13 Churchill Brothers
2013–14 Bengaluru
Further information:
Indian football champions
Main article: I-League 2007-08

The first game was played on 24 November 2007 between Dempo Sports Club and Salgaocar Sports Club.[4] The introduction of the I-League was an attempt to seek to change the way Indian clubs approach football. All clubs were required to have at least 14 professionals on their books and the introduction of an under-19 development team.

After 18 rounds, Dempo Sports Club won the championship on goal difference with Churchill finishing runners-up. Viva Kerala (now Chirag United Club Kerala) and Salgaocar Sports Club were both relegated and played the next season in the second division.

Following an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) review of the I-League's progress, the champions of the I-League was awarded a spot in the AFC Champions League (ACL) in 2009.

The following season featured 12 teams from four different cities with the league champions qualifying for the ACL and the runners-up for the AFC Cup club championships in 2010. The bottom two teams were again relegated to the I-League 2nd Division for the next season.

The I-League 2008–09 season ran from 26 September 2008 to 15 April 2009 with a break in December for the Federation Cup and Durand Cup. Most games that season were played on Saturdays and Sundays to attract a larger crowd.

The league expanded to 14 clubs for the 2009–10 season. Salgaocar, Viva Kerala (now Chirag United Club Kerala), Pune and Shillong Lajong were promoted for that season. Dempo later won the I-League to earn a spot into the AFC Champions League 2011.

Only 14 clubs played in 2010–11 season,[5] with AFC criteria being taken into consideration expansion has been halted.

For the first time in the league the India under-21 team (called the AIFF XI) was part of the league, it was based in New Delhi and AIFF ran the club.[5] Its main agenda was to provide first team opportunities to youngsters and groom them for FIFA World Cup 2018.[6] After a long gap, Indian capital of New Delhi and major city Bangalore were back to the top flight. After 26 matches played by all 14 sides Salgaocar came out as the winners while ONGC and JCT FC were relegated to I-League 2nd Division.


Conflict of parties[edit]

On 9 December 2010 the All India Football Federation signed a 15-year, INR 7 billion deal with Reliance Industries and American company International Management Group.[7] The agreement reportedly gave IMG-Reliance all commercial rights to football in India, including sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, film, video and data, intellectual property, franchising and new league rights. IMG-Reliance was also reportedly given the rights to scheduling, restructuring and reformatting of the domestic competitions.[7] At the same time, due to the end of the Zee Sports deal, title sponsors Oil and Natural Gas Corporation decided to not sponsor the league and drop their name from the league title.[8]

On 5 October 2011 it was announced that after one season of the I-League going without telecasting that TEN Sports would broadcast the league for the 2011–12 season.[9] The agreement was only for one season in which TEN Sports would broadcast 75 games during the season.

On 7 February 2012 the I-League clubs held a special meeting between 12 of the 14 I-League clubs (Pailan Arrows and HAL not attending) in Mumbai.[10] Discussions in the meeting were not disclosed. On 22 February 2012 it was announced that the I-League club owners were not happy about the way IMG-Reliance was operating and how they have barely done anything to improve the league.[11] In doing so the clubs decided that they would not fill in the Asian Football Confederation licensing criteria which would mean that I-League clubs could not play in the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup.[11] A few days before however the AIFF and IMG came out with potential plans for a revamp of the I-League along the lines of Major League Soccer in America in which there would be conferences, play-offs, etc.[12]

On 11 March 2012 the I-League owners formed the "Indian Professional Football Clubs Association" (IPFCA) to safeguard their interests and promote football in India.[13] The members of the IPFCA were Air India, Chirag United Kerala, Churchill Brothers, Dempo, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Mumbai, United S.C., Pune, Salgaocar, Shillong Lajong, and Sporting Goa.[13] The IPFCA also announced that their main objectives were to help make the I-League sustainable and profitable, encourage the formation of new professional clubs, and get I-League teams to play in the AFC Champions League.[13]

There was a meeting scheduled between the AIFF, IMG-Reliance, and the IPFCA around 20 April 2012 in which IMG-Reliance would present their plan to grow the I-League to the demands of the IPFCA but the meeting never occurred with the reason never being found out for why the meeting never happened.[14] On 4 May 2012, the AIFF hosted the last ad hoc meeting which was an annual meeting between the AFC and AIFF to assess how the AIFF was doing in terms of professionalism in India. The AFC President, Zhang Jilong, was also in attendance.[15] This meeting was described as the perfect opportunity for the I-League clubs to voice their displeasure at AIFF and IMG-Reliance, but instead the I-League clubs skipped the meeting for reasons unknown.[15]

On 18 June 2012 the I-League owners officially sanctioned the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association under the Society's Act 1960. This was announced during a meeting with representatives of the I-League clubs. Salgaocar general secretary, Raj Gomes, was named the President of the IPFCA.[16] Meanwhile there was more displeasure from the IPFCA as they were unhappy that the AIFF announced the schedule for 2012–13 without consulting the I-League clubs first, as promised.[16] The organisation also said that they still want to pursue their demand to make I-League a separate entity. They have also asked the AIFF and IMG-Reliance to share the television revenue earned from the I-League with the clubs.[16]

Small rise in popularity[edit]

Despite the war between the AIFF and IPFCA, the I-League gained a small rise in popularity. This was mainly caused by the India national football team and their participation in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Even though India lost all three of their pool matches, and they finished at the bottom of their pool, the team came home being more popular and more well known. Subrata Pal notably gained in popularity for league after the then Pune F.C. goalkeeper made many heroic saves during the Asian Cup.[17] Before the Asian Cup, the I-League and Indian Football gained some more notability among the public when it was announced that India captain Sunil Chhetri signed with Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City (then Kansas City Wizards) from Dempo.[18] This news was made more significant by the fact that this was the third time an Indian footballer played outside of India.

The league was given an even bigger boost from its main derby every season, the East BengalMohun Bagan rivalry. The more notable match took place on 20 November 2011 when 90,000 people went to the Salt Lake Stadium to see Bagan beat East Bengal 1–0.[19] This was a great feat for Indian football as a crowd like that Football in India is rising in popularity. More popularity was given to I-League in April 2012 when United Sikkim joined the league from the I-League 2nd Division.[20] United Sikkim's popularity was due to the fact that United Sikkim was part owned by Indian football legend Baichung Bhutia who was from Sikkim himself.[20]

The biggest news of the I-League era was when India captain Sunil Chhetri (who came back from Kansas City in 2011) moved out of India again, this time to play for Sporting Clube de Portugal.[21] Several other Indian players from the league have also gone to foreign clubs as well but on trials like Subrata Pal to Red Bull Leipzig or Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to Wigan Athletic.[22]

While Indian players were leaving or trialing abroad, the I-League clubs were busy signing players. The most notable signing came on 27 June 2012 when United S.C. signed Costa Rican international and former A-League player of the year, Carlos Hernández.[23] Hernández's signing has been seen as the biggest in the league as he has also played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.[24] Churchill Brothers also made a high profile signing of lower calibre to Hernández when they signed Lebanese international defender Bilal Najjarin.[25]

Competition format[edit]


There are 15 teams in the I-League. During the course of a season (from October to May) each club plays the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents, for a total of 28 games. Teams receive three points for a win and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is crowned champion.

AFC Qualification[edit]

The I-League champions gain one spot into the AFC Cup group stage round, while the Federation Cup winners will play in the AFC Cup group stage as well.


The I-League has been sponsored since 2007. There have been two title-sponsors since the league's formation.


Media coverage[edit]


Television will play a major role in the history of the I-League. The money from television rights will be vital in helping to create excellence both on and off the field. The League's decision to assign broadcasting rights to Zee Sports in 2007 was at the time a radical decision. After going three years into a 10-year deal Zee Sports terminated its deal with the All India Football Federation, which meant that the 2010–11 I-League season went on with no televised channel except for the Kolkata teams which managed to get a one-year TV contract with a Calcutta TV corporation to televise all home games for East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and United Sports Club. On 30 September 2011, it was announced that the AIFF broadcast partners IMG Reliance had struck a deal for the I-League to be shown regionally in Bengal and North-Eastern India on News Time Bangla and News Time Assam for the 2011–12 season. This new deal will mean that up to 75 matches would be shown live on TV for the season.[28]

On 4 October 2011, it was announced that TEN Sports would broadcast the 2011–12 season nationally across India along with the regional broadcasters and would also show at least 75 matches that season.[29] On 1 October 2012, IMG-Reliance announced a three-year broadcast deal with TEN Sports. Ten Action will broadcast the I-League from the 2012–13 to the 2014–15 season and will also broadcast the 2012–13 and 2013–14 seasons of the Federation Cup.[30]


On 7 November 2012 it was announced that the All India Football Federation commercial partners, IMG-Reliance had signed a deal with internet streaming website "iStream" to upload matches from TEN Action so the fans can watch the matches online from anywhere in the world.[31] This was also the first time that matches from the I-League can be watched online.[31] Only 75 games were announced to be available for viewing online.[31]


Financial situation[edit]

The I-League continues to experience financial problems for a variety of reasons including lack of merchandising, TV revenue or tournament income.[32] It has been reported that most I-League clubs fail to have any marketing plan when it comes to supporters which explains average crowds of 3913 in the I-League 2010–11, making it difficult for Indian clubs to make money. Since the formation of the I-League, two clubs, Mahindra United (2010) and JCT FC (2011), have disbanded due to financial troubles. Fans have argued that attendances at I-League matches are so low because of the timing of matches during the mid-afternoon around 4:00pm Indian Standard Time. It has been suggested that matches could be moved to later in the evening when temperatures are lower and more people will be free to see the matches.[33]

Foreign impact[edit]

Many football experts have suggested that the reason India does not do well nationally is because of the number of foreign players playing in the I-League, mainly in attacking areas.[34] Since the I-League began in 2007 the league has not seen an Indian take the golden boot while two Nigerians have.

Institutional football[edit]

Most football clubs in India are what are termed Institutional teams.[35] That means it is difficult for players or coaches to turn into complete professionals.[35] The players who play for institutional teams would also work on a full-time job outside of the game for his company the team was sponsored by.[35] This is much the same model which was found in Japan before the introduction of the J. League.[36] The positives are that the teams are usually well resourced with players earning decent money and the prospect of employment after their footballing days finish.[35] On the negative side, teams only represent a few thousand workers rather than whole cities and thus do not gain broad support.[35]

Clubs, stadiums and locations[edit]

The following 13 clubs will be competing in the I-League during the 2013–14 season.

Team City State Home venue Capacity
Bengaluru FC Bangalore Karnataka Bangalore Football Stadium 40,000
Churchill Brothers Salcette Goa Duler Stadium 6,000
Dempo Panjim Goa Duler Stadium 6,000
East Bengal Kolkata West Bengal Salt Lake Stadium 120,000
Mohammedan (R) Kolkata West Bengal Salt Lake Stadium 120,000
Mohun Bagan Kolkata West Bengal Salt Lake Stadium 120,000
Mumbai Mumbai Maharashtra Balewadi Sports Complex 20,000
United S.C. Kolkata West Bengal Salt Lake Stadium 120,000
Pune Pune Maharashtra Balewadi Sports Complex 20,000
Rangdajied United Shillong Meghalaya Nehru Stadium 30,000
Salgaocar Vasco da Gama Goa Duler Stadium 6,000
Shillong Lajong Shillong Meghalaya Nehru Stadium 30,000
Sporting Clube de Goa Panjim Goa Duler Stadium 6,000


Many teams have rivalries in the league, whether it be regional or history. The most notable rivalry in India is the rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.[37]

All stats are since I-League began in 2007

Team Names Most Wins Titles Other Club Titles Draws Recent winner
East Bengal and Mohun Bagan Mohun Bagan 5 East Bengal 3 4 East Bengal
Pune and Mumbai Pune 4 Mumbai 1 3 Mumbai
Shillong Lajong and Rangdajied United Rangdajied United 0 Shillong Lajong 0 1 None

Youth League[edit]

Main article: I-League U19

Before the 2010–11 I-League season, a national youth league was set up with the I-League to bring young Indian talent into the league. The league's inaugural season was made up of 15 teams, each linked to the corresponding Indian club in the I-League (excluding Pailan Arrows).

Head Coaches[edit]

Head Coaches in the I-League are involved in the day-to-day running of the team, including the training, team selection, and, partly, player acquisition. Their influence varies from club-to-club and is related to the ownership of the club and the relationship of the manager with fans. Managers are required to have an Asian Pro License which is the final coaching qualification available, and follows the completion of the AFC 'A' and 'B' Licences.[38] The AFC Pro Licence is required by every person who wishes to manage a club in the I-League on a permanent basis.[38]

The most recent appointment was Herring Shangpliang as head coach of Rangdajied United. Currently 8 of the managers are from India.

Name Club Appointed
India Jamil, KhalidKhalid Jamil Mumbai 18 June 2009[39]
India Mariano Dias Churchill Brothers 13 July 2012[40]
Morocco Karim Bencherifa Mohun Bagan 19 November 2012[41]
Spain Oscar Bruzon Sporting Clube de Goa 3 December 2012[42]
India Thangboi Singto Shillong Lajong 22 January 2013[43]
Netherlands Mike Snoei Pune 12 May 2013[44]
India Derrick Pereira Salgaocar 12 May 2013[45]
Australia Arthur Papas Dempo 31 May 2013[46]
England Ashley Westwood Bengaluru FC 2 July 2013[47]
India Armando Colaco East Bengal 14 November 2013[48]
India Sanjoy Sen Mohammedan 17 December 2013
India Ananta Kumar Ghosh United SC 15 February 2014
India Herring Shangpliang Rangdajied United 1 March 2014

Stats and players[edit]

'As on 8 April 2014'

All-time top scorers in the I-League
(I-League goals only)
Rank Player Goals
1 Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie 145
2 Nigeria Ranti Martins 129
3 Nigeria Chidi Edeh 69
4 Ghana Yusif Yakubu 67
5 Brazil Beto 60
6 India Sunil Chhetri 56
7 Australia Tolgay Özbey 54
8 Brazil Josimar da silva Martins 51
9 Japan Ryuji Sueoka 46
10 Nigeria Ogba Kalu Nnanna 45
(Bold denotes players still playing in the I-League).

Seasonal statistics[edit]

Season Total Goals Matches played Average per Game
2007–08 226 90 2.51
2008–09 318 132 2.41
2009–10 486 182 2.67
2010–11 489 182 2.69
2011–12 521 182 2.88
2012–13 530 182 2.91
2013–14 402 156 2.47


Top goal scorers[edit]

Players in the I-League compete for Golden Boot award every season which is awarded to the player with the most I-League goals. Currently former Churchill Brothers and current Mohun Bagan player Odafe Onyeka Okolie holds the record for most golden boots with three. Odafe and Dempo player Ranty Martins Soleye are the only players to win the award. Odafe is also the top goal scorer in I-League history with a total of 145 goals.

Nigerian Ranty Martins has scored the most goals in a single season by scoring 32 goals during the 2011–12 season. Currently Ranty Martins holds the record for scoring the most goals in a match. He scored 6 goals when his team, Dempo beat Air India 14–0 on 30 May 2011. Incidentally, this was also the highest scoring match in the I-League.[50]

Year Player Club Goals Top Indian Player Club Goals
2007–08 Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Churchill Brothers 22 India Baichung Bhutia Mohun Bagan 10
2008–09 Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Churchill Brothers 26 India Sunil Chhetri East Bengal 9
2009–10 Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Churchill Brothers 21 India Mohammed Rafi Mahindra United 14
2010–11 Nigeria Ranti Martins Dempo 28 India Jeje Lalpekhlua Indian Arrows 13
2011–12 Nigeria Ranti Martins Dempo 32 India Chinadorai Sabeeth / Manandeep Singh Pailan Arrows / Air India 9
2012–13 Nigeria Ranti Martins United S.C. 26 India C.K. Vineeth United S.C. 7
2013–14 Scotland Darryl Duffy Salgaocar FC 14 India Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru FC 14
India Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru FC
Trinidad and Tobago Cornell Glen Shillong Lajong

Indian Football Clubs in Asia[edit]

Season Team Final Position Team Final Position
2008 Dempo Semi-final (AFC Cup) East Bengal Group Stage (AFC Cup)
2009 Dempo Round of 16 (AFC Cup) Mohun Bagan Group Stage (AFC Cup)
2010 Churchill Brothers Round of 16 (AFC Cup) East Bengal Group Stage (AFC Cup)
2011 Dempo Round of 16 (AFC Cup) East Bengal Group Stage (AFC Cup)
2012 Salgaocar Group Stage (AFC Cup) East Bengal Group Stage (AFC Cup)
2013 Churchill Brothers Group Stage (AFC Cup) East Bengal Semi-final (AFC Cup)


Fan's Player of the Year[edit]

The Fan's Player of the Year is awarded to the player adjudged the best player that season in the I-League as selected by the fans.

Year Player Club
2008–09 India Sunil Chhetri Dempo[51]
2009–10 India Subrata Pal Pune[52]
2010–11 India Subrata Pal Pune[53]
2011–12 India Francis Fernandes Salgaocar[54]
2012–13 Afghanistan Zohib Amiri Mumbai[55]

AIFF I-League Foreign Player of the Year[edit]

The winner of this award is selected by the I-League coaches at the end of the season and is issued by the All India Football Federation.[56]

Year Player Club
2010–11 Japan Ryuji Sueoka Salgaocar
2011–12 Nigeria Ranti Martins Dempo[56]
2012–13 Nigeria Ranti Martins United S.C.[55]

FPAI I-League Indian Player of the Year[edit]

Year Player Club
2011–12 India Syed Nabi Mohun Bagan[54]
2012–13 India Lenny Rodrigues Churchill Brothers[55]
2013–14 India Balwant Singh Churchill Brothers[55]

FPAI Young Player of the Year[edit]

Year Player Club
2008–09 India Baljit Sahni JCT[51]
2009–10 India Joaquim Abranches Dempo[52]
2010–11 India Jeje Lalpekhlua Indian Arrows[53]
2011–12 India Manandeep Singh Air India[54]
2012–13 India Alwyn George Pailan Arrows[55]

FPAI Coach of the Year[edit]

Year Coach Club
2008–09 England David Booth Mahindra United[51]
2009–10 India Armando Colaco Dempo[52]
2010–11 Morocco Karim Bencherifa Salgaocar[53]
2011–12 England Trevor Morgan East Bengal[54]
2012–13 India Derrick Pereira Pune[55]

Best Referee[edit]

Year Referee
2011–12 India C.R. Srikrishna[57]
2012–13 India Pratap Singh[58]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]