Monday, February 17, 2020

Hero I-League: India’s First Football League

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Football has been played in India since 1893, but its lack of popularity, when compared to cricket, means that very few of us actually know about the origins of football in India. Football has been played by different clubs and associations since its inception in India under the British rule in 1893 and slowly and gradually, these football clubs have since instilled the love for this beautiful sport in the young hearts and minds of our country. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and a few other organizations should be credited for the formation and development of the national level football tournaments like the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League. These national tournaments are all sponsored by ‘Hero’ and hence have come to be known as the Hero Indian Super League, the Hero Super cup and Hero I-League.

History of I-League

In 1996 India’s first even football league called the ‘National Football League’ was formed with the motive of promoting professional football India. However, the League suffered heavily from financial & structural issues and hence, was not able to achieve its goal. Following this failure, in 2007 the All India Football Association decided to intervene by renaming the National Football League and relaunching it as I-League. Along with the name & structural changes, there were also major changes in the rules and regulations of the league, for instance, teams weren’t allowed to field more than four foreign players for their team. ONGC, who were the sponsors for the National Football League again took the reigns for the 10 teams and thus the journey of I-league kicked-off, on track, in 2007. The first-ever match was played on 24th November 2007 between Dempo and Salgaocar, with Dempo emerging victorious with a 3-0 scoreline. The league began with 10 teams and gradually expanded to 14 teams.

An improved Hero I-League?

The I-league leaders gave the entire sponsorship and media rights to Reliance Industries India and IMG group United States of America in the year 2010. It was a 700 crore deal between the giants. In Spite of all the differences between the teams and management, the League was still able to create awareness regarding professional football in the country. The Hero I-League participated in the AFC Cup (Asia Level tournament) in the year 2011. Sunil Chhetri became the first Indian exported International player in the same year. The League then received a major boost after that from its main game the Kolkata derby played between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal by 1 goal. With the expansion of the League and promotion of United Sikkim the League continued to expand.

With the growth of the League, the demand of their players also increased. Indian football players were in great demand on foreign land and a lot of them were also chosen for the International leagues and tournaments. It was a vice-versa process, the demand for foreign players in India also increased a lot.

Players like Sunil Chhetri was chosen to play for Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer, he along with Jeje Lalpekhlua were invited for trials for Rangers in Scottish Premier League. Subrata Pal was selected to play for Vestsjaelland and had trials at RB Leipzig. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu got selected to play for Stabaek Football, Norway in 2014.

The various International players that played in I-League were as follows. Costa Rican International signed with Prayag United in the year 2012-2013 tournament. Lebanese International Bilal Najjarine signed with Churchill brothers in the same year. New Land International player Leo Bertos signed with East Bengal before the 2010 FIFA world cup. Johnny Acosta Costa Rican national team center back played for East Bengal in the 2018 FIFA World cup.

Major Teams in Hero I-League

The League has now more than 12 teams and is continuing with its expansion. The various teams that play for the Hero I-League games are as follows

  • Dempo
  • Churchill Brothers
  • Mohun Bagan
  • Salgaocar
  • Aizawl
  • Minerva Punjab
  • Chennai city
  • East Bengal
  • Pune
  • Neroca 
  • JCT
  • Sporting Goa
  • Real Kashmir
  • Royal Wahingdoh


It is a football club in Hero I-League from Panjim, Goa. The team is owned by the Dempo group of companies and more popularly known as the whites. The club has won many games in the National tournaments. The Dempo team crest includes a golden bird in the middle, the logo of the company that the club is owned by and the letters of the state of Goa.

Churchill Brothers

The club is based in Margao, Goa and was established in the year 1988 by the name of Varca. Then it was renamed brothers and later on, Mr. Churchill bought the club and hence the name Churchill brothers. The team has won the Hero I-league championship and was one of the founding members of the National Football League. The crest of the Churchill brothers is red and black colored.

Mohun Bagan

Mohun Bagan is one of the first football clubs established in the country. It was established in the year of 1893 and the team has won many titles and is a name that represents the country in the world of Football. 


The club was founded in 1956 by VM Salgaocar, the then president of Salgaocar companies. They are based in Vasco, Goa and have won various tournaments in Goa. They have a long list of titles that they have won which include more than 19 titles in Goa League and various other national titles. The crest of Salgaocar is of red, yellow and green color with the symbol of tools, the year it was founded and the state that they play for, that is Goa.


It is the football club from Aizawl, Mizoram. It was established in the year 1984. It got its official entry into the Hero I-league 2nd division in the year 2015. It won the tournament in the very same year and became the first northeastern football club to win the tournament. The crest of the team is in red, black and white colors. 

Minerva Punjab

This team is now known as the Punjab Football club. The team was initially known as Minerva Punjab Football club. The Bajaj group of industries is za co-founder in this group. Punjab football club won the Hero I-League championship in 2017-2018. The crest of the Punjab football club is blue and white in colour. 

Chennai City

Chennai city football club was established in the year 1946 as the Netaji sports club and then it was renamed as the Chennai city football club. It is based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. The club first got its All India Football Federation and through that got a direct entry into the 2016-2017 Hero I-league championship and won the tournament. The crest of the club is in Orange and grey colour. 

East Bengal

It is one of the oldest established football clubs in India. The most famous match that is played is the Kolkata derby. It competes in Hero I-league under the license of the All India Football Federation. The club was established on 1st August 1920. The crest of the team includes a torch in black, red, yellow and white colors. The team has won many matches and tournaments. 

Pune Football Club

It is a professional football club based in Pune, Maharashtra. They played with the Hero I-league in 2009 and played their best game in 2012-2013 ending in the second position. The crest of the team is in red and golden colour.


Neroca football club is an Indian professional football from Imphal, Manipur. The club plays in Hero I-league 2nd division. The club won the I-league 2nd division in the year 2016-2017 and entered the main league. The club’s crest is made of red, white and green color.

These are the main teams that play in the I-league. The other teams that play in Hero I-league are JCT, Sporting Goa, Real Kashmir, and Royal Wahingdoh. The Hero I-league is one of the biggest football club tournaments in the country.

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