There are no shortage of sporting events & tournaments across India; India’s colonial past has left India with both, an obsession as well as a surplus of tournaments, in the trinity of football, cricket & hockey. While cricket needs no introductions, football & hockey also have their own dedicated cups and trophies for which players give their all. Here are some of the football tournaments in India which have been played across the years.
Started in 1977, the Federation Cup can be most closely compared to England’s FA Cup, where teams from all divisions come to play. As India’s supposed ‘national league’ – the I League – has two divisions, below which individual state leagues are present, teams from the I League first & second divisions compete in the Federation Cup. The winner not only gets the tropy, but also used to get a place in the AFC Cup (Asia’s Europa League, and a more realistic title-winning opportunity for India’s clubs). In fact it was after Bengaluru FC won the 2015 Federation Cup that they went on to the 2016 AFC Cup final, which they lost 1-0 to Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.
The situation has worsened after the advent of the ISL. Initially, in April 2015, the AIFF announced that the Federation Cup would be ‘put on hold‘ that is, it would be scrapped. The ISL had already begun in 2014; India’s football calendar was already full. Then, drama broke out; Pune FC & Bharat FC either withdrew their teams (according to themselves)/ were disqualified for failing to meet the AFC club licensing criteria (according to the AIFF). This was followed by Royal Wahingdoh announcing that it would disband its team, thus reducing the teams in the I League to 8. Since the AFC’s stipulations made it mandatory for every club team to play at least 18 matches in the season, the AIFF quietly brought back the Federation Cup. Then in 2017, another nail was hammered in the coffin.
After years of claiming that ‘ISL is just a tournament, nothing more‘, the AIFF has taken the AFC Cup slot (which used to be given to the winner of the Federation Cup) and presented it to the ISL title winner. Finally, in 2018, a new cup, the Super Cup competition, is now to include teams from the I League 2nd Division, in addition to teams from the ISL and the I League.
Away from the mess created by the AIFF, India’s domestic football circuit has always had one permanent fixture: the Santosh Trophy. Before the National Football League (the predecessor of the current I League) started in 1997, the Santosh Trophy was where all the states of India played against each other.
With 29 teams & some other teams like Services (representing players from the Defense Services of India) and Railways (likewise) playing in it, the competition was played almost through the year. Many of India’s erstwhile football stars, such as ‘Chuni’ Goswami & Mewa Lal & Bhaichung Bhutia have played in it. But in 2009, when Sunil Chhetri was injured while playing in the tournament (before the Nehru Cup), Bob Houghton- then then-Indian national team coach asked national team players not to play in the competition. With the addition of the ISL, and AIFF already barring I League players from playing in the Santosh Trophy (since 2011), the Santosh Trophy is now more of a launching stage for youngsters. But there’s still hope to it; in the 2017-18 edition 32-time winners West Bengal were beaten in the final by Kerala. Hopefully, the Santosh Trophy will eventually get the recognition it deserves.
As the British treated Calcutta as their default capital, it is logical that even football would emerge from here. The first governing body of football in India, the Indian Football Association, started organizing the IFA Shield football tournament. It was also in this tournament that Indian footballers proved that they were just as good as their English counterparts: Mohun Bagan defeated East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1, in 1911, and made history. While Mohun Bagan would go on to win the IFA Shield 22 times, East Bengal has been the most successful (with 29 title wins).
Over the years, this competition has witnessed rabid rivalries – such as that of East Bengal & Mohun Bagan – and has been host to a number of foreign clubs, invited for the competition. Clubs from Iran, Brazil, Russia, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, and even North Korea have played in the IFA Shield, though arguably the biggest of these clubs played in the 2005 edition. None other than Bayern Munich (even though it was their reserve team) defeated United SC (then known as Eveready) and won the cup.
In 2015, looking at the scheduled tournaments (ISL, I-League, Federation Cup), a decision was taken to make the IFA Shield an Under-19 tournament. At that time, it was reported that:
“…the tournament will begin in the last week of April where ten teams will participate. Of the 10, four will be under-19 teams of top European clubs. The IFA has Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United on the radar…”
” had a meeting with Star Sports on Thursday and the broadcasters have agreed on principle to telecast live all the matches. “The meeting was fruitful and we have promised top European teams for the meet,” Ganguli said on Friday”
So much for promises.
Said to be the second oldest football tournament in India, it was started in 1891 by British enthusiasts in Bombay. The first India team to play in in the Rovers Cup was Mohun Bagan, who however lost in the finals to Durham Light Infantry. They made up for it later, by becoming the most successful team in the competition’s history, going on to win the trophy 14 times. East Bengal can never be too far behind; they won the competition 10 times.
In modern times, the competition was organized by the Western India Football Association (WIFA), the counterpart of the IFA in Maharashtra. It is in the past tense because the last edition of the Rovers Cup was held in 2000-01. While the WIFA publicly announced that the competition would be brought back in 2013, there has been no news since. As of 2017, there are still calls to get the tournament started again, but that is to be seen.
What is most probably the oldest football tournament in India. The Durand Cup started in 1888, with its origins allegedly being in Shimla. The tournament had been started for the benefit of the British soldiers, and thus the administration of the tournament, even after Independence, remained with the Army; it was only in 2005, that the Army transferred the administration of the tournament to a civilian administration. Military teams, comprised of defense personnel still played in the tournament.
While the Durand Cup has been played in the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi, there have been plans of shifting the tournament to Kolkata. Though it has lost its appeal in the age of ISL & I League, it has been host to a number of inspiring stories: Mohammedan SC – which has approximately been relegated twice & promoted once since 2010 – won the cup in 2013 (after a long trophyless period). Real Kashmir FC was also one of the teams that participated in the 128th Durand Cup in 2016. Though they got thrashed in the tournament, this experience made the team & its management wiser; it was one of the reasons that Real Kashmir FC went on to win the I League 2nd Division in 2017-18, making them the first team from Kashmir to play in the I-League’s 1st Division.
There are many other football tournaments in India which have been similarly ignored: DCM (Delhi Cloth Mills) Trophy, Stafford Cup, Nizam Gold Cup, Sait Nagjee Cup, Bordoloi Trophy, Scissors Cup, Independence Cup, Nadkarni Cup, Sikkim Gold Cup, Bandodkar Gold Trophy, all of which are either defunct or are at a far cry from their glory days.
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