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Posted at: Jun 10, 2018, 12:12 AM; last updated: Jun 10, 2018, 12:12 AM (IST)

Real Kashmir scores first goal, enters Indian league

Rifat Mohidin
Real Kashmir FC will play in the I-League season 2018-19 against teams like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan
Real Kashmir scores first goal, enters Indian league
valley boys: Real Kashmir FC is the first football club from J&K to qualify for I-League.

Rifat Mohidin in Srinagar

When Khalid Qayoom, a resident of volatile old Srinagar, started playing football more than a decade ago, he couldn’t afford to buy shoes. But he kept on playing amid the ongoing violence in Kashmir. A year ago, Khalid joined the newly formed Real Kashmir Football Club in the Valley. The team has come out with flying colors and has secured a new place in the football arena of the country.

In a first, the fledgling club qualified for the top tier I-League after beating the Delhi side, Hindustan FC, 3-2 in Bengaluru on May 30. The team qualifies for the prestigious league in India and will play in the I-League season 2018-19 against teams like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. The club’s players were recently felicitated by Home Minister Rajnath Singh. He addressed around 6,000 youth at an indoor stadium. It was for the first time that such a large gathering of sports enthusiasts came out to listen to a Union minister.

Like Khalid, all the local players of the team haven’t had adequate facilities. They had to squeeze their playing hours in between daily curfews and shutdowns. Khalid would practise in the lanes and by-lanes of old Srinagar, the hotbed of stone-throwing mobs. “When I started playing football in 2004, I demanded my father to buy me professional football shoes. But the family couldn’t afford. My father, however, told me to keep playing,” says Khalid.

He is grateful to the club which supported the players even during the worst cycle of violence in 2016. Khalid says young Kashmiris lack exposure in sports. “Look at states like West Bengal where there are more than 40 clubs offering huge spaces to practise and professional help. We don’t have the resources in Kashmir,” he says. 

Most of his teammates come from humble backgrounds, where uncertainties of violence can frustrate anyone. For them, it is like a dream come true. “I started playing when I was in Class XI. I did not think much about the future. My father was a cricketer, so he encouraged me. When I had my first trial in my mohalla, my coach motivated me to keep playing. That’s how I have kept myself at it,” says defender Mohammad Hammad (21), a resident of Batamaloo in Srinagar, and a key member of Real Kashmir.

The Real Kashmir Football Club was formed by two friends — Sandeep Chattoo and Shamim Meraj, who is the editor of a local daily. “Post 2014 floods, I would look around despondently; I saw teenagers smoking and others just hanging around in the streets. I told my friends: we’ve got enough of food and clothes in relief. It’s time to do something worthwhile for these kids. That’s how the idea was born,” recalls Mehraj. “We bought 1,000 footballs and distributed them among the kids in my locality. We started with the club formally in April 2016,” he said.

The team was trained by a Scotsman, David Robertson. 

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