The 2023 season of the Indian Women’s League, the country’s top-flight club competition for women’s football, will begin from April 26, with 16 teams divided into two groups of eight each. The matches will be held in Ahmedabad across two stadiums – Transstadia and the Shahibaug Police Stadium – at 8 AM and 4.30 PM.
ESPN profiles all 16 teams competing in this season’s IWL:
East Bengal FC
(Kolkata, West Bengal)
East Bengal may be a long-standing institution in Indian football, but their women’s team has been on and off for the last two decades. They were formed in 2002, disbanded in 2004, returned in 2019 and disbanded again in 2021. This is their IWL debut – included this season on the request of the IFA. They won the Kanyashree Cup (the Calcutta Women’s Football League) in March. They are coached by former India women’s international Sujata Kar.
HOPS (House of Power Soccer) is a football academy that was earlier called South West Delhi Football club, and is run by the Dharan Foundation Trust: which means there is no fee for admission. They won the Delhi Women’s Premier League to qualify for their debut IWL Season, winning 16 out of 16 matches in the competition. Most of the players are from the state of Haryana and the club is run by president Sanjay Yadav.
Making their IWL debut, Kahaani FC qualified after winning the State Women’s League cup for the open age category in September. Their parent company is the Kahaani Sports Academy, started by Manisha Shah in 2006 — initially to help her children get quality football coaching after moving from Hong Kong to India. They also field a number of junior and sub-junior levels for boys and girls in their set-up. The women’s team is coached by Lalita Saini.
Mata Rukmani FC
Founded as an initiative to help underprivileged girls play sport, Mata Rukmani is not your typical football club. Run by social activist Dharampal Saini out of an ashram in Bastar, the football side of things is taken care of by Ardor Football Academy (since September 2021). The three-time Chhattisgarh league champions made their IWL debut last year, where they finished 11th of 12. Four of their players were later signed by the Kerala Blasters women last year.
Gokulam Kerala FC
Two-defending champions, Gokulam Kerala FC are arguably the best women’s club in the country, with infrastructure and investment similar to their male counterparts in the I-League. This season they will be without some stars (including Manisha Kalyan, who created history in Europe), but they still start favourites, especially with return of Nepal’s Sabitra Bhandari and India playmaker Indumathi Kathiresan. They were the first Indian club to play in Asia, in the 2021 AFC Women’s Club Championship, and were then banned from the 2022 edition during FIFA’s suspension of India.
��️Big news for Gokulam Kerala FC! We are thrilled to welcome Indumathi Kathiresan, the talented midfielder from the Indian national team, to our squad. Let’s defend our IWL title together����#GKFC #Malabarians #IWL #DefendingChampions pic.twitter.com/7S8J2eqrUn
– Gokulam Kerala FC (@GokulamKeralaFC) April 24, 2023
Misaka United FC
Formed in 2011, Misaka United have finished second in the Karnataka Women’s League for the last couple of years and missed out an IWL spot by a whisker. The club will make their IWL debut this season, after finishing just two points behind Kickstart in the state league, due to Kickstart receiving direct qualification thanks to their position in last season’s IWL.
Mumbai Knights FC
Mumbai Knights FC made it to their first IWL after beating defending champions PIFA FC in the WIFA Women’s Premier League. The team was coached by former Indian international Steven Dias and also won the league in Mumbai, remaining unbeaten in both competitions. It is owned by Deepu Kesavan, whose Ambernath United compete in the I League second division. Indeed, the clash between the men’s I-League and IWL means Dias won’t be coaching the Knights in the IWL.
For the second consecutive IWL season, the state of Odisha will be fielding two teams. Sports Odisha is a government-owned team, mostly made of local talents from the state. They finished third in the Odisha Women’s League, behind Odisha FC and East Coast Railway. Captain Manisha Naik top-scored with seven in ten. In the previous edition of IWL, Sports Odisha, who then had Pyari Xaxa in their ranks, finished fourth in the league.
Celtic Queens FC
A very new club, Celtic Queens FC were founded only in June 2022 by Jincy Mathew. They qualified for the IWL after winning the 2022 Pondicherry Women’s League Championship. It was a dominant campaign, where they won five out of five, scored 24 and conceded no goals.
Eastern Sporting Union FC
ESU, who were the champions of the first ever IWL back in 2017, are back in the league after a gap. After reaching two straight finals (finished as runners up in 2018), they had not played the IWL: not qualifying in 2019 and 2020 and then not being part of the qualified for the 2022 edition. Founded in 1946, thy are one of the oldest institutions in the sport. This year, all eyes will be on Yumnam Kamala Devi, who retired from international football after the AFC Women’s Asian Cup after a contentious relationship with the establishment.
Churchill Brothers FC
I-league giants Churchill will make their IWL debut after the women’s team won the Goa Women’s League this season. The Goa league, though, had only three teams. Churchill have since strengthened their till-then mostly Goan squad, bringing in a mix of young and experienced players from out of the state. They will be captained by veteran Laura Estibeiro and coached by Girijadevi Desai (who coached Goa at the last senior nationals).
Four-time defending champions of the Karnataka Women’s League, Kickstart finished third behind Gokulam Kerala FC and Sethu FC in the IWL last year. With the additions of India internationals Dalima Chhibber, Sweety Devi and Linthoingambi Devi this season, they will be looking to better their IWL performance from the last couple of seasons.
Lords FA Kochi
Lords FA stunned double national champions Gokulam Kerala in the state league this season as they lifted the state title to qualify for their debut IWL campaign. They beat Gokulam 5-2 in the final, led by former Gokulam star Win Theingi Tun of Myanmar. A free scoring team (they won a KPL game 33-1), Tun will be the star to watch out for from Lords this IWL, but they will be weakened by the departure of Indumathi Kathiresan whose playmaking role will be taken up by Nepal international Anita Basnet.
Odisha FC will be playing their first IWL season after winning the Odisha Women’s League last year. They are one of two ISL sides to field teams in the IWL (along with East Bengal). The team, coached by Crispin Chhetri, has a star-studded squad led by Bala Devi, Manisa Panna, Pyari Xaxa and Anju Tamang. Brazilian midfielder Cynthia Marcondes dos Santos and Ghanaian foraward Faustina Worwornyo Akpo will add pizzazz to the squad. They start as one of the favourites to the title.
(Madurai, Tamil Nadu)
Champions of the IWL in 2018-19, and runners-up last year, Sethu are one of the modern powerhouses of women’s football in the country. This time, though, they start as underdogs with the departure of stars such as Indumathi Kathiresan (to rivals Gokulam Kerala) weakening their squad. They will now be banking on young talent – such as Sumati Kumari and Kajal D’Souza.
The Central Reserve Police Force are an institutional team and will play in the IWL this season, after finishing third in the All India Police football tournament held earlier this year in Kashmir. They are coached by Prem Thapa, and will start firm underdogs this season