When you think about the I-League it doesn’t seem to be the most attractive league to follow when you have the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga, Seria A, or the local Indian Super League, but people who follow the I League know how special it is.
History on the rocks
One thing that the I-League has no shortage of is the history behind the clubs competing in it. Mohan Bagan AC is 129 years old, which makes it the oldest club in India and one of the oldest in Asia. Then comes the historical dominance of the league’s initial seasons by Dempo. The league certainly has all the historical characters a football league should have to attract crowds.
Merger with ISL
FIFA and AFC (Asian Football Confederation) have pushed for a merger between the I-League and the ISL because having two top tiers is creating a mess. Mohan Bagan and East Bengal have been in talks with IMG-Reliance to get into the ISL, like former I-League club Bengaluru FC did, but without paying the 15-crore franchise fee.
AIFF has an agreement with the current ISL clubs which bars them from being relegated. This means even that if the league is merged, the majority of current I-League clubs will be put into a second-tier league against their will. AIFF and the I-League clubs have had run-ins with each other on many occasions since the ISL was formed.
What the I-League has that the ISL doesn’t
On the one hand, while the I-League being financially unpredictable has been concerning, that financial unpredictability on the field has been amazing to watch. When underdogs Aizwal FC and Minerva Punjab FC won in the last two seasons, the I-League put forward what was lacking in the ISL for a long time—excitement.
The thing is, you can’t sell clubs in an auction. The IPL way doesn’t work in football, and that’s what fans witnessed in a Kolkata derby match between Mohan Bagan and East Bengal when a 75-year-old East Bengal supporter lifted the excitement of East Bengal Ultras. Talking about the Ultras and derbies, Mohan Bagan and East Bengal have been fierce rivals for almost a century. On 24 November 2013, the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata—which is home to both Mohan Bagan and East Bengal—saw 80000 spectators witness the derby.
When does a league get boring? When they don’t introduce new clubs every season. The ISL has no relegation which means the only way new teams join is when those teams buy their way into the league like Bengaluru FC or Jamshedpur FC did. When a team buys their way into the league, they lack the story and heroics of being promoted and when there is no relegation the fear of not getting to play in the top tier in the next season is lost, and the league becomes boring.
By Pushkar Parmar
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