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The I-League, which began in 2007, is a professional league for Indian men's association football clubs. Since then, the tournament has featured 21 clubs and remains India's top football league, although the start of the Indian Super League is creating some concerns. The National Football League (NFL) was established in India in 1996 to professionalize the sport. The I-League, however, was founded after 11 seasons and swiftly surpassed the National Football League as the country's primary football league. I-League's purpose was to professionalize and popularize the sport so that it could be enjoyed by people throughout the country. In six out of the eight tournaments held so far, a team from Goa has won the competition and only twice has a team from outside Goa won the tournament.

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    The Birth Of I-League

    The National Football League, India's first domestic league, was founded in 1996. The league was founded to bring professionalism to Indian football. Despite that aim, it has not yet been achieved. The National Football League suffered from weak infrastructure and unprofessionalism among its clubs throughout its early years. FC Kochin, one of the league's clubs, went bankrupt in 2002 after it was uncovered that the club had not paid salaries since 2000, due in part to losing 2.5 crores per season. The All India Football Federation thought it was time for a change after a decade of decline with the National Football League. As a result, India's top-tier has evolved in recent years.

    The National Football League was resurrected and rebranded as the I-League for the 2007–08 season following the conclusion of the 2006–07 NFL season. The league's inaugural season featured eight clubs from the previous NFL season, as well as two teams from the 2nd Division, for a total of ten teams. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), the previous title sponsor of the NFL, was chosen as the I-League's title sponsor before the league began in November 2007. The league also announced a modification in foreign-player restrictions, with all clubs being allowed to recruit four foreigners, three of whom must be non-Asian and one of whom must be Asian. The league has announced that matches will be televised on Zee Sports for the first time this season. Air India, Dempo, Churchill Brothers, JCT, East Bengal, Mahindra United, and Mohun Bagan were the first ten clubs in the I-League inaugural's season.

    The Inaugural I-League Season

    Dempo and Salgaocar played the first-ever I-League match on November 24, 2007. The game ended 3–0in Dempo's favor at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao, with Chidi Edeh scoring the first-ever goal in league history in the third minute. Dempo emerged as the first-ever champions of the I-League after eighteen rounds. However, Salgaocar and Viva Kerala were the first two teams to be demoted from the I-League.

    The first season of the I-League saw some thrilling matches.

    Nigerian Odafa Okolie scored four goals for Churchill Brothers versus Mahindra United in the inaugural season, earning critical acclaim. Odafa became Indian football's highest-paid player in the year 2011 when he joined Mohun Bagan and is one of the league's top goal scorers. While he was the league's top goal scorer in 2007, time has not been kind to him. In 2017, he signed with I-League Second Division team Southern Samity. Then, 2018 was even more of a farce for him, although he returned to the top division with Gokulam Kerala, he lasted a measly three games before getting dismissed by the club.

    The final day of the first season was great advertising for the I-League, with two title contenders facing off against two teams who had nothing to play for. Both Churchill and Dempo were equal on points, with only a four-goal difference separating them. Dempo FC came on top winning the title that year. Their opponents, on the other hand, were not so fortunate; Viva Kerala, despite meeting the AFC club licensing standards in 2010, ran out of money, forcing them to turn over their ownership and name in 2011 to Chirag Computers. The 'new' Chirag United Club Kerala was demoted in the 2011-12 season, and the club eventually dissolved.

    The Success Of The I-League

    The Indian football league system's top tier is The I-League. The All India Football Federation(AIFF) began it in 2007-08. It took over after the National Football League, which had been in existence for 11 seasons. The inaugural season of the I-League was in 2007-08. The first match took place on November 24, 2007, between Dempo Sports Club and Salgaocar Sports Club, with the former winning by three goals. At the moment, Hero is the official sponsor of the I-League. Bengaluru FC were the 2014 I-League winners. There are 11 teams in the Hero I-League 2015, three of them are from Maharashtra. Mumbai FC, Pune FC, and Kalyani Bharat FC are the respective teams. The Hero I-League season for2014-15 will span from January through May.

    The I-League Playing Format

    The league's rules have altered practically every year since it began in 2007. The league currently features 11 teams. Every season, each club competes against each other two times. Both the matches are held in each team's homeland. A team that wins a match receives three points, while a tie earns both teams one point. There are no points granted to the loser. If there is a tie, the head-to-head record is considered. If still tied, the goal difference of the tied teams is considered.

    Sponsorship

    The Indian league has always been sponsored, dating back to the founding of the National Football League. The last sponsor from the old National Football League, ONGC, was brought in as the league's first sponsor in 2007, giving the league the name ONGC I-League. The partnership with ONGC, however, was not renewed after the 2010–11 season, leaving the I-League without a sponsor until 2013. On September 24, 2013, it was announced that Airtel, a telecommunications company, would become the I-League's new title sponsor, renaming the league the Airtel I-League. In December 2014, Hero MotoCrop took over as the league’s title sponsor from Airtel, and eventually, the league was named the Hero I-League.

    The Summary Of Every I-League Season So Far

    The I-League's inaugural season featured ten teams. Currently, there are 11 teams in the league. In previous seasons, Gokulam Kerala has won the final match and the I-League's first major title. Churchill Brothers, on the other hand, maintained their dominance at the start of the Championship with 11 unbeaten games. After that, Gokulam Kerala performed admirably and advanced to the I-League 2020-21finals. They defeated TRAU by a score of 4-1 and earned AFC Cup qualification.

    The AFC Cup is the primary international tournament for I-League clubs; nevertheless, certain I-League clubs have qualified for the AFC Champions League. Champions League qualifiers were allowed to play from 2007 to 2011 for champions of the preceding I-League season. Before Pune in 2014, after passing the AFC licensing Criteria, no I-League club played in a qualifier from the years 2011 to 2013. No I-League club, on the other hand, has ever qualified for the AFC Champions League group stage.

    I-League team list for the 2020-21 season:

    • Chennai City
    • NEROCA
    • Churchill Brothers
    • Indian Arrows
    • Gokulam Kerala
    • Punjab
    • Mohammedan
    • Real Kashmir
    • TRAU
    • Aizawl
    • Sudeva Delhi

    In the history of the I-League, Dempo has been the most successful club. They won the I-League's inaugural season. In addition, in the years 2007-08, 2009-10, and 2011-12, they won the I-League Trophy three times. While Churchill Brothers, Mohun Bagan, and Bengaluru won the I-League trophy for the second time in a row. Ranti Martins, a Nigerian footballer, tops the Hero I-League in goal scoring.

    Since 2013, when the 2012–13 season champions, Churchill Brothers, won the championship, the I-League has given the champion a genuine trophy. Before 2013, the I-League champions were awarded a simple trophy. The new trophy was created in Europe and is modelled around champion trophies from the top European leagues.

    Mohun Bagan has been named the I-League champions for the 2019-20 season. The I-League's remaining matches have been cancelled because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Because Mohun Bagan is at the front of the standings, the Administrator declares them the winner.

    I-League’s winners list from season 2007-2021

    • Season 2007-08: Dempo, Winners. Churchill Brothers, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2008-09: Churchill Brothers, Winners. Mohun Bagan, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2009-10: Dempo, Winners. Churchill Brothers, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2010-11: Salgaocar, Winners. East Bengal, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2011-12: Dempo, Winners. East Bengal, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2012-13: Churchill Brothers, Winners. Pune, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2013-14: Bengaluru, Winners. East Bengal, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2014-15 : Mohun Bagan, Winners. Bengaluru, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2015-16: Bengaluru, Winners. Mohun Bagan, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2016-17: Aizawl, Winners. Mohun Bagan, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2017-18: Minerva Punjab, Winners. NEROCA, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2018-19: Chennai City, Winners. East Bengal, Runners-Up.
    • Season 2019-20 : Mohun Bagan, Winners.
    • Season 2020-21: Gokulam Kerela, Winners. Churchill Brothers, Runners-Up.

    Conclusion

    The I-League has revolutionized the way football is seen and played in India. Seven clubs have won the I-League tournament since its start. Dempo has the most championships in league history, having won three times. The league has been won twice by Churchill Brothers, Mohun Bagan, and Bengaluru. It has also been won by Aizawl, Salgaocar, Chennai City, Minerva Punjab, and Gokulam Kerala.


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    Gian Chacko

    Sports enthusiast with love for cricket, football and sports in general. Holds 10+ years of following and writing about sports and lately also betting.