The I-League is set to return to Kerala after a gap of six seasons, as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has granted direct entry to Gokulam FC for the 2017-18 edition of the league. The last team to have represented Kerala in the I-League were Chirag Kerala (formerly Viva Kerala) who were relegated following a 12th-place finish in the 2011-12 season.
I-League CEO Sunando Dhar confirmed to ESPN that Gokulam will be playing their home matches in Calicut, meaning there will be two venues in Kerala that will see domestic football this coming season; Indian Super League (ISL) side Kerala Blasters play their home matches in Kochi.
Kerala as a football venue has always attracted massive crowds, but their experience in the I-League, and the National Football League (NFL) as it was called before, has not been too memorable. Gokulam will become only the third team after FC Kochi and Viva Kerala/Chirag Kerala to have played in the top division of Indian football, not counting Kerala Blasters' role in the ISL which has been a non-recognised league thus far.
Also see: Welcome to football-crazy Kerala
Other teams like Malabar United, Golden Eagles, Josco FC and Golden Threads have in the past come into the spotlight as potential national league teams, but none of the clubs have been able to sustain themselves financially. Kerala Police, the institutional team which holds the record for most Federation Cup wins by a Kerala-based team, and has given Indian football names like IM Vijayan, VP Sathyan, KT Chacko and Jo Paul Ancheri, has never been a part of the NFL or the I-League.
Gokulam FC, who have never played in an AIFF competition in the past, participated in the Kerala Premier League earlier this year, where they finished in the semi-finals. They were based in Malappuram during most of the league and were coached by Bino George.
Gokulam FC are owned by the Gokulam group of companies, who are into real estate, infrastructure and film production.