After the success of the first edition of the All India Football Federation’s U-16 Youth League, which saw 39 teams in action, it is set to break new ground with 50 teams in the fray this season.
This year’s Youth League, which is schedule to be held in September, will have three teams from Jammu and Kashmir — Real Kashmir, Lonestar Kashmir and J&K Bank. States such as Madhya Pradesh (Quartz Club), Jharkhand (SAIL Bokaro) and Andhra Pradesh (Anantapur Football Academy) will also see representation in the league. Gujarat, another state which is not traditionally known for football, will also have two teams — Sports Authority of Gujarat and Kahaani FC.
Satpal Singh, coach of Lonestar Kashmir, said the turmoil in the valley had affected the preparations of all three J&K teams.
“Some of our boys are training in Jammu. But there hasn’t been too much sporting activity in Kashmir due to the violence,” said Satpal. “The other two teams from the state have also been affected. J&K Bank has two academies — one in Jammu and the other in Srinagar. So some youth players play in Jammu while others play in Srinagar. Just 20 days before a competition, they hold a camp where the best players from both academies come together. The other team, Real Kashmir, has sent some of their youth players to play the Durand Cup, which starts on Sunday.”
AIFF general secretary, Kushal Das, told HT he was happy that the league’s scope and reach is expanding.
“I had never imagined that we would have three teams playing from Jammu and Kashmir. That is great news. This is exactly what we’re trying to do: we’re trying to spread the game and increase the footprint of football in India. This is a very encouraging sign,” Das said. “Gujarat was a little reluctant to play football earlier. But it’s good that things are changing there as well.”
The league will commence with teams getting grouped in their respective zones and matches played in home-and-away format. The top teams from each zone (the number is yet to be decided) will advance into the knockout tournament. Last year, 12 teams featured in the knockouts.