I-League: Debutants Real Kashmir Hoping Home Comforts Help in Making it Another Year to Remember
For a state like Jammu and Kashmir that has been battling to survive the onslaught that results from a fractious relationship between India and Pakistan, the emergence of Real Kashmir FC in Srinagar has not only brought top flight football to the state for the first time but also is a breath of fresh air.
(Image: Real Kashmir)
New Delhi: For a state like Jammu and Kashmir that has been battling to survive the onslaught that results from a fractious relationship between India and Pakistan, the emergence of Real Kashmir FC in Srinagar has not only brought top flight football to the state for the first time but also is a breath of fresh air.
The club began their journey in 2016 after co-owners Shamim Meraj and Sandeep Chattoo felt it was essential to provide the youth of the state a positive outlet.
“It is a great feeling for us that we are the first team from our state to play in the I-League. Many young boys and girls are playing football nowadays and we feel happy seeing that,” Danish Farooq, the 22-year-old who’s penalty helped the team achieve qualification, said.
Having qualified for the top flight at the expense of Hindustan FC from Delhi in May, the David Robertson-managed side is looking to make a mark in the country’s premier competition, the I-League. The debutants will open their campaign against the defending champions Minerva Punjab (October 31st) in Panchkula, before heading back for a string of home games. Their first home game will be against Goan side Churchill Brothers on November 6th.
Coach Robertson, who has roped in his son Mason into the squad as one of the six foreigners, understands the upcoming season will not be an easy one for his side. The Scot not only has kept his eyes and ears open as he tried to blend talent, experience and youth into his side, but also emphasised that the players coming in needed to be able to keep up the team spirit and camaraderie.
“We begin our journey against the champions (Minerva Punjab) away from home before coming back for six games. That’s where we need to capitalise and get our points, because otherwise suddenly you’ll be in a position of no return and getting demoted will be terrible for the team and the people,” Robertson explains on the sidelines of a promotional event with sportswear giants Adidas. The German company are the kit sponsors for Real Kashmir FC.
“It will definitely be difficult to be one of the title contenders for the season, but I believe with a bit of luck we can finish hopefully in the top half.”
Local Support Can be Our 12th Man
Initially, there was a possibility that Real Kashmir would not be able to play their home games at their favoured Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) ground, but after multiple inspections following the upgradation of facilities, the stadium will play host to its first I-League game on November 6th.
The team’s coach and players were relieved that they will play their home game in Srinagar and an elated club co-owner Shamim Meraj said, “We have things in place (to host I-League games). The capacity of the ground is 10,000 but we will have to cap it to around 6,000 to ensure everything goes smoothly.”
On the big opening day, security arrangements are expected to be boosted as both club and authorities want things to go through without a hiccup.
“I am expecting to see a very noisey bunch at the ground. I’ve seen how a crowd can motivate players and teams and I hope the local crowd in Srinagar can do the same, be our 12th man,” Robertson, the former Aberdeen and Rangers FC player, said.
However, more than a vibrant crowd what is more likely to fit the home advantage bill for Real Kashmir will be the difficult conditions traveling teams will face in Srinagar.
Club captain Loveday Enyinnaya, a Nigerian professional who has turned out for a whole host of Indian clubs like Malabar United F.C., Royal Wahingdoh F.C., Sporting clube de Goa and Minerva Punjab F.C., believes his side is not under any pressure and that it will be up to the others to play well against them in difficult conditions.
“It will be difficult for teams coming to play against us because of the weather. When I had come here initially, I faced problems with the cold to start with, but now I have adjusted. The others won’t find it easy,” says Loveday with a mischievous grin.
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