FEATURING 16 DISTRICT TEAMS plus four major clubs from Kolkata, the Zee Bangla Football League will be a statewide U-19 league in West Bengal.
The league is set to be launched on 26th May, with matches taking place everyday at 3 pm, running for a month during the summer weeks that act as a buffer between seasons.
Popular clubs like East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan are expected to face off with district teams like Purulia, Midnapore, Darjeeling, Howrah and Bardhhaman in the tournament.
A teaser for the competition, hailing it as a massive grassroots effort to boost the sport of football throughout West Bengal, was released online yesterday.
While all the venues and for the league as well as its format are yet to be announced, the ZBFL stands out from other local competitions in a major way: it's for the first time a televised local league in West Bengal will not have the overwhelming majority of its teams based in Kolkata and adjacent areas.
This tournament comes hot in the heels of district level grassroot tournaments organized around the state by the West Bengal government as a means to reach out to tribal populations in Purulia and Bankura as well as stimulate the interest for the sport in those areas.
One of the longest standing issues in West Bengal football is its Kolkata-centricism, which means a talented footballer from any part of the state has to move to the state capital in order to find a good academy and attract the attention of club scouts. This means the overwhelming majority of talented players from the state are never discovered or given a chance to develop their talent. District level grassroots tournaments along with a state U-19 league like ZBFL may prove to be the first steps to solve this problem.
The league will also be on the radar of potential investors in the sport who will want to monitor its commercial success. When IFA Shield was made into an U-19 tournament and had its matches televised, there was some enthusiasm about it from the fans, which fizzled out after a couple of years. But this league, which seeks to tap into the fanbases in the districts for the first time, will bring into play new fans as well as the long time faithfuls, and it will be interesting to see what degree of monetary success it can achieve.