I-League: Interesting facts about India's top-flight football you didn't know
The I-League, previously known as the National Football League, has been India's top-flight football since 1996-97. The tournament has a history of glory and defeat written in the blood, sweat and tears of many people who have fought for the betterment of Indian football. However, due to lack of coverage, hardly anything is known to the common fans. Here are some interesting I-League facts.
What do you know about the tournament's history?
I-League is under the authority of the All India Football Federation, founded in 1937 to make football into an organized sport throughout the nation. The earlier authority was the Indian Football Association, which was only limited in West Bengal. The NFL saw a steady decline in popularity, and thus was re-launched as the I-League in 2007-08. JCT Club were the first NFL champions.
Some interesting I-League facts at a glance
The I-League, founded in the 2007-08 season, has been a competition between the country's top 11 football teams. The first I-League was won by Dempo Sports Club, who also boast the record of winning the competition the most number of times - five. Ranti Martins has managed to score the most goals in a season by any player in the I-League - 32.
I-League clubs in international competitions
The I-League winners get a chance to participate in the qualifying stages of Asia's biggest club competition, the AFC Champions League. However, some have also participated in the AFC Cup, the counterpart of UEFA's Europa League. Dempo and East Bengal have played in the semi-finals of the AFC Cup, while Bengaluru FC managed to play in the final against Iraq's Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in 2016.
The tournament has not been without its problems
Financial instability has always haunted the I-League, and many successful clubs were forced to disband owing to lack of proper finances to carry out their operations. Teams like JCT, Chirag United, and Mahindra United have disbanded due to financial struggles. This is because teams hardly earn any money from merchandise sales, and all television revenues go into AIFF's pockets.
Some legendary figures of Indian football have been I-League heroes
While nowadays the biggest talents in Indian football usually opt to play in the Indian Super League, it was not so earlier. All the legends of Indian football, like Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, have extensively played in the I-League. Chhetri is the highest scorer among Indians, with 93 strikes to his name, and is closely followed by Bhutia (89).
Which are the awards on offer in the I-League?
At the end of every season, the I-League awards its best talents in the form of separate awards given to the Foreign Player of the Year, Indian Player of the Season, Young Player of the Season, Head Coach and Fans Player of the Year. Champions are given Rs. 1 crore prize money. The first and second runners-up get Rs. 60 and 40 lakhs respectively.