The 130th edition of the tournament is set to begin on September 5, 2021.

The 130th edition of the Durand Cup is poised to kickoff on September 5th, with teams from all over India participating. Indeed, competitors from the Indian Super League (ISL), I-League, and the Second Division League are all involved.

Moreover, special teams of the Indian Armed Forces will also take part in this tournament as a tradition. The Durand Cup is the oldest existing football tournament in Asia. It’s also the third-oldest existing competition in the world. So, what is so special about the competition? Let’s take a look.

Inception and early years

The Durand Cup was named after British Anglo-Indian diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand in 1888. Initially, it was largely a competition that involved teams of the British Indian Army. In the initial years, the competition was largely played in Dagshai – which is a short distance away from Shimla.

In 1940, the Durand Cup was moved to Delhi so that more civil teams could take part in it. Mohammedan Sporting became the first civilian Indian team to lift the title in that same year. However, things started to change towards the end of the British empire. The Durand Cup was suspended during World War II and partition, before being restarted after Indian independence in 1947.

Post-Independence Years

After the Indian independence, the Durand Cup was hosted by the Indian Armed Forces and headed by the three service chiefs. Since then, Indians teams have predominantly featured in the tournament – while the Army sides themselves have also had decent success on occasions.

Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan remain the most dominant teams in Durand Cup history. Both have won the tournament on 16 different occasions and maintained impressive consistency in the mid to late 1900s.

Of course, they faced tough competition from time-to-time. The Hyderabad City Police enjoyed some success in the 1950s, while the Gorkha Brigade and Border Security Force (BSF) also won a few editions in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Red & Gold Brigade had 61.54% wins in finals, while the Mariners managed an impressive 55.17% win rate. However, once the National Football League (later known as the I-League) popped up alongside the Federation Cup, some of India’s biggest sides started giving less importance to the Durand Cup.

Decline in 21st Century

As Indian football began to see changes in the 21st century, the Durand started facing difficulties. From the 2000s, the changes in the Indian football calendar meant that teams started giving lesser importance to the tournament.

The likes of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal started to play weaker teams in the competition. This resulted in them only winning a combined twp Durand Cup editions since 2000. Teams like Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar, who gave it more importance, started to dominate along with the other Goan sides.

Short layoff and restart

After the start of the ISL, the interest in competitions like the Durand Cup started to dwindle. Because of the packed Indian football schedule many big clubs stopped participating in the competition altogether. That’s why after the 2016 edition, won by Army Green, the Durand Cup was halted for a while.

The organizers then brought it back in 2019 after a short exile. However, unlike before when it traditionally took place in Delhi, the Durand Cup was staged in Kolkata. The organizers, obviously, hoped that the football-crazed city would give it a better reception than Delhi – where the sport is struggling to get back to its feet.

The Durand Cup’s restart in 2019 actually proved to be successful as the edition found some good support. I-League side Gokulam Kerala won the competition in front of a packed Salt Lake Stadium, defeating Mohun Bagan in the final.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the competition to be cancelled in 2020. The tournament is set to return in 2021 and will once again take place in Kolkata, which looks to be its home for the foreseeable future.

What’s in store for Durand Cup in future?

Since its restart in 2019, the Durand Cup has basically become a pre-season tournament in Indian football. While it will gain popularity because of the participation of ISL sides and other big guns, the reality is that teams will play their reserves in the tournament.

However, as it’s gained a television broadcaster and sponsors, the Durand Cup should keep going as the years pass. It is, after all, the oldest tournament in the country and shouldn’t be discarded just like that.

The prestige of winning the competition has, of course, dwindled over the years because of the decreased interest levels. But, as long as the army continues its tradition of hosting it, the Durand should – at least for the traditional football lovers in India – continue to be a tournament to keep a watch on every year.

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