This is for real!

Sportstar - - FOOTBALL IN HEAVEN - PEERZADA ASHIQ

It’s ■ a.m. and the sun is mild at the Kash­mir Val­ley’s lone astro turf sta­dium, lo­cated in the cap­i­tal Sri­na­gar’s Tourist Re­cep­tion Cen­tre (TRC) ground. The weather is a bless­ing for the 11 men in flu­o­res­cent green jer­seys play­ing on the ground. It’s Mon­day. The sep­a­ratists’ shut­down call and the volatile sit­u­a­tion out­side is no de­ter­rent for the play­ers, who have been prac­tis­ing two hours ev­ery day for many months now.

The calls of the play­ers of the Real Kash­mir Foot­ball Club are heard loud and clear at the sta­dium that is all set to host its first ever I­league match. Yes, things have been mov­ing at a brisk pace ever since Real Kash­mir be­came the first club from Jammu and Kash­mir to en­ter the elite foot­ball league. The league is sched­uled to start in the last week of Oc­to­ber and will be on till midApril 2019. Need­less to say, the foot­ball­crazy lo­cal pop­u­la­tion is ec­static.

David Robert­son, the 49­year­old head coach, stands silently, ob­serv­ing and tak­ing notes of the play­ers’game. His task is tough.

“There is a lot of hunger in the play­ers. All they re­quire now is to in­crease their men­tal tough­ness be­fore tak­ing on the big teams in the I­league,” the coach says.

A former Glas­gow Rangers FC player, Robert­son com­pares the young­sters of Real Kash­mir with the young play­ers in the United King­dom — where he has coached big clubs like Leeds United and Rangers — and teams in the United States, and says, “Play­ers here don’t get fa­tigued. There are no com­plaints about fit­ness. Even if they are in­jured they con­tinue to play. They are in­de­struc­tible.”

Robert­son, who has been coach­ing the team since Jan­uary 2017, had to get tough with them on one ac­count. “Tak­ing rest is equally im­por­tant ahead of big games. It keeps de­sire and hunger in­tact. I warned the play­ers of a penalty in case they showed up at prac­tice matches de­spite it be­ing their off­day. Many would still come,” he says.

Real Kash­mir FC, just four years old, made his­tory when it qual­i­fied for the pres­ti­gious I­league 201■­19 af­ter its vic­tory against Hin­dus­tan FC 3­2, in Ben­galuru on May 30, in the Sec­ond Divi­sion I­league.

The zeal and des­per­a­tion to prove the point that Jammu and Kash­mir foot­ball can match the best in the coun­try can be gauged from the fact that two Real Kash­mir play­ers, Dan­ish Fa­rooq and Muham­mad Ha­mad, played with­out any break in 10 matches dur­ing the Sec­ond Divi­sion I­league.

“I played all the min­utes of the league. It was a big plat­form. It infused en­ergy. Our team was aim­ing to win from day one. We were fo­cused. It re­sulted in our vic­tory,” says Fa­rooq.

Fa­rooq, 22, the son of foot­baller Fa­rooq Ah­mad who played for the State Road

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