The Birth of a Footballing Nation: Unforgettable Moments

Three years to this day, the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) was officially inaugurated and there has been no looking back since. With the dream of promoting ‘the beautiful game’ in a cricket-dominated country, the ISL became a reality in 2014 laying the building blocks for the future. Observers waxed lyrical from the get-go, with several pockets of the nation represented in the league. With the involvement of some of India’s most influential figures such as Nita Ambani, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, it was bound to generate excitement among Indian fans. The buzz had begun. Indian football was all set to take a turn for the better with the advent of the ISL.

The opening game set the tone for the rest of the campaign with ATK facing Mumbai City FC at the renowned Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. Captained by former Liverpool man and marquee player, Luis Garcia, ATK fielded a star-studded line-up. Mumbai was reliant on former Arsenal legend Fredrik Ljungberg to come up with the goods. However, the home side ran out as eventual winners with a comprehensive 3-0 victory. Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra Lemessa wrote his name into the history books after he opened the scoring for Kolkata, making him the first ever goal-scorer of the ISL. Borja Fernandez also got onto the scoresheet with a thumping long-range effort, before Arnal Llibert rounded things off in stoppage time to the delight of the Kolkata fans. Mumbai did manage to create a few chances but just could not find the back of the net. Under the stewardship of Antonio Habas, ATK was not going to come away from that game with anything but three points.

Cut to December later that year, and the ISL was heading to a thrilling finish between ATK and Kerala Blasters, two teams co-owned by cricket legends Ganguly and Tendulkar respectively. The rivalry was intense and the atmosphere in Mumbai electric. When Mohammed Rafique’s header made it past Kerala’s David James in the dying seconds of the final, it capped off a glorious inaugural season.

The dramatic finish and all the sparkling moments of that opening season ensured the ISL was here to stay. We take a walk down memory lane and relive some of those golden moments.


The Birth of a Footballing Nation: Unforgettable Moments

It was the big opening night at the famous Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, and Fikru etched his name in ISL history when he managed to chip the ball over goalkeeper Subrata Paul to open the scoring. Even though the goal was no easy skill, it was Fikru’s well executed backflip celebration that immediately endeared him to the ATK faithful. Very few moments come close to eclipsing this one in the history of the league.


The Birth of a Footballing Nation: Unforgettable Moments

Brazilian midfielder Moritz dazzled the home crowd to power Mumbai City FC to a stunning 5-0 win over FC Pune City in the ‘Maha’ derby. It was not just the scoreline, but the manner in which Mumbai and Moritz went about scoring their goals that left a mark on the league. The fans were thrilled to witness this talent, and left the stadium with memories to cherish for a lifetime.


The Birth of a Footballing Nation: Unforgettable Moments

The 100th goal of the tournament came in Match No. 46 when FC Goa’s Romeo Fernandes served up a cracker to etch his name in the history books. It was fitting for a rising Indian star to achieve the feat underlining the excitement surrounding the league. It sure made head coach Zico jump with joy and cemented Romeo’s status as one of the league’s wonder boys.


The Birth of a Footballing Nation: Unforgettable Moments

Easily the match of the tournament! Kerala Blasters were destined to make the final after a convincing 3-0 win in the first leg in Kochi, but Chennaiyin had other plans and were back on level terms in the regulation 90 minutes to take the match into extra time. Stephen Pearson scored a tie-clinching goal in the 117th minute to ward off a tremendous onslaught from Chennaiyin and win it 4-3 on aggregate for the Blasters.


The Birth of a Footballing Nation: Unforgettable Moments

ATK clinched the prestigious ISL trophy in dramatic fashion after Mohammed Rafique scored in the dying moments of the game to hand Kerala Blasters a 1-0 defeat at the Dr. DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. It was fitting for Kolkata – a city known as the Mecca of Indian football – to claim bragging rights as the ‘First Champions’ of a league which was supposed to put India on the game’s global stage. India, the sleeping giant of football, was also represented well by the passion and enthusiasm of fans across the country.

The opening season of the Hero ISL was a massive hit with stadium attendance averaging over 25,000 making it the fifth most watched football league in the world, surpassing the French and Italian leagues. Since that first match on an October Sunday, Indian football has grown in leaps and bounds. Thousands of fans have fallen in love with the game and have become ardent followers of their favourite teams. In a few weeks from now, the fourth season will be upon us and it promises to be as electrifying as the first. Are you ready?

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