Churchill Brothers Sports Club are set to return to the I-League after being forced to leave the national tournament in 2014. Churchill Brothers were regarded as one of the most consistent teams in the Indian footballing scene, having won the I-League twice and Durand Cup thrice.
However, having failed to meet the AFC Club licensing criteria, the club missed the last two seasons of the I-League. The club was joined by United Sports Club, Mohammedan Sporting and Rangdajied United, as they were shamefully knocked out.
However, since then, the former champions have pleaded their case before FIFA and it now looks likely that the AIFF are willing to let them in. “Let’s wait and see what happens. We have always believed that our rightful place is to play in the I-League,” club owner Churchill Alemao told TOI on Friday.
During Gianni Infantino's recent visit to India, the Churchill officials got a chance to bring their issue up in front of the current FIFA president. “The Fifa president was very clear that legacy, passion and commercial viability are three things that you have to take into consideration before moving forward (with the new restructuring plan).
“The AIFF president himself (Praful Patel) introduced us as the only family-run club in India. Infantino was pleasantly surprised to hear that. Nobody needs to be reminded about the contribution to Indian football made by my father (Churchill Alemao),” said Churchill Brothers CEO Valanka Alemao.
The AIFF however, is understood to have softened their approach due to the fact that three top Goan clubs Salgaocar FC, Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo Sports Club have unanimously left the I-League in protest against the proposed restructuring of domestic football and introducing a three-tier football system from 2017-18.
The AIFF recently allowed relegated Aizawl FC to continue in the I-League, a decision that wasn't meant with too much agreement. “Churchill Brothers have filed a writ petition and it is expected to come up for hearing next week in Delhi. If the AIFF can retain Aizawl FC in the I-League, they might as well allow Churchill Brothers to play,” said a source familiar with the developments, told TOI.
The I-League is as of now left with just seven teams, as the plan will be to make the Indian Super League (ISL), India's top league from next season. I-League is expected to be the second-tier League with no promotion system in place. Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal FC are all expected to make the move into the ISL, while one of the teams from Kolkata is expected to align with the existing franchise.