Football in India
|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)
Association football is the second most popular sport in India after cricket in terms of players participation and the third most popular sport in India in terms of TV Viewership lagging behind long time no.1 Cricket and re-emerging Kabaddi. India's current top domestic football league is Indian Super League, formed as an unrecognised professional league with eight teams (now 11) to promote Indian football to the country and world. The league began on 2014 and after third season, it was recognised as the second national football league, running parallel with the I-League, thus leaving India as one of the few countries with two fully recognised football leagues. After fifth season, it has been recognised as the joint top domestic football league in India. 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 for the first time the country 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 also bid to host the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, but lost to Poland. Amidst this, during the Qualifying tournament for 2022 FIFA World Cup, India managed to draw a match 0-0 in Doha against Qatar who are the hosts of 2022 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.
The golden age
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 came in 1970 Asian Games, when it won the bronze medal by defeating Japan 1–0, however the Indian youth team jointly won the Youth Asian Cup with Iran in 1974, the first and only title for India at youth level. For the club football, 24 September 1977 was a golden day as 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 national team qualified for the 1984 AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 1964, but failed to qualify for knockout stage as they finished last in their group of five teams. After a golden phase in 50s and 60s, Indian football went through a barren phase in 70s, 80s and 90s, gradually losing its foothold as a top Asian team.
However, things were just getting started for the women's team as they began playing in 70s. The first manager was Sushil Bhattacharya, in 1975. Indian women's team went on to finish as runners-up in 1980 and 1983 editions of AFC Women's Asian Cup. Later in the 90s, the women's team declined rapidly and a series of defeats with heavy margins followed. In 2009, the women's team reached its all-time low as they were delisted by FIFA in world rankings.
The men's team saw a positive rise after coming close to qualify for final round of 2022 world cup qualifiers as they finished a point behind the group winners UAE. 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.
In 2014, India hosted the first-ever Unity World Cup in Goa, Hyderabad and Bangalore. India has participated in the FIFA U-17 World Cup as hosts of 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 U-17 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.
Recently in 2018, Indian youth football teams created history by defeating Argentina U20 2–1 in 2018 Cotif Cup and Iraq U16, the defending champions of AFC U-16 Championship by 1–0. The U-16 team qualified for the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship where they came close to qualify for 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup but went down to South Korea by solitary goal in quarterfinals. Indian senior national team qualified for the 2019 edition Asian Cup after missing out in 2015. In that tournament, India beat Thailand by 4–1; their biggest ever win at the Asia Cup, and their first in 55 years. Nevertheless, they lost both of their next two group matches against UAE and Bahrain by 0−2 and 0−1 respectively and finished at the bottom of the group, thus failed to move to knock out stage.
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.
|National teams of India|
|Football (Men's)||Football (Women's)||Olympic team||Football U-20 (men's)|
|Football U-17 (men's)||Football U-20 (women's)||Football U-17 (women's)||Futsal (men's)|
|Futsal (women's)||Beach soccer (men's)||eSports|
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.
The following list includes the performance of all the national teams of India at major completions.
Men's senior team
The Indian senior national team had several success during the initial years, but as the decades passed the team was no longer one of the best in Asia. The best ever achievement of this team was to win two gold medals at the Asian Games.
|FIFA World Cup||0/22||1950 (qualified but withdrew)||–|
|AFC Asian Cup||4/17||2011||Runners-up (1964)|
|Summer Olympics (1908–1988)||4/17||1960||Fourth-place (1956)|
|Asian Games (1951–1998)||11/13||1998||Champions (1951, 1962)|
|SAFF Championship||12/12||2018||Champions (1993, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2015)|
Women's senior team
Relative to their male counterparts, the women's team started very late in the 70s. The team had seen success during the initial years in the form of being Asian Women's championship runners-up twice in the early 80s. The later decade when AIFF took incharge of the team, it suffered massive defeats and went down to all-time low during late 2000s. The team was then revived by AIFF and was provided with jaw-dropping number of quality friendlies during the late 2010s in an attempt to empower women's football. The AIFF had also successfully won the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup hosting bid.
|AFC Women's Asian Cup||9/19||2003||Runners-up (1989, 1983)|
|Asian Games||2/7||2014||Eighth-place (1998)|
|SAFF Women's Championship||5/5||2019||Champions (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2019)|
|South Asian Games||3/3||2019||Champions (2010, 2016, 2019)|
Men's U-23 team
|Asian Games||4/5||2014||Tenth-place (2002)|
|South Asian Games||4/5||2016||Runners-up (2004, 2016)|
Men's U-20 team
Includes U-19 and U-18 team's performance.
|AFC U-20 Asian Cup||22/40||2006||Champions (1974)|
|SAFF U-18 Championship||3/3||2019||Champions (2019)|
Men's U-17 team
Includes U-16 and U-15 team's performance.
|FIFA U-17 World Cup||1/19||2017||Group stage (2017)|
|AFC U-17 Asian Cup||8/18||2018||Quarterfinals (2002, 2018)|
|SAFF U-15 Championship||6/6||2019||Champions (2013, 2017, 2019)|
Women's U-20 team
Includes U-19 and U-18 team's performance.
|AFC U-20 Women's Asian Cup||3/10||2006||Quarterfinals (2004)|
|SAFF U-18 Women's Championship||1/1||2018||Third-place (2018)|
Women's U-17 team
Includes U-16 and U-15 team's performance.
|FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup||1/7||– (2022, qualified as hosts)||–|
|AFC U-17 Women's Asian Cup||1/8||2005||Group stage (2005)|
|SAFF U-15 Women's Championship||3/3||2019||Champions (2018, 2019)|
|1||None*||1893||Calcutta Football League||1937|
|Formation||Formation||Santosh Trophy||National Football League||I-League||Indian Super League|
|2||None*||None*||NFL Second Division||I-League 2nd Division|
|State leagues||Calcutta Football League and other state leagues|
|Indian Super League||Converted into full league*|
National Football League (1992–2007)
Founded in 1996, the National Football League was the first football league of India to be organised on a national scale.The aim was to develop the sport in the country and give a platform for Indian footballers to showcase their talent. The second division was soon introduced by AIFF in 1997 to supplement the top division.Ten years after formation, a third division was briefly introduced for one season in 2006
After the end of 2006-07 season, AIFF disbanded the NFL after missing the aim of professionalism. Supportive to this decision was also the presence of poor infrastructure and financially weak clubs. To replace NFL, AIFF introduced a fully professional I-League, with ten clubs from the last season of NFL, participating in the maiden I-League season.
I-League 2nd division (2008–present)
The National Football League's second division was succeeded by the I-League second division in 2008. The State FAs nominate top teams from their respective State leagues to AIFF who then select the clubs based on criteria fullfilled. The number of clubs in this league varies each season. Since 2017–18 season, the league saw introduction of I-League reserve sides and these teams aren't eligible to get promoted since I-League is a top division.
Indian Super League (2014–present)
The I-League which was promised to be a professional league, soon began to suffer from lack of popularity due to poor marketing as the seasons passed by. The deal between Zee Sports and AIFF which was initially signed for a ten-year term in 2006 was terminated in 2010 after disagreement between both the parties. AIFF then signed a massive 700-crore deal with Reliance Industries and the International Management Group on 9 December 2010. The Indian Super League was officially launched on 21 October 2013 by IMG–Reliance, Star Sports, and the All India Football Federation with an aim of growing the sport of football in India and increasing its exposure in the country, this time with the big names and high professionalism.A total of eight franchises were bought by big corporations, Bollywood stars and cricketers.
In 2017, The AFC were against allowing the ISL as the main league in India while I-League clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan wanted a complete merger of the ISL and I-League. A couple weeks later, the AIFF proposed that both the Indian Super League and I-League should run simultaneously on a short–term basis with the I-League winner qualifying for the AFC Champions League and the ISL champion to AFC Cup qualification stage. The proposal from the AIFF was officially approved by the AFC on 25 July 2017, with the ISL replacing the domestic cup competition, the Federation Cup which was a true knockout cup competition.
Two seasons later, the AIFF and AFC met again to determine the roadmap for Indian football. After the meeting, it was announced that the Indian Super League was officially the top-tier league of India with AFC Champions League slot while I-League was now the domestic cup tournament with AFC Cup slot. The AFC also mentioned some of the key recommendations. The first recommendation was to open a pathway for two I-League clubs to enter into the ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season, subject to the criteria being fulfilled. The second recommendation was, allowing the winner of I-League to stand a chance of getting promoted to the ISL with no participation fee, basis fulfilling sporting merit and the national club licensing criteria to be set out by the AIFF starting with the 2022-23 season. In its final recommendation, it was agreed that there would be no relegation in the ISL for now. The introduction of promotion and relegation into the top league would be implemented by the end of 2024-25 season and the existence of two parallel leagues will be abolished.
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 (IFA), West Bengal. It is the fourth oldest club cup competition in the world (started in 1893) after the FA Cup, the Scottish Cup and the Durand Cup. Along with local clubs of Bengal, clubs all around the nation and even overseas are duly invited to participate in this tournament.
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 32 titles till date.
The competitions currently active in Indian football.
Qualification for Asian competitions
|AFC Cup||Winner of I-League||Qualification to the Group Stage|
|Champions or league stage runners-up of Indian Super League||Qualification to the Qualifying Play-off|
|AFC Champions League||Premiers of Indian Super League||Qualification to the Group Stage|
|AFC Women's Club Championship||Champion of Indian Women's League||Qualification to the Group Stage|
State League football
State leagues are considered to be the best amateur leagues in India. There are currently a total of 36 state associations (including union territories) affiliated with the All India Football Federation. These state associations have state leagues affiliated to them. There is currently no promotion/relegation between the state leagues and the national league's lowest division, I-League 2nd Division. However, the top teams of state leagues are eligible to apply for the I-League 2nd Division. Some state leagues have multiple divisions and a promotion/relegation system between these divisions. Calcutta Football League in West Bengal is the oldest state league and has the highest number of divisions (seven) with promotion/relegation system in place.
|State Association||League||Founded||Number of divisions|
|Arunachal Pradesh||Arunachal Super League||–||1|
|Assam||Assam State Premier League||2008||2|
|Goa||Goa Professional League||1951||3|
|Himachal Pradesh||Himachal Football League||2020||1|
|Karnataka||Bangalore Super Division||2001||4|
|Kerala||Kerala Premier League||2013||1|
|Madhya Pradesh||Madhya Pradesh Premier League||2021||1|
|Maharashtra||MDFA Elite Division||2000||5|
|Manipur||Manipur State League||2006||1|
|Mizoram||Mizoram Premier League||2012||2|
|Nagaland||Nagaland Premier League||2011||1|
|Punjab||Punjab Super League||–||2|
|Rajasthan||Rajasthan State Men's League||2019||1|
|Sikkim||Sikkim Premier Division League||2018||1|
|Tamil Nadu||Chennai Senior Division||–||5|
|Uttar Pradesh||Lucknow A Division||–||2|
|Uttarakhand||Uttarakhand Super League||2016||1|
|West Bengal||Calcutta Football League||1898||7|
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.
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.
* denotes stadiums that are football specific.
International competitions hosted
1Sport was announced as the official broadcaster for I-League from the 2019–20 season.
While I-League 2nd Division will broadcast on Facebook.
The following articles detail the major results and events in each season of Indian football since 2011.
- I-League U19
- List of football clubs in India
- List of Indian players in foreign leagues
- Kolkata derby
- South Indian derby
- Football in Asia
- Football around the world
- Mission XI Million
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