mobile app bar

Indian football club competition: All you need to know

Sitam Chaki


Bengaluru FC created history when they became the first Indian club to play in the AFC Cup Final. Although, they lost a close encounter to Al Quwa Al Jawiya, this marks the biggest achievement by an Indian football club. Here is all you need to know about Indian football club competition.

  1. Who qualifies for Asian competition

Like Europe, Asian football has 2 competitions: AFC Champions League and AFC Cup. Indian clubs are allotted 2 slots in these. The winner of the I- League (India’s premier football league) gets to play the qualifiers for the Asian Champions League.

The winner of the Federation Cup is inserted into the qualifiers for the AFC Cup. In case the I League winners fail to qualify for the Champions League, they are also given a similar slot in the AFC Cup qualifiers.

Also, the AFC Cup takes place in the calendar year. So, the current competition has teams who qualified in the 2014-15 season.

2) Indian football clubs in Asia

The AFC Champions League started its modern incarnation in 2002-03. Since then, Indian clubs have failed to make it to the main stages of the competition. However, they have fared better in the AFC Cup.

The earliest success was enjoyed by East Bengal when they made the quarter finals in 2004. The erstwhile Mahindra United emulated them ion 2007.

Dempo did one better by making the semi-finals in 2008. East Bengal too achieved the same in 2013. Of course, Bengaluru FC have done better than all of them.

3) Major achievements by Indian clubs

The first (and probably greatest) achievement in Indian football was when Mohun Bagan defeated East Yorkshire Regiment in the 1911 IFA Shield Final. Bagan, thus became the first Indian club to win the IFA Shield.

Mohameddan Sporting became the first Indian club to win a tournament outside India, when they won the 1960 Aga Khan Gold Cup.

East Bengal finally got into the act by winning the 2003 ASEAN Cup. Incidentally, the runners up, BEC Tero Sasana, had already qualified for the AFC Champions League.

4) The current I League scenario

Bengaluru Fc have been a major force in the I League, since the club’s inception in 2013. They were champions in 2013-14, before missing out on a whisker to Mohun Bagan the next season.

A resilient Bagan, under Sanjoy Sen, seemed to be cruising towards a second consecutive I League title in 2015-16. However, after going unbeaten for 11 games, Bagan suffered an end season collapse, collecting only 2 points in their next 4 matches.

This allowed Bengaluru to claw back in, and seal a second I League title in 3 seasons. Their controversial manager, Ashley Westwood, parted ways with the team at the end of the 2015-16 season.

5) Future of Indian football

Although the I League is the premier league competition in India, it suffers from a lack of media coverage. There is hardly any hype or enthusiasm regarding the I League.

On the other hand, the Indian Super League (ISL) has managed to successfully capture the imagination of the Indian public. With a format based on the T20 IPL, it has managed to become the 4th best viewed football league in the world.

The AIFF plans to combine both leagues by 2017. Although, this plan is heavily opposed by the traditional clubs, it looks to be the best way to carry forward Indian football.

About the author

Share this article