The year that the first National Football League was held, with 12 teams divided into two groups of six teams each. The top eight teams then competed in the championship stage in 1997, with JCT emerging champions. Interestingly, Mohun Bagan failed to qualify for the championship stage but won the NFL the following year, when it was played as a regular ten-team league.
The last time there were ten or more teams in the I-League was when the 2014-15 season kicked off in January 2015. There were meant to be 14 teams, but three clubs -- United Sports Club (Kolkata), Churchill Brothers (Goa) and Rangdajied United (Shillong) -- were denied a license.
The total number of goals scored in 1288 I-League matches till date. This doesn't take into account forfeited/abandoned games. The goals-per-game average of 2.67 is better than the ISL (2.51) and the National Football League (2.33), as the I-League used to be called between 1996 and 2007.
Nigerian Ranti Martins is the only player to have breached the 200-goals mark in NFL/I-League history. The majority of his goals came while playing for Dempo, while he also scored wearing the colours of United Sports Club, Rangdajied United and East Bengal. The second and third places in the all-time list go to Odafa Okolie (179) and Yusif Yakubu (146). While Ranti won the Golden Boot a record six times, Odafa and Yakubu were the season's top scorers on four and two occasions, respectively.
Sunil Chhetri is currently the second-highest Indian goal scorer of all time in NFL/I-League. He trails Bhaichung Bhutia by seven goals. Chhetri's goals have come for Mohun Bagan, JCT, East Bengal, Dempo, United Sports Club, Churchill Brothers and his current club, Bengaluru FC.
A total of three Indians have emerged as top scorers for the season in NFL/I-League history. Bhaichung Bhutia won the championship and the Golden Boot with his 14 goals for JCT in 1996-97, while FC Kochi's Raman Vijayan (10 goals) was the top scorer the following year. Sunil Chhetri was joint-highest scorer for Bengaluru FC in 2013-14, sharing the Golden Boot with Darryl Duffy of Salgaocar and Cornell Glen of Shillong Lajong, all of whom scored 14 goals each.
The biggest margin of victory in NFL/I-League took place on May 30, 2011, with Dempo handing out a 14-0 beating to Air India. Ranti Martins scored seven of the goals, which is also the record for most goals scored in a match.
The number of wins in NFL/I-League history recorded by East Bengal, the most for one team. They have also scored 625 goals, the most by any team in the history of the league.
The number of teams to have competed in NFL/I-League will swell up to this number after the opening weekend's clash between debutants Chennai City FC and Minerva Punjab FC. They will not be the first teams from their regions to have featured, though, with Indian Bank having represented Chennai in the NFL till as recently as 2003-04, and Minerva Punjab FC becoming the fourth club after JCT, Border Security Force and Punjab Police to represent their state in the league.
Ranti Martins' tally of goals for Dempo in the 2011-12 I-League remains a record for the most goals scored in one season by a single player. Dempo would score 59 goals on their way to the title that season, but they had scored 63 (also the record for most goals by a team in a season) the previous year, when they finished third behind champions Salgaocar and East Bengal.
In all, eight teams have been NFL/I-League champions, with Dempo leading the championship tally with five titles. Mohun Bagan have won four times, while East Bengal have been three-time winners. Salgaocar, Bengaluru FC and Churchill Brothers have picked up two titles each, while JCT and Mahindra United have won one NFL each. Of these eight teams, Dempo, Salgaocar and Mohun Bagan are the only ones to have won at least one title each when the league was called the NFL and the I-League.
Churchill Brothers are the lone representative from Goa in the I-League this season. This has never happened in the 20-year history of the NFL/I-League, with anywhere between two to six teams from the state featuring in the league every year since its inception in 1996. The last time that six teams featured in the NFL was in 2004-05, when Dempo, Sporting Clube de Goa, Salgaocar, Fransa-Pax, Churchill Brothers and Vasco were part of the 12-team league, with Dempo winning the first of their five league titles.
With statistical inputs by Gautam Roy, football historian and media manager of East Bengal football club.