Monday , November 28 2022

The Lucky 13: Stadiums that will host I-League this season!

After two seasons in Kolkata, the I-League returns to its traditional home-and-away format for the 2022-23 season. The 132 matches will be played in 10 cities across 13 different venues, four of which will host the league for the first time.

From Kashmir to Kerala and Mumbai to Manipur, here’s a list of all the battlegrounds where 12 clubs will fight it out for the I-League crown and a chance to play in next season’s Hero Indian Super League.

1. Payyanad Stadium, Manjeri (Gokulam Kerala FC)

The 30,000-capacity Payyanad Stadium will host the opening game of the new season with defending champions Gokulam Kerala FC taking on last season’s title-rivals Mohammedan Sporting Club on November 12.

Built in 2013 as part of the Malappuram District Sports Complex, the Payyanad Stadium hosted 12 matches in the 2013-14 Federation Cup, but it was earlier this year that it rose to prominence with the successful staging of the 2022 Santosh Trophy final round. Kerala beat West Bengal after a penalty shoot-out in the final to lift the trophy in front of a partisan crowd.

Gokulam Kerala, who will play their first six home matches in Manjeri, will be hoping to receive similar support as they begin their quest for an unprecedented third consecutive I-League title.

2. EMS Corporation Stadium, Kozhikode (Gokulam Kerala FC)

I-League action will return to the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode after almost three years with Gokulam Kerala playing their last five home games at the venue from January 15 onwards.

Located in the heart of Kozhikode, the stadium has played an important part in Kerala’s football history. Its first international tournament was the 1980 AFC Women’s Championship, where India finished runners-up. It drew extensive crowds during the 1987 Nehru Cup, which was won by the Soviet Union.

As far as club competitions are concerned, the EMS Stadium proudly hosted the Sait Nagjee Football Tournament from 1977 to 2016 and the Federation Cup in 1982 and 1993, won by Mohun Bagan on both occasions.

Kerala clubs like State Bank of Travancore (NFL) and Viva Kerala FC (I-League) have used the 50,000-capacity stadium as their home venue in the past. More recently, Gokulam Kerala have held their home games at the EMS Stadium since the club’s inaugural season in 2017-18.

3. Khuman Lampak Stadium, Imphal (NEROCA FC and TRAU FC)

The rise of Imphal clubs NEROCA FC and TRAU FC has made the Khuman Lampak Stadium one of the flagship venues of the I-League in recent years. Proud supporters of both clubs make their presence felt in every home game, even more so during the Imphal Derby, making it one of the loudest atmospheres in the Indian football calendar.

Built in 1999, the 35,000-capacity Khuman Lampak Stadium was the venue for the Santosh Trophy in 2002, with hosts Manipur clinching their first-ever title spurred on by their incredible fans.

In August this year, Imphal hosted the prestigious Durand Cup for the first time as NEROCA FC ran out 3-1 winners over derby rivals TRAU FC in front of a capacity crowd.

4. Ambedkar Stadium, New Delhi (Rajasthan United FC)

One of the most historic football stadiums in the country, the Ambedkar Stadium, formerly known as the Delhi Gate Stadium, will return to the limelight this season as the home venue of Rajasthan United FC.

Although widely known for organising iconic tournaments like the Durand Cup, DCM Trophy and Subroto Cup, Ambedkar Stadium is no stranger to I-League football, having hosted home games of JCT and ONGC in the past. It last hosted I-League matches for Indian Arrows during the 2017-18 season.

Ambedkar Stadium was a happy hunting ground in the 2000s for the Blue Tigers, who won the Nehru Cup (2007 and 2009) and the AFC Challenge Cup (2008) in front of a noisy Old Delhi crowd.

5. Chhatrasal Stadium, New Delhi (Sudeva Delhi FC)

Located in north Delhi, Chhatrasal Stadium is one of the stadiums that is set to host I-League football for the first time. November 14 will be a special day for Sudeva Delhi FC as they play their first-ever league match in Delhi against Kenkre FC.

Chhatrasal Stadium hosted football matches of the 1982 Asian Games and the 2002 NFL Qualifiers. It has primarily been used for wrestling for most of the 21st century, but this season will mark the return of national-level football at the stadium.

6. Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Panchkula (RoundGlass Punjab FC)

I-League action will return to the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula for the first time since 2018-19, when it was used as a home venue by Minerva Punjab FC. Built in 2007, it is a multi-sport stadium with a capacity of 7,000 fans and was recently renovated for the staging of the Khelo India Youth Games in June 2022.

7. Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl (Aizawl FC)

Aizawl FC became the first club from Mizoram to be promoted to the I-League in 2015-16 and have attracted a sizeable crowd during each of their five seasons at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium so far.

It was built in 2010 and has since been expanded into a two-tier stadium with a capacity of 20,000 fans. Aizawl FC supporters played a big role in the club’s fairy-tale I-League triumph in the 2016-17 season. The People’s Club endured two tough seasons behind closed doors during the pandemic and will be happy to witness the sea of red once again at the picturesque Rajiv Gandhi Stadium.

8. GMC Athletic Stadium, Bambolim (Churchill Brothers)

Churchill Brothers will play their home games at the 3,000-capacity GMC Athletic Stadium in Bambolim. It was last used as an I-League venue by Indian Arrows in the 2017-18 season. The stadium was renovated and used as one of three venues for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 Indian Super League held in Goa due to the pandemic.

Built in 2014 for the Lusofonia Games, the GMC Athletic Stadium also hosted the 2017 Santosh Trophy knockout stage, with West Bengal beating Goa in the final. Internationally, the stadium hosted the AFC U-16 Championship and the BRICS U-17 Football Cup in 2016.

9. Kishore Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata (Mohammedan Sporting Club)

Mohammedan Sporting Club will play their home games out of the 12,000-capacity Kishore Bharati Krirangan this season. The venue was renovated in 2021 and hosted several I-League matches during the season, including Gokulam Kerala’s 4-1 victory over TRAU on the last matchday which won them the title.

The Kishore Bharati Krirangan was also one of the hosts for the 2022 Durand Cup. Mohammedan played two of their group matches here, winning both while enjoying great support from the fans.

10. TRC Stadium, Srinagar (Real Kashmir FC)

Winter afternoon kick-offs became a regular fixture at the TRC Ground in Srinagar after Real Kashmir FC’s historic promotion to the I-League in 2018-19. The weather and passionate atmosphere created by the home fans make it one of the toughest away days in the league.

The difference made by Real Kashmir fans is evident by the club’s performances over the past two seasons held in Kolkata. The Snow Leopards finished 12th in 2021-22, narrowly avoiding relegation on the last matchday.

Fortunately, football is back in the valley, and the Snow Leopards are on the prowl once again. Real Kashmir will be expecting nothing less than a capacity crowd when they play their first home match against Rajasthan United on November 19.

11. Bakshi Stadium, Srinagar (Real Kashmir FC)

Real Kashmir FC will switch to the Bakshi Stadium for their last five home matches from February onwards. The 45,000-capacity stadium will host the I-League for the first time and is located just three kilometres from the TRC Stadium.

Santosh Trophy (1978 and 2008), Dr. BC Roy Trophy (1976) and Federation Cup (1986) have been held at the Bakshi Stadium in the past and the venue underwent renovations ahead of the 2022-23 I-League.

12. Cooperage Stadium, Mumbai (Kenkre FC)

The upcoming season marks the much-awaited return of I-League football at the Cooperage Stadium in Mumbai with Kenkre FC. One of the oldest football grounds in the country, it was the traditional home of the prestigious Rovers Cup, which began in the 19th century.

The Cooperage Stadium last held I-League matches in 2016-17 with Mumbai FC and is presently the headquarters of the Western India Football Association. It regularly hosts Mumbai Football League matches.

Former I-League/NFL teams Air India and Mahindra United also used the Cooperage Stadium as their home venue.

13. Deccan Arena, Hyderabad (Sreenidi Deccan FC)

Sreenidi Deccan FC’s newly-built Deccan Arena in Hyderabad is the latest stadium on the Indian Football map. It was inaugurated by AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey on October 22, 2022 and will witness its first match when Sreenidi Deccan host TRAU FC on November 24.

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