Dreaming Big: Real Kashmir to make I-League debut against Minerva Punjab
The team will also play their home matches in Srinagar with their first match against Churchill Brothers on November 6 and the players are also excited about playing in front of the home crowd
As The Real Kashmir FC team made their way to the team hotel in Zirakpur after a training session at the Minerva Punjab FC training ground in Mohali on Monday evening, head coach 50-year-old David Robertson was the last one to get off the team bus. The former footballer, who played for clubs like Aberdeen, Rangers, Leeds and Montrose apart from the Scotland football team, has been with the team since January 2017. With Real Kashmir getting ready for their I-League debut against defending champions Minerva Punjab on Wednesday making them the first club from Jammu and Kashmir to play in the I-League, the coach remembered the only problem he has faced during his tenure, a thing which also makes the team a formidable outfit.
“The biggest problem I faced initially was time-keeping. Since a lot of Kashmiri youngsters in the team were not playing professionally and doing other jobs or studies, it was hard to manage. In Srinagar, we only have the TRC Stadium to train and more than 22 teams train there. So, we got different time slots for training. Also there was less exposure as the local players only played against each other. When we won the I-League Second Division earlier this year, there were six Kashmiri players in the team. Kashmiri footballers have proved that if you give them opportunities, they can achieve anything they want. They are mentally very strong and sometimes some of the players attend two practice sessions in the morning, playing for their employer at 7 am and then train for Real Kashmir at 9 am. They have the desire and the unstoppable energy and that’s what have taken them so far,” shared Robertson, whose son Mason Robertson also features in the Real Kashmir team.
Founded by Shamim Meraj and Sandip Chattoo in Srinagar in March 2016, Real Kashmir competed in the prestigious Durand Cup the same year before taking part in the I-League Second Division that year, where they were knocked out in the first round. With only five foreign players in their ranks, the club competed in the I-League Second Division 2017-18 and emerged winners, edging out Hindustan FC in the final round. Lone Star FC, the other club from J&K, had also competed in the I-League Second Division. 22-year-old Danish Farooq was one of the highest scorers for the team and the youngster calls this a historic moment.
“When I started playing with the club in 2016, there were 20-25 players training for the club. We played in Durand Cup and DSK Cup before playing the qualification rounds for the I-League Second Division. Winning the I-League Second Division was a special moment for all of us. The interest of youth in football dwindled before that but the win meant that more youngsters are interested in playing football. Hamari koshish hai ki zyada se zyada youth football khelen aur apne drams achieve karen. There cannot be a stage bigger than this for the Kashmiri youth to show their talent. I have seen players like Sunil Chettri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu playing for clubs like Bengaluru FC and the national team. Hum bhi chahte hain ki hum Indian national team ke liye khelen. My father Farooq Ahmed Butt played for Mohammedan Sporting Club but he never got a chance to play at home. When we play our home matches in Srinagar, my whole family will come watch and it will be the biggest gift for my father,” shared Farooq.
The team will also play their home matches in Srinagar with their first match against Churchill Brothers on November 6 and the players are also excited about playing in front of the home crowd. “I started playing cricket as a kid at Batamaloo as my father played cricket. Three years ago, I switched to football and later played for Lone Star FC. I joined Real Kashmir FC last year and I never thought in a dream about playing in I-League. Competing at this level will also help the youth understand that they too can aspire to play the game at the professional level. I am a fan of Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Ishfaq Ahmed who played for India apart from Indian captain and defender Sandesh Jhingan. He is the most fearless defender I have watched and to play in a city where he belongs is a special feeling for a player like me,” said 21-year-old defender Muhammad Hammad.
The 30-member current Real Kashmir squad has 15 players from J&K apart from six foreigners and nine from other states.