After years of wallowing in obscurity, the third oldest football tournament in the world, the Durand Cup, is finally getting the recognition and attention it deserves.
The 119th edition of the tournament — scheduled to get underway from November 7 — promises to be different from its predecessors.
In a unique first for the game in the country, an archive and auction house, Osian’s, have taken over as the title sponsors of the Cup. The tournament will witness a few other firsts too. The prize money has been doubled to Rs 20 lakhs. The winners would be taking home a cool Rs 10 lakhs, the runners-up Rs 4 lakhs and the losing semi-finalists Rs 1.5 lakhs each.
The tournament’s format will also be changed, making it a much longer affair this time around. The tournament will also feature almost all the big clubs of the country.
Twenty teams — including local sides like Shimla Young, Shastri FC, Garhwal Heroes FC and Hindustan FC and Goa biggies Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers — will slug it out in a knockout qualifying round. The top side from each group will make it to the pre-quarterfinal league — an addition to this year’s tournament.
The two group winners from the pre-quarterfinal league will then make their way to the quarterfinal league, where the teams will be up against the likes of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Mahindra United and last year’s champions Army XI.
Osian’s have tied-up as sponsors with The Durand Cup for a period of five years. If their Chairman Neville Tuli is to be believed, this is just the beginning of a long-term association between the art-house and the sport in the country.
“We are committed in bringing about an all-round improvement in the state of football in the country,” Tuli said. “I realise that it will take time, so I have given it at least seven years.”
The Ambedkar Stadium, where the matches are going to be played, is also being revamped in order to draw crowds. The quarterfinals onwards, the matches will be telecast live on television.
Tuli was also hopeful of bringing in foreign teams in future in order to provide the much-needed exposure to the local players.
Fingers crossed on that thought.