The Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 promises to be a season of many firsts. To begin with, the ISL is set to be the first major sporting event to be held in India post the coronavirus-induced lockdown. It was also the last tournament to be staged in the country just as the pandemic rocked the world. It is the first time that Indian football's two most followed clubs grace the tournament with Mohun Bagan joining forces with defending champions ATK, and East Bengal finding Shree Cements to sponsor their accent to the top league in the land.
It will be the first time that the Kolkata derby will be played in the ISL, the first being on November 27.
Mumbai City FC will be starting afresh as part of the City Football Group proper, joining the usual players - Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, Hyderabad FC, Jamshedpur FC, Kerala Blasters, NorthEast United FC and Odisha FC.
The season will also have an unprecedented 115 games, up from 95 last season, along with the benefit of having the option of using a maximum of five substitutes, increased from the traditional three with the welfare of players amid the ongoing pandemic in mind.
Competing at the highest level while in a bio-secure bubble will surely be a challenge faced by all even while the league has placed rules on living for the next few months, the unusual nature of the whole exercise is bound to get to a few players.
The tournament will be played without fans in the stands as the innovative 'fan wall' concept will see home and away fans cheer on their teams through two LED screens mounted in the stadiums.
The Indian Super League will play out all in the state of Goa, in three stadiums -Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda, GMC Stadium in Bambolim and Tilak Maidan in Vasco.
Among the many firsts, it is the familiar feeling of watching the best teams in India battling it out on the football field to be crowned champions yet again.
A few players have changed the colours on their shirt as rivalries will be renewed between clubs, read ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal, and new ones forged, like Mumbai City FC and FC Goa due to migration of talent.
Last season's bottom dwellers, Hyderabad FC and NorthEast United FC will hope that their latest squads can live up to the rigours of the new season as Mumbai City FC, Odisha FC, Jamshedpur FC, and Kerala Blasters will try a better showing this time around.
The duo of Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC will have the opportunity to live up the expectations of their supporters again and in the 2020-21 season bring home the title once again.
Be it a season of firsts, the old familiar feeling of watching local heroes don their colours once again in the darkest of times promises to be a celebration of life.
"We will be back, football will be back."
Sunil Chhetri had voiced hope in an advertisement for the ISL, a week prior to the start of season 7.
Now. Football is back.