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Lone Star Kashmir FC – Inculcating I-league Culture!

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For football fans in Kashmir, this March 28th was another derby, albeit not as ferocious as North London or Dockers derby. Lonestar Kashmir FC played Real Kashmir FC on astroturf. Whatever the result, the game was a classic! It was I-league, after all. If Real Kashmir FC roars football, Lonestar Kashmir FC is born tough.

The name – Lonestar Kashmir FC – is not mundane. It sounds inquisitive. I imagine star would perhaps indicate the unreachable heights and Lone, signifies the surname of the owner/promoter. And among billions of constellations, a lone star assumes kingship.

In football world, we have a few more Lone Stars viz. Austin Lone Stars – a soccer club that competed in United Soccer Leagues between 1987 to 2000. Similarly, national soccer team of Liberia are nicknamed as the Lone Stars. Other than football, globally, the name ‘Lone Star’ is famous in – hospitality businesses, investment companies, transportation, film & TV, music, sports and others.

And here in Kashmir, popularly known as Kashmir FC, Lonestar Kashmir Football Club is a dream project of Iftikhar Ahmed Lone, its founder & Chairman. The club, first of its kind in the state, has been floated to promote football amongst the talented youth of the State of Jammu & Kashmir and help them reach the pinnacle of the game.

A successful businessman having established – Lonestar – as a global brand of Kashmiri handicrafts and jewellery in the middle-east and many European countries over the past four decades, Iftikhar returned back to the valley in 2013 only. In quest for self-actualization, Iftikhar, a college-level footballer of yesteryears, planned to do his bit to contribute to the motherland by promoting the game of football in the valley and thus, ‘Lonestar Kashmir FC’ came into being. The idea was to introduce a Kashmir-based club in the professional football map of the country.

Talking on this ambitious project, Iftikhar says, “On return from the gulf, I witnessed only cricket flourishing in the valley in the form of downtown leagues promoted by prominent businessman of the valley. In pursuance to floating the professional football club, in July 2013, I came in contact with Ex-president J&K Football Association Nazir Ahmad Khan and it was after discussions with him, Lonestar Kashmir FC was incorporated as a Private Ltd. company in July 2014 to fulfil AIFF club licensing criteria and subsequently got affiliated to the J&K Football Association. The credit of drawing the roadmap and executing it as per the procedure in vogue goes to young and dynamic Majid Yousuf.”

Presently, the club management includes the club patron Iftikhar A Lone, who is the owner and Chairman of the Club. Nazir Ahmad Khan, former President, J&K Football Association is the Executive Director, while as Tauseef A. Khan is the Overseas Manager. Former footballer Naseem-Ul-Gani works as General Manager and young hotelier Fahd Khan is the Managing Director of the Club.

Till recently, the technical team was headed by Mr. Hilal Rasool Parray – AFC PRO license coach along with a panel of assistant coaches for U-13, U-15 and U-18 teams and other youth development programmes. By resigning from the club to join his parent institution, Hilal has made way for a foreign coach into the team, albeit having contributed phenomenally in establishment of the team as a force to reckon with.

2014, year of inception, for this new-born team was all about baby steps taken by the team, but facing 2014 floods was more than baby turtles survival! It took only months for the club to emerge as one of the best teams in the state football and in 2014 the team emerged as Runners-up in State Football Championship Jammu.

It was in February 2015, the team made a mark on the national level when Lonestar Kashmir FC became the first professional football club from the state of Jammu and Kashmir to participate in a national league competition by participating in I-League (U-19) competition. The team emerged as Runners Up in I-League 2014-15 (2nd Division).

Year 2016 has been the most successful for the team during which the club achieved the feat of becoming the first team to beat the famous Mohammadan Sporting outside the state. The club also boasts of being the first team to have beaten Goan giants Dempo Sports outside the state during the same year. Besides seniors excellent performances, for the first time its U-16 team participated in the junior I-league, the legacy having been carried further in 2017 as well.

In fact, over these years, Lonestar Kashmir FC is credited of having introduced the I-league culture in the state, only carried forward by the other private professional football club Real Kashmir FC.

Talking on its vision for the club, Chairman Iftikhar says, “I aspire to see Lonestar Kashmir FC as a self-sustaining entity in the long-term, where we are able to reinvest the revenue flows into the game of football. The aim is not to run a profit making company, but a self-sustaining football club which is able to harness the talent of the state footballers. If the club performance well over the next 10-years, it shall be an achievement to have contributed to the game of football in the valley.”

With the induction of Fahd Khan as Managing Director of the club recently, Lonestar Kashmir FC is all set to be transformed into a complete professional club. On his plan of action, Fahd says, “I have recently introduced restructuring within the functioning of the team management with well-defined roles and responsibilities at all levels. I am myself handling procurement, event management and finances. Moreover, I am in-charge of the selection only to make sure that we get the best of the lot at every playing position irrespective of the background of the player. I do not entertain any influence.”

Regarding present activities of the club, Fahd says, “in addition to owning senior, U-18, U-15 and U-13 levels, the activities of the Lonestar Kashmir FC include conducting various football workshops across our State. The club is committed to promoting football as the number one game of the state and it envisions Lonestar Kashmir FC be in line with all top clubs of the country in future.”

In the process of evolution, Lonestar Kashmir FC has kept itself in the race of being one of the best professional club in the state by hiring a foreign coach namely Clebson Duarte Da Silva – Brazilian A-License coach – for a two-year term. Before joining Lonestar Kashmir FC, Clebson Duarte Da Silva was associated with Delhi United Football Club as Director. The newly appointed coach is the replacement to Head Coach Hial A. Parray who has retained his position as Head Coach, J&K Bank football team and also is on a short-term assignment of coaching Jamshedpur  FC (Juniors). For the current season, Da Silva is supported by the veteran Showkat Masoodi, who has had a phenomenal coaching career with J&K Forest FC. Till date, the results have not been favourable although.

At individual level, besides providing platform to in-service footballers like Waseem Feroz, Shanawaz etc. to play I-league, the club has helped the state identify raw talent of Aakif Reshi belonging to a remote place like Anantnag, to emerge as the fiercest striker of the state. Another local talent Dashyang Kachru groomed by the club has recently received an offer from Pune FC City. Moreover, Maharashtra born Farukh Choudhary and Asheer Akhter has found the club a launching pad of their glorious careers. While Asheer defended for Banguluru FC ‘B’ in 2017, Farukh plays as a striker with Jamshedpur FC.

For sure, the start of this season for Lonestar Kashmir FC has not been as good as the management would have expected, but the aim of the club remains to build an indigenous (all state players) I-league team, even if it comes at a cost of defeat. Winning would fascinate, but the larger goal would charm even more.

To conclude, from a bird’s eye view, the club with the span of 3-4 years has been quite successful in bringing about a drastic change in the standard of state football. And above all, Lonestar Kashmir FC has inculcated I-league culture in the state.

Views are author’s personal. Feedback at [email protected]


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TRC Astroturf – Crying for maintenance!

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TRC Astroturf – Crying for maintenance!

Asif M.D Hajra

September 03 2014 was historical for state’s football lovers as it was on this day that J&K got its first exclusive football stadium with synthetic football turf imported from Italy. First of its kind in the state, the synthetic turf at TRC ground Srinagar is laid over six layers of base course. Exactly one year after the laying the foundation stone for the football academy at Ushkura in Baramulla district, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah inaugurated the TRC Astroturf on September 03, 2014 and since then it has been almost four years.

While the purpose of behind both the projects was good, the execution on ground does not commensurate it. On one hand Ushkura Football Academy project has completely failed to take-off and on the other, TRC Astroturf is crying for maintenance!

Is this the fate of all state projects which have the sanction of the highest authority? And why has the essence of maintenance of AstroTurf been ignored?

From Financial point of view, every project DPR (Detailed Project Report) which forms the basis of project planning, provides for all cost heads including the Capital and O&M (Operation and Maintenance) Costs. In fact, long-term project sustainability requires long-term O&M planning, which is also incorporated into the project DPR. Thus, the approved cost of project includes all envisaged cost elements which have an impact on the life of the project. Generally, annual O&M costs are estimated at 2%-5% of the capital cost of the project, which are spread over its life.

Based on the above premise, it is implied that the TRC Astroturf project cost would have had adequate provision for the O&M costs albeit not reflecting on the field. Absence of essential maintenance equipment and comprehensive maintenance plan poses many questions. Has the project costing not been done scientifically?

Over the period after its installation, TRC Astroturf has paid rich dividends in terms of its utility. Not only has it hosted around 250 matches this season including Premier division league, Super division, Police Martyr’s tournament, Khelo Sehat Ke Liye (Play for Health) etc., it has also turned the valley into a round-the-year football place. At the beginning of year 2018, TRC Astroturf has had the privilege of hosting of I-league (2nd Division) matches. On top of it, TRC Astroturf has become the training ground for all top teams of the state including J&K Bank, J&K Police, JKSPDC, State Football Academy. And hosting football school for around 500 children twice a week, that’s icing on the cake!

Given the footballing footfall the playfield has to accommodate round the year, the pace and intensity deterioration of the playing surface is obvious. If you look at the TRC pitch today, it is two-shaded with a maze of silver patches embedded in green. These silver patches signify compaction i.e. the flattening of otherwise short-pile vertical fibres which give a green tinge to the ground. Moreover, the layer of rubber granule infill which besides allowing the blades of synthetic grass provides grip, slide comfort, stability and energy restoration are not uniformly spread on the pitch. Given the fact that Polo Ground again due to poor maintenance has lost its status of the best football ground in the valley, TRC hosts all football traffic round the year which has further amplified the pace of deterioration of the pitch.

Basically artificial turf is a surface of synthetic fibers made to look like natural grass. It is usually constructed of polyethylene plastic grass and an in-fill base of “crumb rubber” from ground-up recycled tires. Main advantage of Astroturf is that it provides all-weather playing surface. Besides, it does not require irrigation, trimming, weeding, fertilizers etc. However, it is also a fact that over its life under normal circumstances, Astroturf is expected to experience contamination, compaction, granule loss, growth of moss, algae and weeds. Also, with the passage of time the artificial grass fibres become much worn and the seams/cut-in lines become detached. This results in poor drainage, poor play characteristics besides impacting the player’s safety.

Hence, not only occasional maintenance of Astroturf is essential, but it also requires a full and comprehensive maintenance programme from the day it is installed.

The same concern regarding maintenance of the Astroturf was shared by a few among the football fraternity. Discussing the issue with famous footballer and In-charge State Football Academy – MehrajUd Din Wadoo, Mehraj said,“as far as TRC Astroturf is concerned, even though ground staff of 3-4 people does the day to day cleaning of the playfield, yet there is no comprehensive maintenance programme in place. Moreover, much required equipment has not been purchased till date. Althougha proposal was mooted by the concerned in the State Sports Council, but the procurement has not been completed till date.”

Likewise, Technical Director State Football Academy and former Indian National (Women’s) team Coach Sajid Dar was of the view, “Normally, the life of astroturf is 5-7 years which can be extended to around 10 years provided adequate maintenance which includes regular combing of the artificial grass and filling it with rubber which has a cushion effect. However, given the lack of maintenance equipment and also the amount of footfall on the pitch, if remedial steps are not taken, TRC Astroturf may not live its full life.”

Ex-captain Indian national football team and legendary footballer of the valley Abdul Majeed Kakroo is of the view that if the maintenance is not done well, astroturf poses great risks to the health of the players as the chemicals used in astroturf are carcinogenic.

Going by the standard practice, a comprehensive maintenance schedule of astroturf includes:

(a) Chemical Treatment – to eliminate the growth of weeds, moss and algae. Ideally this process is carried out prior to the regular maintenance, this allows the chemicals to penetrate the surface and assist the ease with which detritus is removed.

(b) Deep Cleaning – Using rotary power brushes the pile is lifted, the top infill layer removed, filtered, vacuumed and dropped back into place. This process should be carried out every month (or as a minimum every quarter) to reduce surface contamination, compaction and the growth of moss, algae and weeds.

(c) Surface Refurbishment – After a number of years artificial grass surfaces, particularly sand filled, can become contaminated and compacted. This results in poor drainage and poor play characteristics.Removal of the contaminated infill using our thorough refurbishment process allows new sand/rubber to then be spread and brushed into the carpet leaving the facility as good as new. This process is far more cost effective than the installation of a new surface and can increase the surface life by 50%.Periodically, a refurbishment deep clean may be required to  de-compact and remove contaminated infill.

Moreover, the above maintenance schedule is executed on ground with the help of specialized equipment including RTC Tractor for regular brushing and routine pitch maintenance, Drag Brush for evening and levelling playing surface etc.

Although, every project is executed as a package which includes adequate inventory of spares and maintenance equipment, installation of astroturf at around Rs. 4.5 crore without providing for any maintenance equipment is surprising.

Under these circumstances, it is high time to wake up to the call of the crying turf. Procuring necessary equipment, devising a comprehensive maintenance schedule in line with standard practices and regulating the footfall onto the pitch are need of the hour to save the dying turf. Else, we have another Dal lake in the making.

 

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SRTC Football Team – In Half-revival Mode!

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November 11, 2017. 15th Police Martyr’s Memorial Football Tournament scheduled match between JK SRTC Vs. DFA Pulwama. Result?  JKSRTC XI emerges victorious over Pulwama in a tie-breaker with 4:1. Scores apart, it is revival of the old horse, but it is half-revival only.

It is mid-May and the one and only Pologround, surrounded by mesmerizing chinars and weeping willows, is trampled by a huge rush of football players – both amateur and professionals – every morning. Having already lost the much needed natural grass, it is saddening to see 2-inch puff of dust in the main football ground where most of the professional teams including the revived SRTC team is seen practicing as part of the preparations for the ensuing football season. SRTC team looks half-revived though!

Once invincible, J&K State Road Transport Corporation football team popularly known as the ‘Transport team’ has made a comeback in the state football arena after lull of a few years.

Founded in the year 1962 – thanks to the initiative of ex-president J&K Football Association – Nazir Ahmad Khan then a gazette-class officer in erstwhile Government Transport Undertaking – an amalgam of Transport, Traffic and State Garages, present SRTC team has a rich history. Besides employing almost every football player in 60s, 70s and 80s, Transport team boasts of being the only departmental which had its own team practice ground within the Polo Ground exactly opposite to its Corporate Office. Unfortunate for the game of football, the ground has been taken over by the J&K State Sports Council and converted into rubgy field. Even the small SRTC building within the Pologround once the change room for SRTC players lies in dilapidated condition.

Undoubtedly the first football nursery of the state, contribution of the Transport team has been phenomenal in grooming all the legendary players including but not limited to Mohammad Yousuf Dar, Late Farooq Ahmad Dar, Abdul Majeed Kakroo and many others, which the team continued to do for decades. While late Farooq Ahmad Dar is unforgettable for his ferocious shooting power, Mohammad Yousuf Dar- charismatic striker was a different class.

Talking on his career, Yousuf says, “In the year 1962, as a young boy still studying in class 8th, I was one of the four players lured by the Government Transport Undertaking from S.P. college/ S.P. school to join its official football team. Simultaneously, I was offered a lower-grade job in the undertaking and with time the grade was steadily enhanced. It was in J&K SRTC football team that I grew from ‘Nikkae Dar’ to ‘Yousuf Dar” and ultimately legendary ‘Mohammad Yousuf Dar. I have so many memories to cherish during my career. Apart from being considered as one of the best strikers, I was a serious student as well. Despite all odds of being a footballer, I made sure that I attain both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from University of Kashmir due to my hard work and dedication. While summers were full of football practice and tournaments, I would use the winter times for studies and the result, I reached the apex of my service career and retired at a dignified position.”

When asked about his achievements, Yousuf said, “count my achievements and I see it should at least include myself being the first international footballer of the state and the success of my sons – Majid and Sajid – in the football arena.”

Likewise, Abdul Majeed Kakroo attributes his success to his association with J&K SRTC at the beginning of his career. According to Majeed, incidentally in 19977, then unknkwown Abdul Majeed Kakroo had only accompanied Mohammad Shafi Naari – another J&K SRTC great – for tour to Jammu. It was due to a number of injuries to the J&K SRTC team that gave Abdul Majeed Kakroo an opportunity to exhibit his football skills and from there he never looked back. On return, Abdul Majeed Karoo was offered a daily wager contract with a monthly remuneration of Rs. 280/- per month and he joined the team as striker. Majeed continued to play for SRTC team from 1977-1980 along with legendary striker Farooq Ahmad Dar. Remembering 1979-80 Durand Cup in Delhi where J&K SRTC team reached quarter-final after defeating teams like Rajsthan club, Air India etc., Majeed says, “ During his Durand Cup, I scored a total of 18 goals for J&K SRTC team and it was on the basis of this phenomenal performance in the Durand Cup that I was selected for Indian National Team for participation in the 1982 Asian Games held in New Delhi.”

Regarding the contribution of J&K SRTC team to the football arena of the state, Majeed says, “all the cream of J&K Football was part of the SRTC team and every good player has rises from J&KSRTC including Farooq Dar, Yousuf Dar, Bill Dar, Yousuf Baba, Abdul Rashid Khatei, Mohammad Hanief, Shafi Naari, Mushtaq Dalal, Mohammad Abdullah, Ghulam Hassan & Gulzar Ahmad (Goal keepers), Manzoor Ahmad Qazi etc. Moreover, during late 70s and 80s, it was only J&K SRTC football team that used to participated in all major tournaments outside the state including Durand Cup, Rovers Cup, Federation Cup etc.”

According to Majeed, in 1982, 5 major players of including Majeed Kakroo, Shafi Naari, Nazir Goalkeeper, Hussain and Latief left J&K SRTC to join lucrative offer from J&K Police team, which lead to the decline of the performance over the next few years.

Mir Abdul Jaleel who joined J&K SRTC team as defender in 1988 from a local club – Cosmo FC – continues to be associated with the team till date, in the coaching capacity now. Contracted with a renumeration of Rs. 1100 per month, Jaleel was regularized in 1989. Jaleel says that he continued to play actively for the team till 1990 after which the turmoil forced suspension of footballing activities in the state. It was not until 1995 that the team was revived and Jaleel continued to play for the team till 2008 at different positions.

According to Jalee, “During my tenure as a player, J&K SRTC team dominated the state football arena and won almost all tournaments including League, Knockout, Saiffudin Memorial etc. However, over the years, the performance of the team has witnessed a steady decline due to many factors including aging of the players, lack of incentives, infusion of fresh talent etc. Moreover, better opportunities to many players like Hanief, Tanveer, Showkat who joined J&K Bank as well as Sandeep, Pat, Yaseen etc who joined J&K Police has also lead to the drain of talent from the team.”

According to Jaleel, during 2016-17, the team was virtually closed when all the players were asked to join regular duties. But thanks to the Hon’ble Sports Minister and the present management of the Corporation that the team has been revived. It is due to the strenuous efforts of the present management that the team has been able to resume the play.

Senior players including Rayees and Sajjad – both hailing from Barbarshah area of Srinagar- joined J&K SRTC team in 1999 and 2004 respectively. Sharing his rich experience of 14 years with J&K SRTC, Sajjad says “While I had the offer to choose between J&K Police team and J&K SRTC team, I preferred then glamorous and promising J&K SRTC team since my father – himself an employee of J&K SRTC – dreamt of his son in SRTC jersey. Moreover, in 2004, this team looked more promising than any other team in the state. However, over the years I have felt that it has not been able to be keep up with the pace of J&K Bank, J&K Police and other departmental team. Moreover, lack of facilities and clear job policy within the Corporation has impacted the morale of the players.”

Similarly, Rayees a talented mid-fielder capable of playing at striking positions as well – has remained the captain of the team for the period from 2004-2013 has the same story of up and downs of the team to tell. To mention, Rayees remembers his team mate – late Shabir Ahmad Dar popularly known as the Train of Kashmir – as the fastest footballer the state as ever produced – who scored the astonishing goal against Titanium Kerala FC in 2012 in an All-India level tournament in Chattisgarh, that lead his team to win the match.

Present SRTC team is the true reflection of struggle for survival of once prosperous state PSU. I am told that the team has a strength of around 12-14 players against the standard of 20-24. The physical profile of the precipitating players signifies their aging and at the same time, call for infusion of fresh talent to augment the experience and also to attain the proper mix of energy and experience within the team. Apart from the basic training equipment, the team reportedly does not have a qualified physio for fitness training as well. In absence of these basic facilities, lack of motivation for excellence in performance is but obvious. The resumption of activities of J&K SRTC team – are appreciable – yet it is only in half-revival mode!

 

Views expressed are author’s personal. Feedback at: [email protected]

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Mohamed Salah: The rise of the Egyptian King

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Mohamed Salah is the best footballer in the world at the moment,” “Salah is up there with Messi and Ronaldo,” “Salah has the world at his feet…”

In a world ever more prone to hyperbole and after yet another masterclass from the Egyptian ace, it is not surprising that such grandiose statements get bandied about with the regularity of a Salah goal. The 25-year-old was simply sublime during Liverpool’s 5-2 destruction of Roma on Tuesday night.

He has now scored 43 times this season, has a genuine chance of winning the Ballon d’Or, and with every match looks more deserving of the superstar mantle his admirers have given him.

But while we can sit back and marvel at his talent, all those tributes are perhaps missing the point. We can debate whether he is a world-beater on the pitch, but what is not in doubt is that Salah is a game-changer off it — and that is the true mark of just how impressive he has been since moving to Liverpool.

Go to Anfield for any match now and, once the rousing rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has died down, it is likely you will next hear the Liverpool fans’ hymn to Salah. Sung to the tune of “Good Enough” by Britpop band Dodgy, it goes like this: “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, if he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim, too.” Such is the “Salah effect.”

Britain is a hugely fractured country at the moment. The Brexit vote and debate surrounding it has held up a mirror to an island ill at ease with itself, with regressive attitudes to race, religion and immigration out in the open.

That Salah has been welcomed with open arms and lauded in that climate — albeit in a city with a proud tradition of tolerance — is quite something, not least at a time when Islamaphobic attacks in the UK are on the rise and when, as recently as 2016, a national newspaper ran a headline that claimed “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis.”

The context of the Salah worship evident not just in Liverpool, but also around the country has not been lost on his manager, Jurgen Klopp.

“(The hero status of Salah) is fantastic. It’s exactly what we need in these times,” the German told Channel 4 News.

“To see this wonderful young man, full of joy, full of love, full of friendship, full of everything, in a world where we all struggle a little bit to understand all the things happening around on this planet — so it’s just fantastic.

“He is a Muslim and he is doing all the things that Muslims are doing before a game, washing procedures and stuff like that … like Sadio (Mane) by the way, like Emre Can, by the way; they all do that. Nobody says what we have to be…

“Now we wait, that’s completely normal in a team and that’s how in an ideal world the world would work; we all try to understand each other and deal with all the little strange things for the one or the other.”

Sport sometimes aims for profundity when there is none. Witness any stomach-churning statement of national brilliance during an Olympics, or any underdog story, and you will find people deriving a lot more from some match than the simple “team scores more to win game” narrative that is most set in reality.

But the “Salah effect” has prompted real change off the pitch. From fans singing “I’ll be a Muslim, too” to appreciating the Liverpool talisman simply as a great player regardless of background, the “Egyptian King” is a genuine role model for his country, the region and Islam at a time when the world needs it most.

“We are all kind of ambassadors and sometimes we fit to that role and sometimes not, and at the moment Mo is the perfect ambassador for Egypt, for the whole Arabic world. I love that,” Klopp said.

So it is immaterial whether Salah wins the Champions League for Liverpool, beats Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or or leads Egypt deep in the World Cup — he has already done more than most footballers do.

Should the positive image of both Arabs and Muslims he has created endure, then that will be his true mark of greatness.

 

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