Calcutta Football League

The Calcutta Football League (CFL) is a ladder-based football competition in the Indian state of West Bengal, organised by Indian Football Association (WB) as part of the state leagues. It is the oldest football league in Asia.[2][3]

Calcutta Football League
Organising bodyIndian Football Association (West Bengal)
Founded1898; 125 years ago (1898)
Number of teams26 (Premier Division)
160 + (overall)
Level on pyramid5–10
Promotion toI-League 3 (from CFL Premier Division)
Relegation toVarious
Domestic cup(s)IFA Shield
League cup(s)Trades Cup
Current championsMohammedan (14th title)
Most championshipsEast Bengal (39 titles)[1]
TV partnersInSports TV
Current: 2023 Calcutta Premier Division

Indian Football Association (IFA) conducts the CFL with more than 160 mostly Kolkata based clubs and units. Started in 1898, this league is the oldest football league in Asia and regarded as one of the oldest football competitions in the world.[4][5] CFL currently consists of a seven-tier pyramid system[4] and there are more than 8,500 directly registered players of IFA participating in CFL every year, making it one of the biggest leagues in the country.

History edit

Early years (1890s–1910s) edit

In 1898, IFA introduced a two-tiered football league in Calcutta on the lines of English Football League in England and Wales.[6] Until 1937, CFL was a major tournament with participation open to every team across the nation but after the establishment of AIFF, CFL became a regional competition.

The British Indian Army garrison stationed at Fort William played an instrumental role in shaping the Calcutta Football League by putting forth numerous teams alongside other European settlers.[7] The Army teams won all but twelve of the titles until 1933. On eight of those twelve occasions the title was claimed by Calcutta and the rest by Dalhousie. Native teams were barred from participating for the first 15 seasons, and only clubs designated for civil servants, merchants, missionaries and other European nationalities made up the rest of the league, in a clearly designed exercise to exclude Indians of any religion.[8]

In 1914, IFA permitted only two native clubs- Mohun Bagan and Aryan, in the Second Division of CFL. Mohun Bagan had a successful campaign and earned promotion to the Premier Division in their debut season, whereas Aryan was promoted to the top division two years later. From 1917 to 1920, the Second Division was won by two other native clubs, namely Kumortuli Club (in 1917, 1918 and 1919) and Town Club (in 1920), but their promotions were denied due to the allowance of only two native clubs to play in each tier.[9][10]

Uprise of native dominance (1920s–1947) edit

1921 saw the rise of East Bengal who began their CFL journey in the Second Division in place of Tajhat Club who had withdrawn from the league. Three years later East Bengal finished the Second Division as the joint-winners with Cameroons B and since Cameroons A was in the Premier Division, East Bengal got the opportunity for promotion. As two native clubs were already playing in the Premier Division, East Bengal's promotion was to be rejected as well. At this, the club called for amendments and in the following General Meeting of IFA, the nine British teams conveyed their approval, while Mohun Bagan and Aryan opposed it. Eventually the rule regulating the promotion of native clubs was abolished on the consent of the majority.[10]

Mohammedan SC, the first native Indian team to win the league.[11]

Even though the native clubs got more opportunities yet the British dominance continued till 1933. In 1934, Mohammedan won the title in their debut season and became the first native club to win CFL.[12] The club went on to win the league six out of seven times from 1935 to 1941, with 1939 being the only exception when they didn't participate and Mohun Bagan went away with their first league title that year.[9][13]

Post-independence era (1947–1970s) edit

In the post-independence years, many other state leagues were introduced and various clubs from other states rose in glory, but CFL was still considered to be one of the top leagues in the nation and provided innumerable young talents. The league matches were mostly played in monsoon and matches involving the Big Three of Calcutta (Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan) regularly attracted more than 30,000 spectators.[9] From 1934 to 1981, Eastern Railway was the only club outside of the Big Three to win the title in 1958.[14]

The CFL had a long history of crowd trouble, and the burgeoning fanfare exacerbated it. The rapidly increasing off-the-field rivalry between the respective fans of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal saw one of the darkest days of Indian football when 16 fans lost their lives because of a stampede and rioting during a Kolkata Derby in CFL on 16 August 1980 in Eden Gardens. Since then the day is celebrated every year as the Football Lover's Day.[15][9]

Years of obscurity (1980s–2000s) edit

In the 80s and 90s, the league caught many eyes with the rivalry between the two of Indian football's finest tacticians— P.K. Banerjee and Amal Dutta, besides the decades old rivalry among the Big Three.[16][9]

Due to the rise in financial demands and steady modernisation of the sport, the league became dominated by the Big Three clubs as the smaller clubs struggled to keep up with their economy. The league saw the beginning of a major downfall with the introduction of NFL (now I-League). The importance of regional competitions decreased as all the top clubs in the state were racing for the national honours. From the later 20th century, Mohammedan eventually lost its stronghold and, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal became the only dominant teams in the league. In the new century, the IFA revamped the competition into a six-tier competition with the seventh tier, called the nursery league, reserved for sub-junior teams. The top tier, Premier Division, was also divided into two groups so as to include more teams.

Resurgence (2010s–present) edit

Starting in 2010, East Bengal won a record eight consecutive titles until their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan break the streak in 2018. In 2018 the league's popularity had a sudden upsurge and recorded more than 15,000 spectators even in matches involving small clubs. Most news reports in the local media reverberated the popular feeling— "The passion of the 70s is back." Small clubs like Peerless and George Telegraph introduced some of the foreign talents that later went on to become big names in the country.[9]

In 2019, Peerless clinched the honour and became the second team outside the Big Three after Eastern Railway to win the league since 1958.[17] Since the independence of India, the CFL was never cancelled until 2020 when after a lengthy delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was decided to cancel the then CFL season.[18]

Structure edit

With the season starting from 2023, the clubs/units were redistributed among the first six divisions and the last division was reserved only for youth teams.[4]

Calcutta Football League
Tier Division
(5 on Indian Football pyramid)
Premier Division

↑promote (I-League 3) ↓relegate 4

(6 on Indian Football pyramid)
First Division

↑promote 2 ↓relegate 2

(7 on Indian Football pyramid)
Second Division

↑promote 2 ↓relegate 2

(8 on Indian Football pyramid)
Third Division

↑promote 2 ↓relegate 2

(9 on Indian Football pyramid)
Fourth Division

↑promote 2 ↓relegate 2

(10 on Indian Football pyramid)
Fifth Division Group A

↑promote 2

(Age level league)
Fifth Division Group B

(Age group: 13 to 16)

Starting from 2023, 26 teams participate in the Premier Division, divided into two groups at the same pyramid level and compete in a single-leg round robin tournament.[19] The top three teams in each 13-team group will compete in a single-leg round robin tournament and the group leaders will be declared the champions. The top two teams, not already in the ISL or I-League are promoted to the I-League 3. The bottom three teams in each 13-team group also compete in a separate single-leg round robin tournament and the bottom four teams are relegated to the First Division.

Apart from the Premier Division A, most other divisions are competed by about 20 teams, and the format of the tournaments in the lower divisions isn't always the same. The top teams in respective divisions are promoted to the division higher to it and the bottom teams get relegated to the lower one.

The most successful clubs participating in the top-tier of the league includes East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan. However, since 1982, the league has been won by either East Bengal or Mohun Bagan until 2019 when Peerless made history by winning their maiden league title and becoming the first team outside the Kolkata's Big Three to win the league after a gap of 61 years since Eastern Railway had won.[20]

Sponsorship edit

Period Sponsor Tournament name
1898–2004 None Calcutta Football League
2005–2014 Sahara India Sahara Calcutta Premier League
2015–2020 Officer's Choice Blue Officer's Choice Blue Calcutta Premier League[21]
2021–2022 Sister Nivedita University SNU Calcutta Football League[22]

Media coverage edit

Period TV broadcaster
1898–2004 None
2005 Tara Newz
2006 Kolkata TV
2007 Zee 24 Ghanta
2008 ABP Ananda
2009–2011 News Time
2012 Zee 24 Ghanta
2013–2015 Jalsha Movies
2016 News18 Bangla
2017 Kolkata TV
2018–2021 Sadhna News
2022–present InSports TV[23]

Teams edit

CFL Premier Division 2023 season clubs edit

All CFL division clubs edit

Champions of the top-most division edit

By year edit

Pre-independence era (1898–1947) edit

Year Winner Note
1898   Gloucestershire Regiment
1899   Calcutta
1900   Royal Irish Rifles
1901   Royal Irish Rifles
1902   King's Own Scottish Borderers
1903   Sutherland Highlanders
1904   King's Own Regiment
1905   King's Own Regiment
1906   Highlander Light Infantry
1907   Calcutta
1908   Gordon Light Infantry
1909   Gordon Light Infantry
1910   Dalhousie
1911   70th Company Royal Garrison Artillery
1912   Black Watch
1913   Black Watch
1914   Argyllshire Highlanders
1915   10th Middlesex Regiment
1916   Calcutta
1917   Royal Lincolnshire Regiment
1918   Calcutta
1919   12th Special Service Battalion
1920   Calcutta
1921   Dalhousie
1922   Calcutta
1923   Calcutta
1924   Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
1925   Calcutta
1926   North Staffordshire Regiment
1927   North Staffordshire Regiment
1928   Dalhousie
1929   Dalhousie
1930 None Cancelled due to nationwide Satyagraha movement.[24]
1931   Durham Light Infantry
1932   Durham Light Infantry
1933   Durham Light Infantry
1934   Mohammedan First all-Indian club to win the league.[13]
1935   Mohammedan
1936   Mohammedan
1937   Mohammedan
1938   Mohammedan
1939   Mohun Bagan
1940   Mohammedan
1941   Mohammedan
1942   East Bengal
1943   Mohun Bagan
1944   Mohun Bagan
1945   East Bengal
1946   East Bengal
1947 None Cancelled due to Indian independence movement.
Source: IFA (WB)

Post-independence era (1947–present) edit

Year Winner Note
1948 Mohammedan
1949 East Bengal
1950 East Bengal
1951 Mohun Bagan
1952 East Bengal
1953 None Abandoned midway due to riots in Calcutta.[25]
1954 Mohun Bagan
1955 Mohun Bagan
1956 Mohun Bagan
1957 Mohammedan
1958 Eastern Railway [26]
1959 Mohun Bagan
1960 Mohun Bagan
1961 East Bengal
1962 Mohun Bagan
1963 Mohun Bagan
1964 Mohun Bagan
1965 Mohun Bagan
1966 East Bengal
1967 Mohammedan
1968 None Mohun Bagan had won the league but due to an injunction from the Calcutta High Court, the league was declared null and void.[27]
1969 Mohun Bagan
1970 East Bengal
1971 East Bengal
1972 East Bengal East Bengal didn't concede a goal in the tournament.[28]
1973 East Bengal
1974 East Bengal
1975 East Bengal
1976 Mohun Bagan
1977 East Bengal East Bengal had won every match in the tournament.[29]
1978 Mohun Bagan
1979 Mohun Bagan
1980 None Called off due to stampede and riot in Eden Gardens on August 16.[15]
1981 Mohammedan
1982 East Bengal
1983 Mohun Bagan
1984 Mohun Bagan [30]
1985 East Bengal [31]
1986 Mohun Bagan
1987 East Bengal
1988 East Bengal
1989 East Bengal
1990 Mohun Bagan
1991 East Bengal
1992 Mohun Bagan
1993 East Bengal
1994 Mohun Bagan
1995 East Bengal
1996 East Bengal
1997 Mohun Bagan
1998 East Bengal
1999 East Bengal
2000 East Bengal
2001 Mohun Bagan
2002 East Bengal
2003 East Bengal
2004 East Bengal
2005 Mohun Bagan
2006 East Bengal
2007 Mohun Bagan
2008 Mohun Bagan
2009 Mohun Bagan
2010 East Bengal
2011 East Bengal
2012 East Bengal
2013 East Bengal
2014 East Bengal
2015 East Bengal
2016 East Bengal East Bengal had won every match in the tournament.
2017 East Bengal
2018 Mohun Bagan
2019 Peerless
2020 None Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic in India.
2021 Mohammedan
2022 Mohammedan
2023 Mohammedan
Source: IFA (WB)

By team edit

The list only contains the names of the teams that have won the top-most division of the Calcutta Football League more than once.[12]

Club Titles Winning years
East Bengal 39 1942, 1945, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1961, 1966, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
Mohun Bagan 30 1939, 1943, 1944, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2018
Mohammedan 14 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1948, 1957, 1967, 1981, 2021, 2022, 2023
Calcutta FC 8 1899, 1907, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1922, 1923, 1925
Dalhousie 4 1910, 1921, 1928, 1929
  Durham Light Infantry 3 1931, 1932, 1933
  Black Watch 2 1912, 1913
  Gordon Light Infantry 1908, 1909
  King's Own Regiment 1904, 1905
  North Staffordshire Regiment 1926, 1927
  Royal Irish Rifles 1900, 1901

See also edit

References edit

Cited sources

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Further reading

External links edit