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Why Indian football needs Durand Cup every season?

Why Indian football needs Durand Cup every season?

Abhranil Roy

Published: 9 Aug 2019 7:26 AM GMT
Indian football may not be at the world’s centre stage right now, but it was once at the heart of the game. To this day, the stories of Sailen Manna, Goshto Pal, Peter Thangaraj and the likes are narrated to children to capture their thought towards the beautiful game. These legends and their exploits are often inextricably linked to the Durand Cup. The oldest football competition in Asia and the third oldest in the world, Durand Cup, which was first held in 1888, has been the breeding ground of some of the most famous stories in Indian football. Sir Mortimer Durand, the then Foreign Secretary in charge of India, constituted the tournament in Shimla mainly as a way to preserve the health and the morale of the British troops stationed across the country. Sir Mortimer Durand, the man who made Durand Cup a reality
Sir Mortimer Durand, the man who made Durand Cup a reality However, over the years, it opened its doors to civilian teams and over the years, it has seen many an era-defining team play some spectacular matches that still remain fresh in the memories of those who had watched them. After a three-year hiatus, the Durand Cup has finally returned this year to officially kick-off the Indian football campaign. The 129th edition of the competition has seen 16 teams participate, six from the Indian Super League (ISL), six from the I-League and four from the Indian Army. It is currently in full swing in the hallowed grounds of Kolkata, which is also often identified as the Mecca of Indian football.

The legacy of the Durand Cup…

Having won the IFA Shield in 1911, Mohun Bagan were the first civilian team to be invited to the Durand Cup in 1925. Their inspirational debut campaign saw them fall at the penultimate hurdle i.e. in the semi-final to Sherwood Forrest but like their Shield win, it served as a huge boost to the fighting spirit of the Indians who were still under British rule. Following the example set by Mohun Bagan, Kolkata powerhouses East Bengal and Mohammedan SC also joined the Durand Cup fray soon and eventually, it was the Black Panthers who became the first Indian side to lift the coveted trophy in 1940. Faced with the colossal challenge of defeating the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Panthers came to the game all fired up from the fact that two British officers had refused to act as linesmen under an Indian referee. They ensured that such humiliation would be duly repaid, as goals from Hafiz and Sabboo sealed their victory. Mohammedan SC were the first Indian side to lift Durand Cup in 1940
Mohammedan SC were the first Indian side to lift Durand Cup in 1940 Post-independence, the Durand Cup was resumed in 1950 and Hyderabad City Police, under the tutelage of the iconic Syed Abdul Rahim became the team to beat that decade. East Bengal lifted the cup in 1951 and has since done, so 15 more times making them the most successful side in the competition, alongside Mohun Bagan. The Durand Cup has thrown up spectacles as well, be it JCT winning it in 1983 or the Tata Football Academy making it to the finals in 1995. The triumph of the Army Green over Neroca FC in 2016 was no less of a surprise either.

How invaluable can the Durand Cup prove to be now?

Rebranded and revitalized, the Durand Cup has been packaged in an extremely supporter-friendly manner this season. The presence of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and ATK has spiced up the football rivalries in Kolkata, while surprise wins like that of Real Kashmir over I-League champions Chennai City continue to serve as reminders why nothing should be taken for granted in the sport. New teams are coming up in the Durand Cup Real Kashmir vs Chennai CIty FC In the current Indian football climate, the Durand Cup serves as a fresh reminder of why the sport should continue to spread wings and try to reach each and every part of the country. It is feasible, and indeed workable to include all ISL and I-League teams in a year-long league with promotion and relegation.

What would the schedule look like for an all-inclusive league system?

The Durand Cup could serve as the season-opening tournament in the calendar, with the league scheduled to kick off in September. This year, the Calcutta Football League has been running parallel to the Durand Cup, which has offered excellent opportunities for the Mariners and the Red and Gold brigade to test the full strength of their squad and figure out their best elevens before the league season kicks off. With the Rovers Cup reportedly set to be bought back as well, the time is ripe for clubs and franchises to make the most of their squads. The ISL teams have however chosen to send their reserve sides which mean they would rather do their pre-season outside the country with their first teams, as has been the norm over the past few years. However, the Kolkata giants, who usually suffer from a lack of rigid and planned pre-season have seized the opportunity to field full-strength teams. They have also taken full advantage of the 3-foreigner rule that is in place at the Durand Cup, testing the best ways to develop the team around their overseas players. A glimpse from the ATK vs Navy match in Durand Cup this year
A glimpse from the ATK vs Navy match in Durand Cup this year All in all, Sunil Chhetri’s wish of Indian footballers getting the opportunity to play more than 50 games a season could very well be realized by the regular inclusion of the Durand Cup, an all-inclusive open league that runs parallel to a Federation Cup or a Super Cup. In my previous pieces, I had explained in detail as to how the continuous clash between the I-League and ISL is hurting the performance of those donning the national team’s shirt and how a resolution must be found and executed sooner rather than later. The only question is whether the All India Football Federation is wise enough to seize this opportunity and try to make this vision viable for all clubs and franchisees, alike.
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