The South Indian state of Karnataka might be more known for excelling in cricket but pockets in the region are seeing a rise in popularity in football, thanks to the advent of clubs like Bengaluru FC and Ozone FC who have established themselves on the national stage.
The state team also did well in the recently concluded Santosh Trophy, reaching the semifinals after a strong showing in the league stages.
However, the popularity of the game in the state is still nowhere close to fanatical levels and the fact that Karnataka does not have a state-level league is a testament to the fact. But there are competitive league structures in several districts of the state, with the Bengaluru Super Division being considered the best league in the state in terms of competitiveness and profile.
History of Bengaluru Super Division
The Bengaluru Super Division is the top-tier league in Bengaluru district which also has three lower tiers - A, B and C divisions. The Super Division was established in 2005 and the teams compete for the George Hoover trophy.
The league normally features 10-11 teams and clubs can adopt two different ways to participate in the Super Division. The first way is by gaining promotion from the A division and the other is by paying INR 10 Lakhs to the Bangalore District Football Association (BDFA) and gain direct entry. Clubs like Bengaluru FC and Ozone FC are playing the Super Division after paying the entry fee to the BDFA.
There used to be institutional teams like Hindustan Aeronauticals Limited (HAL), Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) etc participating in the Super Division but they have all ceased to play as of now.
The current champions of the Super Division is the I-League second division outfit Ozone FC.
Format & Venue
Super Division normally has 10 or 11 teams at most and is played in a single leg format where all the teams play against each other at least once. All the matches are played at Bangalore Football Stadium (BFS) in Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru.
The team which wins the most points at the end of the season is crowned the champions. The BDFA is also thinking about including two more teams in the Super Division, with South United a likely participant.
The second-tier league, the A division, also has 10-12 teams participating while the B division features 14 teams. The bottom-tier is the C division which features almost 90-100 teams. The teams in the C division are divided into groups and then the winners will play another round-robin league before entering a knockout phase. Four teams will qualify for the B division while there is no relegation from C division.
Other District & Youth Leagues
Apart from Bengaluru district, only five to six other districts in the state have an active football league, like Mandya, Dakshin Kannada, Kolar and Mysore.
While there are no state-level youth competitions, the Karnataka State Football Association (KSFA) organises an inter-region youth tournament in the U14 and U16 categories, which is normally held in Bengaluru.
Encouraged by the rise in popularity of football in the state and the success of Bengaluru-based clubs, BDFA also has plans to revive several senior-level tournaments like the Stafford's Cup, C.Prasanna Kumar Memorial tournament etc. BDFA wants to have one competition open to all clubs while another one open to only B Division teams and so on.
But the main problem which the BDFA faces is the lack of a ground with natural turf. They only have the Bangalore Football Stadium as of now.