As Indian football spreads its wings into a new era regional competitions are also gaining a higher profile.
Indian football is definitely on the rise with the development of grassroots level programmes and the success of hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The sport’s popularity is increasing in different parts of the country as we saw Minerva Punjab lift the I-league this season and in the previous season, Aizawl FC wrote the unimaginable fairy-tale in Indian football.
With the development of football all over the country, the young talents get an enormous platform to showcase their skills from an early age. Apart from the I-league and the Indian Super Leagues, we have a number of state-level tournaments in India. Here are our picks of the top five to follow.
Calcutta Football League
Calcutta Football League is considered a prestigious tournament in Kolkata
Although the Calcutta Football League is a city based league, but it is the most prestigious and biggest regional league in West Bengal.
The City of Joy hosts one of the biggest footballing leagues in the country with 157 clubs and units mainly based in Kolkata. The Indian Football Association acts as the governing body which conducts the 7-tier pyramid system of the CFL. It was started in 1898, is the oldest league in Asia and it is even considered as one of the oldest football competitions in the world.
The league consists of several divisions starting from the Premier Division to the 5th Division. The youngsters from West Bengal and even from other parts of India ply their trade in these as each division is divided into two halves. Usually, the leagues have 10 teams each and in the first half of the season they play against each other. While in the second half, the top five are divided from the bottom five, as the top five teams battle for the trophy and the bottom five fight to avoid relegation.
The most successful CFL team is East Bengal, as the Red and Gold have won the title a whopping 39 times, followed by fierce rivals Mohun Bagan who have been crowned champions 29 times.
Mizoram Premier League
Mizoram Premier League have produced many modern day players
The new hotbed of Indian football is definitely the Northeast and Mizoram is a powerhouse. The Mizoram Premier League allows the youngsters of the state to prove their mettle at a higher level. The league is conducted by the Mizoram Football Association, incepted back in 2012 with eight teams. The top four teams go into a semifinal playoff, while the team at the bottom gets relegated to the First Division, with the team just above them settting their date for a relegation playoff.
Chhinga Veng FC were the champions of MPL this season, as the surprise winners came up with an upset in the final against former I-league champs Aizawl. The league has shown great promise from underdog teams and is a hot destination for scouts to hunt for future stars.
Goa Professional League
Goa Professional League games attract huge crowd on a regular basis
Goa and football in this country have been closely knit, especially due to its strong Portuguese background. The smallest state in India has gifted Indian football some of its golden days. One can never think about Indian football without mentioning the football-crazy state of Goa. The Goa Professional League is the state level football tournament in Goa, conducted by State’s FA. The Goa Pro League started back in 1998, but its history dates back to 1951, as it was named as the Goa first Division back then. The league was renamed in 1977 as the Goa Super Division.
The Goa Pro League consists of 12 teams with Salgaocar being the record champions. The league constitutes of some of the great Indian clubs like Dempo SC, Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers and Sporting Club de Goa. These clubs once ruled the erstwhile National Football Championship and have a strong history behind them. Salgaocar are the current champions of the GPL.
Kerala Premier League
Kerala Premier League is a popular league in the southern state of India
Along with West Bengal and Goa, Kerala is yet another state which has a football-rich background. God’s Own Country has a state level league known as the Kerala Premier League conducted by the Kerala Football Association. The league was founded in 2013 and the 10 teams are divided into two groups with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the final round. Their Women’s League also started in 2014/15 with eight teams.
Kerala State Electricity Board are the current champions of the Kerala Premier League as they defeated FC Thrissur in the final of the league. Gokulam Kerala who played their inaugural season in the I-League were defeated in the semi-finals by FC Thrissur. The state-level league allows the talented youngsters to develop themselves for the bigger stage.
Shillong Premier League
The Shillong Premier League has provided limelight to several starlets
The Scotland of the East has its own state-level league, conducted by the state’s official football association. The league was founded in 2010 with Royal Wahingdoh winning the first three editions. Both Wahingdoh and Shillong Lajong are the record winners of the league as both the clubs have won the title three times each.
Langsning FC are the reigning champions of the SPL and this was their maiden success. Langsning lost to Rangdajied United in the Frst Qualifier and had to play Shillong Lajong in the Second Qualifier to reach the final. But, Lajong forfeited their SPL match because of the clash with their I-league engagement. So, Langsning went through automatically and later defeated Rangdajied 1-0 to clinch their maiden SPL title.
Like CFL, the Shillong Premier League is also a city based football league. However, it is the most popular league in the region.