Shillong United, a team playing in the Shillong Premier League (SPL) pulled out of the local division, and shutting down the club.
The SPL club, which had climbed the divisions of the SPL, earning promotion to the top league, was owned by Dominic Suntga, who had transferred the majority of assets and operations of the former I-League club Royal Wahingdoh, when his 10-year lease of the community-owned club was over in 2017.
That effectively marked the end of the road for Wahingdoh as a national club, having played in the age group I-Leagues even after their pull-out from the senior league after just one season.
Suntga had hooked his team from the I-League after a 2014-’15 season when Jackichand Singh and Seityasen Singh had taken the team to the third spot. Three years after finishing national third, the club in a different avatar, disbanded.
In the last five years, the I-League has seen other clubs cease their first team operations or shut down completely.
After 10 years in the I-League, second and first division included, Mumbai FC was relegated after a dismal 2016-’17 season where they finished bottom with 13 points.
Yet when it all started back in 2007 with the signings of Abhishek Yadav, Khalid Jamil and Kalyan Choubey to supplement a number of young and upcoming players, Mumbai had looked to make a mark for themselves in the top division.
The appointment of Khalid Jamil as head coach is believed to be a large part of the reason that the club remained afloat with the title-winning coach managing the club on a meagre budget and staving off relegation.
Jamil’s eventual departure in 2016 coincided with Mumbai’s relegation as their former head coach led Aizawl to the title.
Originally founded as Shivajians Sporting club in Pune in 1987, the take-over by Shirish Kulkarni and the DSK group in 2010 changed the way the club functioned, with an aim to take it national.
Narrowly missing out on an I-League spot via automatic promotion from the second division in 2013, Shivajians gained entry to the I-League via a corporate spot in 2015 which meant that there were immune from relegation in their first season.
Their second season saw them finish seventh under Englishman Dave Rogers, but with the financial troubles of the DS Kulkarni group, the club pulled out of the next I-League season, and is now under investigation for failing to pay the salaries of their players in their last campaign.
Dempo, India’s most successful club in the league era with five titles to its name got relegated and won the I-League second division on their first try at promotion.
Instead the Golden Eagles, which reached the semi-finals of the AFC Cup in 2008 in its heyday, refused to accept the automatic promotion spot as second-place Minerva were offered corporate entry into the I-League.
Former Indian international Samir Naik is now in charge of the club, which participates in the Goa Professional League currently.
One of the country’s most successful clubs and the first Goan club to win the National Football League in 1999, Salgaocar finished seventh in the 2015-’16 season but pulled out of the I-League citing an All India Football Federation bias against the decade-old league.
Having won the I-League as recently as 2011, the Greens decided that a proposal by the AIFF to forcibly relegate all but three I-League clubs in a now-failed merger was a sign that the federation did nothing to protect the teams in their own competition.
A statement issued at the time of withdrawal read, “Remarkably, while demanding professionalism and fiscal responsibility from I-League clubs without itself reflecting the same, the AIFF has still not settled dues to I-League clubs dating as far back as 2008.”
Another Goan pull-out and this time it was the Flaming Oranje who did so. Founded as Cidade de Goa, their reasons for pulling out were the same as Salgaocar’s, both the clubs releasing a joint statement.
Now in the Goa Professional League, Sporting Goa spent a combined 10 seasons in the I-League, divisions two and one combined. Their pull-out represented the absence of Goan clubs from the top tier till Churchill Brothers were re-instated. The relegation of the Red Machines this season could lead to the 2018-’19 I-League being played without any Goan clubs.
Another Pune club to pull out, Bharat FC was launched among much fanfare as the Kalyani Group-owned side gained corporate entry into the I-League for the 2015 season.
Under Stuart Watkiss, a disappointing season saw them finish 11th as Bharat managed only 18 points from 20 games. With minimal activity ahead of their second season and several staff, including CEO Suvrat Thatte, resigning, the Pune-based club only played one season in the I-League.
Pune FC’s story is somewhat similar to Royal Wahingdoh in the fact that after finishing second in 2012-’13, the Ashok Piramal group-owned club shut shop only two years later.
The academy, known for many a youth product, was sold to Indian Super League side Pune City, as the senior team playing at the Balewadi complex pulled out. It is also interesting to note that neither of the two franchises which contested the ‘Maha derby’, Pune and Mumbai, are present in the I-League currently.
Another Shillong club to shut shop, the Mawphlang-based club formerly known as AR Hima played one season in the I-League before they were booted out due to non-fulfillment of the licensing criteria.
With close ties to India midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh, the club finished 11th in 2013-’14 but chose not to try and fulfill the licensing criteria later, restricting itself to age group I-Leagues and the local SPL.
Same as Rangdajied, a failure to fulfill licensing criteria saw the Kalyani-based United Sporting Club getting evicted from the I-League top division.
The club, almost nine decades old, changed hands during it’s stay in the I-League and went from old sponsors Chirag to being renamed Prayag United. Once home to Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, United finished fifth in the second division the following season, their last season in the I-League structure.