Imagine! It is the deciding spot kick of the final match. As the ball is placed on the penalty spot by the most reliable player – Hayat, I hold my breath. With the blow of the referee’s whistle, I run towards the goalpost at the same speed as the player ran to shoot the ball. I thought – Yes, we won it! While I was about to put off my blazer in excitement, the ball was hit and, ah! It is a save, albeit more inclined towards a mishit. From my side, it was immature to run before time, though an expression of my sincere belief in the team. I talk of the final of Christmas Gold Cup 2018 held in Jammu. We lost the cup and above all, we lost another opportunity – to hand a defeat to the J&K Bank football team. For me, beating J&K Bank football team still remains a dream. In fact, beating this team is every manager’s dream.
Count this season – Kashmir Premier League, Police Martyrs’ Tournament, Christmas Gold Cup, Prem Nath Dogra Tournament – all major state football tournaments won by the bank team. This team has picked up very threads it left in November 2016 due to its temporary suspension, prior to which it had won six out of the seven tournaments including two outside the state tournaments (All India Super Society Cup, Lucknow in January 2016 and All India Bihar Gold Cup in March 2016).
For years, J&K Bank football team has left every team gnawing. Every time, their composure has prevailed over the nervousness of the opponents. J&K Bank undoubtedly, is the powerhouse of state football!
J&K Bank football team was founded in the year 1984 – thanks to the efforts of the then President, Workman Association Mohammad Amin Khan and famous footballer Riyaz Ahmad Jan under the supervision of late Shamas Farooq. The team started playing under the captainship of Irshad Ahmad Malik and included players like RomeshChander, Vipin Kumar, Showkat Ahmad Khanyari, Mohammad Farooq, Nazir A Bhat, Mohammad Shuja etc., all of whom were employees of the bank. Probationary officer and senior National player Abdul Hameed Banday joined the team soon.
The period between 1985-89 was formative for the bank team. In 1987, the team participated in the first All-India Bank Meet under the aegis of Indian Banking Association hosted by Union Bank of India, Kolkata only to lose in the 1st round against the strong UBI team. The then captain and coordinator of the team Showkat Ahmad Khanyari, a post-graduate in Commerce and inter-university player, remembers that such was the dedication and enthusiasm that all the players contributed Rs. 240/- out of own pockets to buy a team track-suit for participation in the bank meet.
In 1989, then the most prominent footballer Abdul MajeedKakroo who has just returned from Mohan Bagan was given the charge of augmenting the bank team and new players from established clubs like Food & Supplies FC, J&K Police FC and KMD Mohammad FC etc. were hired by the bank. The players included Zahoor Teli, Latief, Iftikhar, Nasir, Vipin Gupta, Ramesh Chander, Rakesh, Sunil Khajuria, Rajesh, Tariq, Nazir Sofi, MuzaffarAzam, Abdul Rashid, Javed A Bhat, Joginder etc. This team defeated the experienced team of Union Bank of India in the All-India Bank meet held in Jaipur in the same year.
In 1996, young talent under ‘Catch Them Young’ programme of AIFF was lured players like Pichi, Arun Mahotra, Intikhab, Khurram Jehangir, Irshad, Manzoor Dar, Deepak, Nani, Hilal Parray, Rakesh to the bank team. While the lull in football activities during 90s was broken through the efforts of J&K Football Players Welfare Association under the presidentship of Late Farooq A. Bhat, this was period of improvisation for the bank team.
At the start of the new millenium, the management decided to hire the services of a reputed coach from outside the state to give a professional touch to the team. Accordingly, ex-olympian Syed Shahid Hakeem from Hyderabad was contracted as the Head Coach of the team. It was during his tenure that J&K Bank team participated in During Cup in 2002, during which the team won all the 6 knockout games and qualified for the quarter-finals, first time ever in the history of J&K Bank team, only losing to Vasco Goa (0-1) followed by another defeat against the strong Air India (1-2) – the only goal scored by the charismatic mid-fielder Manzoor.
The period of improvisation was followed by the golden era of J&K Bank football team. 2001 onwards, J&K Bank football team won all major state trophies as well as many national events including Bank Olympiad (2004-05, Kolkata), 3rd Division I-League (2006-07), North-zone Federation Cup (2009-10) etc. In 2008, the bank team emerged as the first runners up in the famous LG Cup, only losing the final to the powerful team of Tata Football Academy. By winning the tournaments outside the state, the J&K Bank team apart from brining laurels to the owners, also made a mark for the state football in the country.
According to Abdul Hameed Banday, ex-chairman, Bank Sports Board, J&K Bank’s football team attained excellence during the chairmanship of the dynamic M.Y. Khan (1997-2003), who not only took the team to the next level of the game, but also transformed its very architecture by formulating a comprehensive Sports Board for the purpose of regulating the sports activities with the bank. Remembering a famous incident of 2001, Banday says “after winning a J&K FA tournament in Bakshi Stadium, it was Khan who proclaimed that the bank’s football team has won so many trophies that he felt short of space to accommodate more trophies and requested all opponents to defeat the bank team so that they do not bring another trophy for safekeeping”.
Over these years, the bank team besides producing footballers like Arun Malhotra who went on to play for East Bengal FC, Mahindra United FC and finally the senior Indian team, has also nurtured many ambitious professionals, who went on to become specialists in the ancillary areas of the game.
Hilal RasoolParray emphasises the fact that regular jobs by J&K Bank to the footballers gave the sense of financial stability. Consequently, the players planned next level of achievement and by this logic, he has reached the level of being one among only a few Pro-License holders across whole India. Similarly, Manzoor stepped up the career ladder from a charismatic mid-fielder to AFC A License Coach – thanks to a regular job with the bank. Manzoor is presently in-charge of the J&K Bank Football Academy and has contributed significantly to its success in the recent past. Another bank team player Majid Yousuf rose from a budding footballer (1999) to presently Executive Officer (Football) in J&K Sports Council, due to player-friendly policy of the bank. It was in the year 2009 that Majid was allowed to avail education leave for doing his Master’s in Sports Management from Naval Tata Institute, Kolkatta and from there, Majid has the credit of delivering well in six international sports events serially as project trainee, Assistant Project Manager and Project Manager.
In 2011, the bank leapt from being a powerhouse of football to the factory of footballers by launching its first football academy in Srinagar and shortly another in Jammu province. Introduction of football academy in the state was a revolutionary step, which not only redefined skill training approach but also introduced stipendiary concept to the budding footballers of the state. J&K Bank football academy – the brainchild of Abdul Hameed Banday, was given shape by the then Secretary, Bank Sports Board, Mohammad Amin Khan and executed on ground by Showkat A. Khanyari (Chairman selection committee) with the assistance of Majid Yousuf and Hilal RasoolParray. It was Majid Yousuf who formulated the roadmap of J&K Bank football academy. Last but not the least, Taffazul Hussain, the then chairman J&K Bank Sports Board played a pivotal role in realising the dream of J&K Bank football academy.
Analysing the performance of the bank academy, in 2011-12, the first batch of 32 (U-16) trainees joined the Srinagar academy and 24 (U-16) trainees joined the Jammu academy and soon afterwards, J&K Bank Academy team came into being. Within a span of one year, this team defeated J&KSPDC football team to win the J&KFA ‘A’ Division tournament (2013) and also qualified for the super division league. Moreover, the period saw the emergence of new football sensations from the academy including the flamboyant Danish (currently J&K Bank seniors mid-fielder), robust Adnan (currently J&K Bank seniors striker), lanky Tafheem (currently winger of JKSPDC football team), magical Ifham (currently Lone Star mid-fielder) etc. Thereafter, the bank academy has virtually turned into a footballer factory supplying talent to all major teams of the state including J&KSPDC FC (Shakir, Monis, Sunil Sayal, Furkaan), Real Kashmir FC (Saifiz, Aaqib Mushtaq), Lone Star FC (Ifham) etc. AteebShafi, one of the products of the J&K Bank Academy has recently been selected to join the U-16 national camp. The heroic U-19 state football team which created history by emerging as the B.C. Roy Trophy (Tier-II) runners Up, included Aatif and Ahteeb from the J&K Bank Academy.
Practically, the contribution of J&K Bank to the game of state football is four-pronged. One – J&K Bank has been a long-term sponsor of state football events. Financial resource being a vital ingredient to every sporting activity, J&K Bank has generously extended the financial support to the organisers / associations, whenever needed. Even during the turmoil of 90s, it was only the J&K Bank team which kept the football clock ticking while all other departmental/corporate teams assumed a decadal slumber. Two – It is the only institution which not only offered a regular grade to the footballers, but also ensured that every player of the bank is employed on permanent basis even after peaking out skill and endurance. It did not endorse contractual arrangements, but has a duly approved employment policy for footballers. On top of it, it has exhibited tremendous absorption capacity by employing 200-250 footballers over the last 30 years. Third – it has given opportunities to its players to move up the football ladder and also grow laterally into ancillary career channels including coaching, sports management, sports administration etc. By and large, most prominent football icons of the state are products of J&K Bank football team. Four- It has set a benchmark of football in the state. Playing well against the J&K Bank team is testimony to any state footballer’s competence. Moreover, for every footballer, J&K Bank is the dream team.
In the nutshell, for the masses, J&K Bank means everything from new-year calendars to festival loans and for the youth, J&K Bank means football. And on ground, J&K Bank is the Powerhouse of state football.
Views expressed are author’s personal. Can be reached at [email protected]