44 and counting: The importance of J&K Bank Football Academy
Srinagar: In nine years since it was established, the J&K Bank Football Academy has quietly yet consistently managed to provide a successful sporting launchpad to hundreds of players, many of whom now represent the Bank’s senior team apart from several coveted clubs and teams across India.
The story of this academy is encouraging even as it kept itself low-key while ensuring that it trains and grooms players to compete at professional levels.
Data accessed by The Kashmir Monitor shows that at least 44 youth trained by the Academy are now vital team players of clubs playing at the professional level across the country including Real Kashmir FC.
From Real Kashmir FC’s talented duo Danish Farooq and Farhan Ganai, Delhi United’s Parvinder Kalsi, Lone Star FC’s Taabish, to J&K Bank Senior Team’s Adnaan Ayub, Faisal Thakur, Nirdosh Sagotra, and J&K Police XI’s Gulshan Kumar and Neeraj Thapa, all these and many more noted players are products of the J&K Bank Football Academy.
These players were identified, chosen, picked up and trained by the JK Bank Academy to become the football players they are at present.
While the Academy was grooming its players to represent other teams, its own team was also making great inroads.
In the very first year of establishment in 2011, the Academy team won the B-division and qualified for the A-division.
The next year, the team won the A-division as well and qualified for the Super Division. And as of today, it plays in the premier division along with Senior J&K Bank football team. The latest win for Academy team came when it won The Christmas Gold Cup 2020-21 held at GGM Science College in Jammu in December last year.
Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, Manzoor Ahmad, the Head Coach in the Academy said that they feel immensely proud seeing the players they have trained making it big in the beautiful game.
Manzoor is AFC A-licensed coach and has played for J&K Bank for at least 12 years.
“We have been silently working towards improving the game in J&K and training players who can compete at professional levels. More than 40 players from the academy have made it to prominent J&K and national football clubs. Our motto since the day this Academy was established is to prepare J&K youth for reputed national clubs and teams,” he said.
Any player who joins the academy is trained for three years, after which he is free to join other clubs depending upon his performance during his time in the Academy. During this time, the players are also supported by a small stipend from the JK Bank Academy. “Good players from the academy are allowed to try out in Open trails of J&K Bank Senior Team,” said Manzoor.
Shafqat Dar, who plays for J&K PDC as a striker, told The Kashmir Monitor that his love for the game was identified and nurtured at the J&K Bank Football Academy when he joined it in 2014 and was a part of it for five years.
“My football journey began in the Academy only. The coaches were extremely helpful and made us learn the game and play competitive football,” he said.
Shafqat’s performance has remained impressive even as he was among the top scorers in the recently held Real Kashmir Cup at Astro Turf in Srinagar.
Similarly, two Academy trainees Basit Ahmed and Zahir Yousuf played for ISL Side Kerala Blasters Reserves in 2nd Division of the I-League in 2019. Basit in 2020 signed for Real Kashmir FC.
In Jammu, the Academy’s wing is equally competitive.
Rajesh Sumbrai, the coach managing it in the winter capital, said many of the players he trained are playing at the highest levels.
“One of our players Ravi Raina has played for India under 15 and under 18 teams.
Another player of our, Arjun represents Jamshedpur FC and has travelled to Spain to play the game,” said Rajesh.
J&K Bank Chairman R. K. Chhibber said that they provide adequate support to the Academy to nurture players who would represent the institution at professional levels.
“We are supporting the Academy both financially and morally. We will continue to support them. They should represent the bank and make Jammu and Kashmir and JK Bank proud. They should play at local, national, and international levels and for that the bank is ready to bear all the expenditure,” Chhibber told The Kashmir Monitor.