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Fed Cup: The First Knockout Tournament of the Nation

The Federation Cup was the first official knockout club tournament in India. It started in 1977, since then this tournament has seen quite a few ups and downs. A look at its origin, experimentation, and complication faced by the tournament.

Last updated: 28.05.2019
The Federation Cup


The Federation Cup was the first official knockout club tournament in India. Started back in 1977, it was headed by the governing body of Indian football - AIFF. For the first time, the association ensured that the top teams from most of the states get to participate. This was something innovative in Indian football. During that time the traditional tournaments invited only the crowd pulling teams. Throughout the early twentieth century, sixty-seventy teams took part in the tournament - making it the largest number of participants in the history of Indian football. The Federation Cup was annually held at various state locations. The first competition was held in Ernakulam, Kerala.


Till 1987, the Federation Cup had double-legged Semi-Finals. This rule got changed in the next year to a single knockout match when Delhi first staged the tournament. For a long time, the tournament was a subject to experimentation. In 1990, when the tournament took place in Thrissur, the format was revamped. After another change, in 1995, the tournament was played on a league-cum-knockout basis like the IPL or the ISL format. After some time, the AIFF managed to rope in big sponsors. With the help of their marketing partners IMG, the winning prize was increased and the contest was structured similar to the FA Cup in England.  


During the initial years, the tournament was dominated by the Kolkata giants. Among the three renowned names, Mohun Bagan was the best in action. East Bengal and Mohammedan started winning the trophy at the later stage. The inaugural season was celebrated by a team from Bangalore, the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI). This was because of the absence of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan. During the 1977 and 1979 edition, they failed to take part due to the ongoing Assam agitation at that time. But the Kolkata clubs have reigned supremely in the Federation Cup henceforth. Out of the 37 editions of the tournament, they have a combined 24 titles to their name. Mohun Bagan being the most consistent bagged the trophy fourteen times, East Bengal eight times and Mohammedan Sporting twice. The two arch rivals from Maidan, Bagan and East Bengal met six times in the finals, the maximum ever. They also finished joint champions in 1978 and 1980. Mohun Bagan has won four of the fourteen Federation Cup finals in Kolkata.


Once the contract with the IMG was over, the glorious days had started to vanish. After  1999, the tournament was not held for the next two years. In 2001, the tournament was refurbished in Chennai. It was not held in the next year but from 2003, it took place regularly. After 2005, the formats were again changed. From 2003, each year Fed Cup had a new sponsor. Although 2008 was the only year when they failed to bag any sponsor. Since 2014, Hero Motocorp has become the main sponsor of this tournament. Recently with the inception of the Super Cup, there’s no calendar date for the Federation Cup to take place. The tournament was generally held during April or May. Since I-League started, the importance of Federation Cup reduced.

The future of the Federation Cup is clearly uncertain. If the federation decides to stop the traditional knockout tournament with the newly implemented Super Cup, then the winners of the first and the last Federation Cup will be from Bengaluru: ITI Bangalore (1977) and Bengaluru FC (2017). Also, on both occasions, the runners up were the National Club of India, Mohun Bagan!

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