The beautiful game has been marred with several controversies over the years across competitions.

The first knockout match of the 2022-23 ISL season hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. After conceding a late goal from a cheeky freekick from Sunil Chhetri, Kerala head coach Ivan Vukomanovic refused to play the remainder of the game. Consequently, it was declared Kerala forfeited the game and BFC qualified for the semifinal.

Vukomanovic’s decision to withdraw without trying for an equalizer gave rise to a lot of controversies, especially considering how passionate Kerala Blasters fans are for their team. Here, in this article, we will take a look at the top ten controversies surrounding Indian football.

10. Feud between Antonio Habas and Eelco Schattorie in an ISL fixture

The incident took place in an ISL fixture at the Salt Lake Stadium in a game between ATK and Kerala Blasters in 2020. Kerala Blasters frustrated ATK throughout the game and eventually scored a late goal to take the lead. A few controversial decisions went against the hosts. Pent-up frustration reached a tipping point when a goal from ATK was ruled out for offside. ATK head coach Antonio Habas and goalkeeping coach Angel Pindado had a confrontation with Eelco Schattorie and his assistant Ishfaq Ahmed. Both head coaches were handed a two-game suspension and ₹1 lac each. Pindado was handed a similar suspension but was fined ₹2 lacs for kicking Ahmed in an ill-tempered encounter.

9. Six players being sent off in a Quarterfinal game between FC Goa and Jamshedpur FC in the 2018 Super Cup

The quarter-final of the 2018 Hero Super Cup between FC Goa and Jamshedpur FC took a bizarre turn as despite beginning with 11 players in each team, the match ended with eight players in each. A total of six players, three from each side, were sent off at halftime for violent conduct. It all began when Brandon Fernandes scored just before the break to give the Gaurs a lead. However, on the advice of officials who had access to TV replays, the referee cancelled the goal as it had already gone out before the goal.

This decision outraged the FC Goa dugout. Players from both teams appeared to have a tussle in the tunnel. To keep the situation under control, the referee sent off six players including Brandon Fernandes, Sergio Juste, Bruno Pinheiro of Goa and Kervens Belfort, Subrata Paul and Anas Edathodika of Jamshedpur. Ultimately, FC Goa thrashed Jamshedpur 5-1 to reach the semifinals.

8. Kerala Blasters refusing to play alleging bad refereeing after Bengaluru scored from a cheeky freekick

The most recent of all controversies took place on the day of the first knockout of the 2022-23 season. Bengaluru FC hosted Kerala Blasters in Bengaluru. It was a fascinating game of football that went into extra time. Around the 97th minute, Sunil Chhetri scored the winner of the game from a cheeky freekick. This outraged the Kerala side as they thought Chhetri scored without the referee blowing his whistle. Moreover, they were clearly not ready and Chhetri took advantage of the situation to score.

In the aftermath, Kerala head coach Vukomanovic refused to play the game anymore. He withdrew his team and consequently, Kerala forfeited the game to hand Bengaluru a comfortable win.

7. Restlessness in the stands in a 2018 I-League game between Aizwal FC and Mohun Bagan

Playing at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl is a challenge in itself, especially in front of a packed stadium. It was a 2017-18 I-League fixture with Aizawl FC hosting Mohun Bagan. A number of controversial decisions from referee Senthil Nathan resulted in crowd agitation and violence. The referee denied the home team a penalty appeal and awarded the Mariners a spot-kick at the other end of the pitch. Things began to get heated due to these and when Aizawl fan-favourite Alfred Jaryan was sent off in the 89th minute, the situation erupted.

Agitated supporters in the stand began to throw bottles, chairs, and stones toward the referee. They also began to abuse them. Police had to come onto the pitch to start the process of gradually clearing the stands. It was a very ugly brawl.

6. Mohun Bagan official Tutu Bose’s sexist remark on winning the Calcutta Football Lague in 2018

In 2018, after a hiatus of nine years, Mohun Bagan won the Calcutta Football League, the top-tier football league in West Bengal. However, their league victory was soured by the sexist statements of one of their officials, Tutu Bose. On being asked to share his feeling on winning the league by a TV presenter of the channel on which the game was telecast, Tutu Bose said that it felt like a son is born in the family after eight daughters. His analogy was aimed at East Bengal’s record of winning the CFL for a consecutive eight times between 2010 and 2017.

The sexist remark attracted widespread criticism from multiple sources. Consequently, Bose had to make a public apology for his sexist remarks after a few days.

5. Elano Blumer’s arrest

One of the ugliest ISL finals was held in 2015 when FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC met at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa. It was a memorable outing for Chennaiyin FC as they earned a very good comeback win over FC Goa to lift the title. However, after the game, players and coaches of both sides got engaged in a brawl. So much so, FC Goa co-owner Dattaraj Salgaocar registered an FIR against Chennaiyin’s former Brazil national-side player Elano Blumer.

Elano Blumer was arrested immediately on charges of assault. He had to spend four hours at a police station before he could get bail. He left India right after the incident and parted ways with Chennaiyin.

From captaining his side to facing charges within hours (Credit: India Today)

4. Mohun Bagan withdrawing team from a derby game

What was supposed to be a mouth-watering encounter between two arch-rivals is remembered for all the wrong reasons. It was a Kolkata Derby in the I-League in 2012. On 9th December 2012, 85,000 spectators packed the stadium. Bagan went one goal down, scored by Harmanjot Khabra. At the brink of halftime, their talismanic striker, Odafa Okolie, was sent off. This triggered massive protests from the fans who began to throw missiles toward the pitch. Unfortunately, one such missile struck Mohun Bagan full back Rahim Nabi, who was soon rushed to the hospital.

The real controversy was yet to unfold despite such high tensions at the end of the first half. To everyone’s dismay, Mohun Bagan decided to not field their team in the second half citing players’ safety. As a consequence, Mohun Bagan was expelled from the I-League and had to begin from zero to avoid relegation, which they successfully did. It was the first time that a team had forfeited the Kolkata derby. Many supporters and former players were outraged at this decision and the club faced heavy criticism in the aftermath.

The Kolkata derby is never short of incident (Credit: NDTV Sport)

3. FIFA Suspension

The very recent suspension that FIFA imposed on India made Indian football the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons. The suspension was imposed for only 11 days, between August 15 and 26. Even though it did not cause much harm to any other plans, Gokulam Kerala FC Women lost a golden opportunity to participate in the AFC Women’s Club Championship as their game was scheduled within this period.

The suspension showed the level of malpractice that was prevalent at the top level of the football governing body. Now, with a new team under Mr Kalyan Chaubey, it is to be seen how AIFF performs in the upcoming years.

2. Termination of India U-17 Women’s Football Team Assistant Coach Alex Ambrose for sexual misconduct

July 2022 was a very bad month for Indian football as allegations of sexual misconduct came up against India U-17 Women’s Football Team Assistant Coach Alex Ambrose during the team’s Europe tour. Consequently, after the complaint was filed to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), he was sacked from his duties and brought back home immediately. The episode gave a wake-up call to the AIFF and threw light on the condition of female footballers in the country.

1. The merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan

The biggest controversy of modern Indian football erupted when Mohun Bagan officials announced that they have decided to merge their football division with ISL club ATK. It was a decision that had a huge impact as Mohun Bagan is one of the most supported clubs in India. The club is more than a hundred years old and has been associated with Indian football right from the beginning.

On the other hand, ATK was formed in 2014 with the onset of the ISL. Hence, the merger between the two clubs did not go down well with former footballers and most supporters. ‘Remove ATK’ and ‘Break the Merger’ have been trending hashtags on Twitter for quite some time in recent years. Yet, the two entities exist together now as ATK Mohun Bagan. Despite the relative acceptance of ATK Mohun Bagan among traditional Mohun Bagan supporters, this merger will go down as one of the most controversial decisions in the history of Indian football.

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