5 best moments of clubs who have exited the I-League

Salgaocar won the I-League in 2010/11

The Hero I-League was hit with an exodus just a week ago when Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa announced they were withdrawing from the national first division league system.

According to the management of the two Goan sides, the proposal to revamp the league by merging it with the Indian Super League and doing away with promotion and relegation, for the time being, is their main reason for backing out and they aren’t the only ones. If reports are to be believed, Dempo FC has been equally disappointed with the new proposed structure and could be announcing their departure soon.

Also read: 5 reasons why Goa clubs made the right choice in pulling out of the I-League

However, this isn’t the first time clubs have backed out from the league. Mahindra United, JCT FC, Pune FC, Royal Wahingdoh and Bharat FC have all dropped out of the I-League in recent times. With just seven teams left in the league as of now, here’s a look back at the best moments of the clubs who have exited the I-League.

#1 Salgaocar FC

It’s a downright shame that league-winning clubs such as Salgaocar are abandoning the I-League but such is life in Indian football. After a shaky first half during the 2009-10 season, the appointment of new manager Karim Bencherifa changed the club’s fortunes in the near future. Bencherifa turned the club’s form around and made sure they finished at least in the top half of the table but the real cherry on the cake came the next year.

With not a single national player in the team, they seemed destined to finish as a mid-table side but Salgoacar had ideas of their own. Bencherifa made it clear they were aiming for a top three finish but then they went ahead and did one better.

Towards the end of the season, they just had to get past their immediate competition, East Bengal and Dempo and the Goans sure did it in style. They beat JCT 2-0 during their final game of the season and won the I-League with a five-point lead.


JCT FC were inaugural champions of the National Football League

The owners of JCT FC decided there wasn’t enough interest surrounding Indian football and decided to disband the club following the 2010-11 season after they were relegated but retained their academy programme for young players.

It was a sad day when the club from Punjab which has been around since 1971 exited the I-League but they will always be remembered for being the inaugural champions of the National Football League in 1996-97 (back when the I-League was known as NFL).

They were the first-ever national champions and their star player Baichung Bhutia was the highest scorer with 14 goals that season. The Punjab club sealed their title victory after they beat Dempo SC 4-1 and topped the league by one point above second-placed Churchill Brothers.

#3 Mahindra United

Mahindra United reached the quarter-final stage of the AFC Cup in 2007

Mahindra United announced that they were withdrawing their participation from competitive football at the end of 2009-10 season to focus solely on a school-level initiative to promote the sport. The 15-time Mumbai League champions may have ended their involvement with competitive sports but they will remain as stalwarts of the game long after the face of league football has been transformed thanks to IMG Reliance.

The Mumbai-based club won the NFL in 2006 and entered the AFC Cup in 2007. Considering the side had never gotten past the group stages in 2004 and 2006, there wasn’t much pressure on the Jeepmen.

However, they took everyone by surprise when they qualified as runners-up in the group at the expense of Mohun Bagan and made it to the quarter-final stage where they lost out to Al Nejmeh 5-4 on aggregate.

#4 Pune FC

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Pune FC’s best performance was a second-placed finish in the league

Pune FC, not to be confused with ISL’s FC Pune City, was formed in 2007 and after just two years in the I-League Second Division was promoted to the first for the 2009-10 season. Before the club decided to withdraw from the national league in 2015, the Maharashtrian club enjoyed a decent spell in the top tier.

After coming third in their first year, they achieved their all-time best performance in the league when they finished second. The following year, the Indian Federation Cup final was after the deadline for submissions for the AFC Cup, so in 2014 Pune was allowed to represent India as runners-up for the I-League. They played in the group stages that year where they lost two, drew three and won one match.

#5 Royal Wahingdoh

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Wahingdoh won the Shillong Premier League three times in a row

Wahingdoh Sports Club reinvented themselves as Royal Wahingdoh when they merged with Royal Football Club in 2008 and went professional. in 2014, the club from Shillong won the second division league and was promoted to the I-League. The following season, they achieved their best national performance as they finished third in the table with 30 points.

However, their crowning moment was winning the Shillong Premier League thrice in a row, more than any other club in the league. They also won the title in their debut season in 2010. They subsequently went on to lift it in 2011 and 2012 as well.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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