As Bengaluru FC take the field against East Bengal on January 21, they would be conscious of the fact that the city of Bangalore is not new to winning the Federation Cup.
35th Federation Cup kicks off in Kerala in less than a week’s time. The fans will be witnessing the action during a mid season break, rather than more mainstream dates falling at the start of the Indian football calender.
Federation Cup, sponsored by the AIFF, has been always been the official kick start to a football season in India. Due to the emergence of IMG-Reliance Indian Super league and it’s imminent pressure on the AIFF to make the league happen at a more convenient time, poor old Fed Cup suffered. But, there is always a silver lining of course. After an awesome response in the Santosh Trophy, the football crazy state of Kerala again got the chance to host a big coveted cup competition.
When we think of the past winners of the Fed Cup, big fishes from the pond come to mind. The big Kolkata clubs are the first ones to hog the limelight, with occasional peppering of clubs from Goa, JCT and Kerala Police . Usual suspects. But one name stands out there. One name which many new age football fans of Indian football would not be familiar with – ITI or Indian Telephone Industries, Bangalore. This team won the inaugural edition of the Fed Cup, outfoxing the giants – Mohun Bagan with their style of play and affective strategy.
In last few years, clubs like HAL, ONGC, Air India – who were backed by the big industrial houses, have been either disbanded or are not around the top division of football in India. A major reason which could be cited was that these clubs always struggled with to comply with AFC’s club licensing criteria coupled with the players being not paid on time. But the situation was very different in early 50’s and 60’s, especially in the state of Karanataka. Big Industrial forces like BEL, HAL, BHEL, ITI, BEMI, HMT, MEG, NGEF, ADA, CIL and Binny mills set up their own football clubs in the state. Football was on a high during this golden period of football for southern states of India, as players were offered jobs in these firms. Mysore (the erst while state), came out on top- winning the Santosh Trophy four times (1947, 1953, 1967, 1968), during an era which followed this wave of football in the state.
But it was ITI which was setting all the standards of club football in this region. ITI sports club was started in 1952, keeping an eye on the sports development of the state as a whole, but it’s football team was the one which hogged the local limelight. ITI went on to win the inaugral Fed cup in 1977 where they beat the mighty Mohun Bagan. Mohun Bagan had over 20 shots on target in that final but ITI hung on for a win thanks to Raj Sekhar’s solitary strike. The club struggled in the upcoming years, leading upto the National Football League in the 90’s. The closest ITI came to regaining the Fed Cup was in 1988, when they were ousted in the semi finals.
But it was the regional dominance which was more of a key highlight of the club. ITI bangalore was a force to reckon with more than half a dozen state championships in their kitty. Between 1991 and 1999 they won the state league eight times. They also went on to lift their maiden Stafford Cup in 1993. The Staffordshire regiment which was stationed in late 1920’s at Bengaluru gifted the Cup to Bangalore Football Association. The cup was made up of pure silver and was continued till 70’s, but then became irregular. It was often cited as the southern counterpart of the prestigious Durand Cup.
Their dominance in the southern region was rewarded by the federation as they were given a direct enrty into the National Football League in 1996. Being an institutional side, ITI set the standards as they locked horns with professional football clubs from all over the nation. They were in for a rude shock, sadly. Placed in an extremely tough group with eventual winners JCT, East Bengal and Mohammedan SC, ITI finished rock bottom even losing the battle of prestige against fellow office team Indian Bank. Their best moment in that dismal season came in Federation Cup when they reached quarter-finals after upsetting Churchill Brothers 1-0. The following season the “Telephone Men” gave a dazzling performance in NFL second division, earning promotion after winning four out of five games in the final round. The 1998/99 season began well for them as ITI picked up their first ever win in Indian top flight by beating Indian Bank in the first NFL game. However, an eventual slump in form saw them fight for relegation yet again and an invaluable strike from Einstein Abraham with just 14 minutes left on the clock in the very last game saved them from yet another relegation.
As the new milennium dawned ITI was playing consecutive seasons in the top flight for the very first time. And they had found a star player, a local striker who would go on to achieve big things in his career. Even though he was playing for a weaker team, RC Prakash banged goals for fun, eventually finishing with seven goals. He scored three times against Kolkata clubs and would eventually go on to find success with Mohun Bagan. His performance along with George Ekkeh wasn’t enough to ease relegation fears. Yet again on the last day ITI faced a crunch relegation battle with BSF in an away game. Needing to avoid a loss, they hung in for a 0-0 stalemate. Without RC Prakash (who would finish as top scoring Indian forward that season) ITI was a drab team in 2000/01 season and once again escaped relegation by just a single point, this time SBT’s loss the East Bengal in the last game coming to their aid.
The best season for the club from Garden city was when they finished seventh in the sixth edition of NFL in 2001. For the first time ITI had assembled an enviable collection of foreigners. Both Kenneth Onu and Mohammad Salisu were in prime form as ITI showed some of their best football ever in the first six rounds. In that period they won away against FC Cochin, held eventual winners Mohun Bagan to a draw and most incredibly, defeated defending champions East Bengal in Kolkata. As the year turned another young striker grabbed headlines with a fantastic hattrick against Punjab Police. Mike Okoro had arrived. For the first time ITI was nowehere near the relegation zone and finished a handsome 9 points away from it.
Having lost their key players next season, ITI’s fall from grace was swift. Fielding one of the worst teams ever seen in Indian top flight, ITI won just once in 22 matches and scored just 14 times on their way to finishing rock bottom. ITI played in National Football League in each of the first seven seasons save one. They would never play in top flight again.
Over this period of time, ITI football team participated in many tournaments like Durand Cup, Rovers Cup, IFA shield, DCM Trophy etc. The club also had the opportunity to ply their trade overseas in tournaments which were held in Nepal and Maldives.
Indian Telephone Industries Sports Club was shut down due to dearth of funds in 2005.
“We are moving in that direction as we have simply run out of funds. If there are interested parties, we are willing to hand over the football club.” Club president P B O Warjri told PTI in Bangalore.
The Bangalore-based telecom equipment major incurred huge losses buiding up to this sad announcement. Apart from football, which gave ITI a national name, the club was also active in other sports, including hockey, volleyball, basketball and badminton, but those teams never rose to the heights of the football team. Another historic club sank into oblivion.
Now after thirty seven years since ITI shocked the Indian football world, another team from Bangalore is waiting in the aisles. Bengaluru FC was formed last year, with an eye to bring back the glory days once spearheaded by ITI and HAL. The Blues have already managed to raise a lot of eyebrows as they currently sit at the summit of the table. Placed in the group B, alongside East Bengal, Sporting Clube de Goa and Rangdajied United, Bengaluru FC have their work cut out in the group stages, as only the top team qualifies for the semi finals.
As Bengaluru FC take the field for the first time in the Federation cup against East Bengal on 21st January, the team will be conscious of the fact that the city of Bangalore is not new to winning the Federation cup when participating for the first time. Bengaluru FC are strong, very strong contenders to clinch the coveted cup, as they look to bring back the golden days of dominance of Bangalore on the national football scene.