All about I-League

I-League Logo

I-League is India's one of the two top football championships, the other being the Indian Super League. Born in 2007, the I-League features 11 football clubs, such as Dempo and Mohun Bagan.

The I-Leage is a second tier football tournament, and works on a system of promotion and relegation based on the results of I-League Qualifiers. At the time of writing this article, Dempo had won the maximum titles in I-League's history. The I-League is one of the most popular football leagues for betting on football. Please continue reading this article on I-League and its milestones.

Birth of I-League

The ancestor of I-League was the National Football League or NFL. The latter was founded in 1996 with the vision of making Indian football more professional.

In 2007, sport administrators realized that Indian football needed a new league. This new league i.e., I-League replaced the NFL which could not professionalize the sport and create new infrastructure.

I-League's first season (2007-08) comprised eight teams from the previous NFL campaigns, and two teams from the Second Division League. Thus, there were ten teams in all in the I-league. The original ten clubs were Dempo, Air India, Churchill Brothers, East Bengal, JCT, Mahindra United, Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar, Sporting Goa, and Viva Kerala.

Expansion of I-League

The AIFF expanded the I-Legue from 10 to 12 teams in the 2008-09 season. Chirag United, Mohammedan, Vasco and Mumbai were promoted from I-League 2nd Division to expand the league. This move led to several commentators wondering about the nature of the I-League.

There was a fresh expansion from 12 to 14 teams before the start of the 2009-10 season. This time, Salgaocar, Viva Kerala, Shillong Lajang and Pune went up from the 2nd Division to the I-League.

There were 11 clubs in the 2021 I-League. These are: Gokulum Kerala, Rajasthan, Punjab, Sudeva Delhi, Mohammdedan, TRAU, Churchill Brothers, Chennai City, India Arrows, NEROCA and Real Kashmir.

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Format of I-League

Due to the pandemic, the format of the 2021 season was changed significantly. All eleven teams played against each other in the league stage. In the championship stage, the top seven teams were clubbed together on the basis of the points table. These teams then played against each other. The team having the highest points won the League.

The remaining six teams then competed against each other, and the team with the least points (in all the 17 matches) played the State Leagues to reach the Qualifiers.

Since 2007, when I-League was formed, its rules have changed regularly. Earlier, each team played two matches against every other team- once at home, and the other away. The club that received the most points won the League. A win meant two points for the winner, while in a tie, both teams got one point each. If there was a tie in the finals, then a head-to-head record would be considered. The other criteria would be the goal difference between the two finalists.

The first I-League season

The first ever I-League match took place on 24 November between Dempo and Salgaocar. Played in Fatorda, this match saw Dempo beating Salgaocar 3-0. Dempo was the League winner as well, by beating Churchill Brothers in the finals. JCT stood third in the 2007-08 season.

I-League milestones

Dempo has won the League championships thrice, once in the 2007-08 season, and then again in the 2009-10, and 2011-12 seasons. In the finals, this team bet Churchill Brothers and East Bengal, respectively. At the time of writing this article, Dempo has never become the runners-up. However, it stood at the third spot in the 2010-11 season. 

Churchill Brothers and Mohun Bagan have won two titles each since the inception of the tournament. The former has won the League title in 2008-09, and 2012-13, respectively. Mohun Bagan won the title for the first time in 2014-15, and again in 2019-20. Churchill were the runners-up in 2009-10, and 2020-21. Mohun Bagan has taken the second place in 2008-09, 2015-16, and 2016-17. It stood at the third place in 2017-18. 

The other title winners are:

  • Salgaocar (2010-11)
  • Bengaluru (2013-14), (2015-16)
  • Aizawl (20116-17)
  • Punjab (2017-18)
  • Chennai City (2018-19)
  • Gokulam Kerala (2021-21)

Other vital stats

So far, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have played all I-League seasons since its launch in 2007. These two clubs have played 276 matches each, out of which they have won 126 and lost 65 and 75 matches, respectively.


I-League hasn't attracted as much attention as its peer, the Indian Super League. As a result, some football clubs have shut down operations because of financial instability. Since India is a warm country, there is poor attendance in the matches during the afternoons. That said, the AIFF is bullish about I-League, and hopes its fortunes will improve soon.

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Gian Chacko

Sports enthusiast with love for cricket, football and sports in general. Holds 10+ years of following and writing about sports and lately also betting.