Indian football's most successful clubs

From Mohun Bagan to Mahindra United, we rank the most successful football clubs in India based on the honours accumulated over the years.

Mohun Bagan after winning its third NFL title in 2002 in Margao.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Football, like cricket, was introduced by the British in India. After being solely played by army teams initially, club football took shape in India through the formation of Calcutta FC in 1872.

With Calcutta being the capital of British India, other clubs slowly came to life in Bengal and several tournaments were started in the late nineteenth century, including the Durand Cup and the IFA Shield.

The Indian Football Association (1893) and the All India Football Association (1937) were formed, and the national team qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1950, played at the Olympics in 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960, and won gold at the Asian Games in 1951 and 1962.

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Like with any national team’s success, the clubs that supply the players play an important role. And India was not short of clubs that contributed to the country’s achievements on the global stage.

While there are multiple factors to take into consideration when deciding how ‘successful’ a club is, the oft-used criteria is the number of titles won – from league championships to cup competitions.

To pick the five best football clubs in Indian football history, we took into account the number of league titles (the National Football League, the I-League and the Indian Super League) and Durand Cup and Federation Cup victories.

Here’s Sportstar’s list of top five most successful clubs in India:

5) Churchill Brothers, Dempo SC and Mahindra United [6 trophies each]

Two of Goa’s biggest clubs – Churchill and Dempo – and the now-defunct Mahindra United are the fifth most successful clubs in India.

Churchill, established in 1988, won the I-League twice, the Federation Cup once and the Durand Cup thrice. The team currently plays in the I-League and was eighth in the table before the 2019-20 season was suspended.

Founded in 1968, Dempo used to play in the I-League until the 2015 season. It has won five national league championships ( three I-League and two NFL titles) along with a Federation Cup win in 2004.

Mahindra United came into existence six years before Dempo and was a popular club before it was disbanded in 2010. It won the NFL title once (2005-06), the Federation Cup twice (2003, 2005) and the Durand Cup thrice.

4) JCT FC [8 trophies]

Established in 1971 in Ludhiana in Punjab, Jagatjit Cotton and Textile FC has the distinction of winning the first league title in India football history – the 1996 National Football League. However, that was the only league title the club has won.

Apart from that, it won the Durand Cup five times and the Federation Cup twice (1995, 1996).

JCT won the inaugural NFL championship in 1997. Photo: The Hindu Archives

 

Like Mahindra United, JCT also wound up operations citing financial issues.

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3) Salgaocar SC [9 trophies]

Founded in 1956 to provide a platform for the state’s youngsters, it is the most successful Goan club at state and national levels.

Salgaocar celebrates winning the Federation Cup title in 2011 in Kolkata. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

 

It won the league title twice (1998–99, 2010–11), the Federation Cup four times (1988,1989,1997, 2011) and the Durand Cup thrice.

Citing a bias against I-League and its clubs, the club withdrew from the top-tier competition after the conclusion of the 2015-16 I-League season.

2) East Bengal [27 trophies]

The hundred-year-old Kolkata giant’s history is littered with titles, starting with a 7-a-side tournament win in the very month it was established. Within four years, the club gained promoted to the top division (IFA First Division) but had to wait till 1942 for its first title.

East Bengal players celebrate after its NFL title triumph in 2003. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

 

In the four decades that followed, the Red and Gold Brigade won the IFA Shield, the Rovers Cup, the Durand Cup and the Calcutta Football League more times than any other side to become the strongest team in the country.

In all, EB has won the NFL thrice (2000-01, 2002-03, 2003-04), the Durand Cup 16 times and the Federation Cup eight times.

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1) Mohun Bagan [34 trophies]

The current I-League champion is the most successful club in Indian football history. From being the first Indian side to win the IFA Shield (1911) to sealing the I-League this season with four games to spare, the 131-year old club’s success is intertwined with the country’s.

Mohun Bagan won the 2020 I-League title before its merger with ISL club ATK next season.

Mohun Bagan won the 2020 I-League title before its merger with ISL club ATK next season.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Of the 253 titles the Mariners have won till date, they have the joint-most (with Dempo) league titles (five), the most Federation Cup wins (14) and joint-most (with EB) Durand Cup wins (16).

Bagan’s merger with ATK, announced earlier this year, will see the teams play as one entity in the Indian Super League – the country’s de facto first division.

NOTE: While the IFA Shield, one of the oldest cup competitions in the world, continues to be organised and most teams in the country have competed for it over the years. However, it's rebranding as a U-19 competition is the reason why it has not been included in this discussion.

Here's the number of times the above-mentioned clubs have won the IFA Shield: Mohun Bagan - 19, East Bengal - 29, Churchill Brothers - 2 and JCT - 1.

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