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Meet the Khan who kept wickets to dive in football

Kolkata, Jan 8: A fine wicketkeeper in his school days, Bilal Khan had never thought his art and love for diving will land him in the beautiful game.
Football was new to his family of sportspersons. Khan initially chose to play cricket. Till class 8, he represented his school team in many competitions.

It was in 2008, when, during a practice session, he was spotted by a team leader of a local football club in his home town, Khurja, in Uttar Pradesh.
“I had gone to play cricket and I volunteered to keep the ball around when a football team was practicing. The players noticed and suggested me to shift my focus towards football considering my height and way I dived,” he said.

At six feet five inches, the Joe Hart fan, popularly known as ‘Khan Saab’ in his home town, is seen as an inspiration by many budding footballers in Uttar Pradesh.

Khan, a key player and goalkeeper for Real Kashmir FC, has represented many reputed football clubs of India before joining the I-League debutants.

Initially getting basic training at Summer Football Camp in New Delhi, Khan has gone through the grind and played for Churchill Brothers(2013-14), Hindustan FC (2014-15), Mohammedan SC(2015), FC Pune City(2016-17), Gokulam Kerala FC(2017) and Stallions.

Playing a sport is in his DNA as his younger brother Mehraj Khan represented India in skeet shooting in 2016 Olympics.
“My younger brothers Ashgar and Naveed are also accomplished shooters in junior circuit and uncle Mansoor Khan plays cricket in Delhi,” he said.

Declared as the player of the week of I-League, Khan said that playing for Real Kashmir FC has been one of the important phases of his career.
“We have a coach, who is very experienced and finely polishes skills of every player in the team. Many players like Dharamraj Ravanan, Nadong

Bhutia and foreigners like Captain Loveday Enyinnaya and other teammates are equally encouraging. It is an entirely nice feeling to play for a team, which has emerged as the topper despite being new to the league,” he said.

Khan said that playing in Kashmir has been a jovial experience for many players like him considering the people’s love for the game.“The temperature was very low in Kashmir but the warmth of love shown by the locals towards players never let the cold pinch us. It has been a learning curve for us to play in Kashmir and the support was phenomenal,” he said.