Militancy, insurgency, stone pelting, terrorism. These are the words that we keep seeing on media channels, sadly related to the beautiful valley, often. Week in and week out, national news channels with will play out stories that negate the valley’s quest to be a peaceful unit. As a result, we have been accustomed to attributing the Kashmir region to things aforementioned. In times like these, Real Kashmir Football Club comes as a fresh breeze amidst the current atmosphere of the valley.
Just 2 years after making their I-League 2nd division debut, Real Kashmir FC found themselves in the top flight of Indian football league. Also, this is the first team from the valley to make it to the first division of Indian Football. And unsurprisingly, the stories, too, aren’t by any means a short of inspiration.
The Kashmir region was devastated with floods in 2014 with thousands of evacuations and hundreds of lives lost. With the effect the news channels have had nowadays, it is almost inevitable to state anything that is happening in the valley without suffixing their community name. Sandeep Chattoo, a Hindu businessman and Shamim Meraj, a Muslim news editor of a popular Kashmir daily, both got together and wanted to find a way where the whole community could get together and do something productive instead of wasting their time and lives in the aftermath of floods.
What started for fun, soon turned out to be a serious affair and the team which was given the name “Real Kashmir FC” started entering the local tournaments. Soon, Meraj and Chattoo became co-owners of this football club.
With the appointment of former Rangers and Aberdeen players and David Robertson as the coach, the ascendancy was quick. However, the Scottish coach had his share of problems. From power cuts, internet connectivity issues to the extreme weather, Robertson bared it all. At one point, he even thought of leaving India and getting back home. But Robertson would always look back at where it all started. He had rejected offers from China and Uganda to take up this job. He looked back at the time when he thought he could stamp his name in the football club folklore because it was a newly formed club. He looked back at the time when he thought this was meant to be and flew to India. He answered all these questions to himself and stayed back.
In the 2017-18 season of I-League second division, Real Kashmir FC was crowned the champions and promoted to the first division for the impending season.
I-League 2017-18 season
This was their biggest test yet. Ahead of their first home match, comparisons were drawn to Bengaluru FC, Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab FC. If they can emulate Bengaluru’s debut season and go all the way. If they can script a fairy tale season like Aizawl FC. If they can show the tenacity and temperament driven by the fans to life the I-League trophy. The start has been really good, nearly perfect. Real Kashmir FC scored a late goal to get the 3 points against the defending champions Minerva Punjab FC. In their second outing at home, they failed to take advantage of a 10-man opposition and were held to a draw.
However, Robertson, the owners, the fans, the valley know this is just their beginning ahead of the football journey. Comparisons will be cut loose and the fans, owners and residents of Srinagar will let the moment sink in. For in moments like these that people find respite from the largely unstable political and social climate.
Real Kashmir FC, in the future, will become a great symbol for the valley in negating the tension of the political climate. The Snow Leopards, the official fan club will play a major part in the situation.
Meraj, one of the owners, speaking to TOI stressed the importance of diverse players representing a team from Kashmir. The TRC turf club in Srinagar is situated close to a mosque and a Shankaracharya temple on the other side of the road. On another side is a Chinar in complete contrast to snow-capped mountains.
On Tuesday, November 6 2018, history was scripted as Srinagar will host its first ever football match to I-League giants Churchill Brothers. Although, there were security concerns. Until an amicable solution is reached on the situation of Kashmir, there will always be problems. A month ago, the finals of J&K invitational cup between Real Kashmir FC and Minerva Punjab FC has to be cancelled due to curfew. That is no reason to dampen the spirits, as coach Robertson points out.
History was made as #RealKashmirFC hosted #ChurchillBrothers in what was the first-ever #ILeague match in the state of #JammuAndKashmir. Here are the best moments from an epoch-making game by @Sameermushtaq78https://t.co/ZKiqHymAVP pic.twitter.com/s8SrJx7ySZ
— Firstpost Sports (@FirstpostSports) November 6, 2018
Real Kashmir FC might just prove to be the bridge, a symbol of peace and unity. Or it might go on to be another Barcelona-like situation in Spain where Football Club Barcelona has been at the forefront of the demands for Catalan Independence.
— Churchill Brothers FC Goa (@Churchill_Goa) November 10, 2018
But for now, Real Kashmir FC has given us another fairy tale in football to look forward to. It has shown that football or sports transcend all boundaries. Google ‘Real Kashmir FC fixtures’ and you’ll notice that the Srinagar-based team will be without a logo in the fixtures. In reality, this has been for the people will hope this football club to be as good a symbol for everything they stand for.
The big FIFA directive
FIFA has clearly directed the AIFF to merge ISL and I-league and if AIFF’s previous use of brains is anything to go by, this will all be a lost cause. AIFF currently has plans to have 20 teams in the proposed league with 10 teams from each league. This all but means that Real Kashmir FC has very little chance of making to the new league when they are still in their infant steps. The snow leopards’ chants are largely restricted to the valley for now. It would be a real shame if the valley’s cries don’t go beyond the valley in the realm of football.
As a firm believer in the mismanagement of AIFF with Stephen Constantine as the unlikely face of it, things are expected to go worse. It would be a real surprise if AIFF manages to come out with a consensus that would make all the Indian footballing fans happy including those in the valley. Till then, this is just a glimmer of hope in a lost cause.