This is for real!
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