CHENNAI: It’s official! After a month of suspense, Churchill Brothers have been reinstated into the I-League despite finishing in the relegation places last year.
Sources close to the All India Football Federation confirmed that a letter notifying the Goan club of their reinstatement was sent to them on Wednesday. The club’s CEO Valanka Alemao ( in pic) confirmed the same.
“We have just received a letter from the officials telling us that we are back in the I-League,” she told Express.
“We are extremely happy that this has happened. A lot of hard work has gone into this. We are the only club from Goa, so our reinstatement means that young players from the region will get a chance to showcase their talent.”
Churchill are one of the most successful teams in the I-League, having won the tournament twice in its 11-year history and finishing runners-up on two occasions. They had finished ninth out of 10 last season, finishing only above AIFF’s developmental team Indian Arrows, who are immune from relegation. Their reinstatement means that the I-League is set to start next month with 11 teams.
This is also not the first time the AIFF is reinstating teams that were relegated the season before. Aizawl FC famously went on to become champions in 2017 after having their relegation declared void.
The move, though, threatens to render meaningless the concept of relegation in the I-League — two of the last three relegated teams have now ended up not going out of the league.
While confirmation of their spot comes with just over a month left, Churchill maintains that they are well-prepared, having anticipated that this would happen. They have appointed a new coach in Romanian Petre Gigiu and their pre-season camp has been underway for some time.
“We have learnt our lessons from last season,” Alemao said. “Then foreign players had arrived days before the start of the league and we did not have a proper pre-season. That showed on the field. So this year, we have rectified that. We have also retained a lot of the squad from last season, so the players are familiar with each other.”
Fixtures in a week
The fixtures for the upcoming I-League season are expected next week. “They should be released by next week,” said I-League CEO Sunando Dhar.
“We are in dialogue with the broadcasters and should hopefully be able to finalise the fixtures in a few days.”
Dhar also shot down reports that the league would see a reduced television coverage by Star this season.
“The coverage will be in line with what was there last season,” he said.