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Real Kashmir’s fairy tale: The story continues

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Chandigarh: As The Real Kashmir FC team made their way to the team hotel in Zirakpur after a training session at the Minerva Punjab FC training ground in Mohali on Monday evening, head coach 50-year-old David Robertson was the last one to get off the team bus. The former footballer, who played for clubs like Aberdeen, Rangers, Leeds and Montrose apart from the Scotland football team, has been with the team since January 2017. With Real Kashmir getting ready for their I-League debut against defending champions Minerva Punjab on Wednesday making them the first club from Jammu and Kashmir to play in the I-League, the coach remembered the only problem he has faced during his tenure, a thing which also makes the team a formidable outfit. “The biggest problem I faced initially was time-keeping. Since a lot of Kashmiri youngsters in the team were not playing professionally and doing other jobs or studies, it was hard to manage. In Srinagar, we only have the TRC Stadium to train and more than 22 teams train there. So, we got different time slots for training. Also there was less exposure as the local players only played against each other. When we won the I-League Second Division earlier this year, there were six Kashmiri players in the team. Kashmiri footballers have proved that if you give them opportunities, they can achieve anything they want. They are mentally very strong and sometimes some of the players attend two practice sessions in the morning, playing for their employer at 7 am and then train for Real Kashmir at 9 am. They have the desire and the unstoppable energy and that’s what have taken them so far,” shared Robertson, whose son Mason Robertson also features in the Real Kashmir team. Founded by Shamim Meraj and Sandip Chattoo in Srinagar in March 2016, Real Kashmir competed in the prestigious Durand Cup the same year before taking part in the I-League Second Division that year, where they were knocked out in the first round. With only five foreign players in their ranks, the club competed in the I-League Second Division 2017-18 and emerged winners, edging out Hindustan FC in the final round. Lone Star FC, the other club from J&K, had also competed in the I-League Second Division. 22-year-old Danish Farooq was one of the highest scorers for the team and the youngster calls this a historic moment. “When I started playing with the club in 2016, there were 20-25 players training for the club. We played in Durand Cup and DSK Cup before playing the qualification rounds for the I-League Second Division. Winning the I-League Second Division was a special moment for all of us. The interest of youth in football dwindled before that but the win meant that more youngsters are interested in playing football. Hamari koshish hai ki zyada se zyada youth football khelen aur apne drams achieve karen. There cannot be a stage bigger than this for the Kashmiri youth to show their talent. I have seen players like Sunil Chettri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu playing for clubs like Bengaluru FC and the national team. Hum bhi chahte hain ki hum Indian national team ke liye khelen. My father Farooq Ahmed Butt played for Mohammedan Sporting Club but he never got a chance to play at home. When we play our home matches in Srinagar, my whole family will come watch and it will be the biggest gift for my father,” shared Farooq. The team will also play their home matches in Srinagar with their first match against Churchill Brothers on November 6 and the players are also excited about playing in front of the home crowd. “I started playing cricket as a kid at Batamaloo as my father played cricket. Three years ago, I switched to football and later played for Lone Star FC. I joined Real Kashmir FC last year and I never thought in a dream about playing in I-League. Competing at this level will also help the youth understand that they too can aspire to play the game at the professional level. I am a fan of Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Ishfaq Ahmed who played for India apart from Indian captain and defender Sandesh Jhingan. He is the most fearless defender I have watched and to play in a city where he belongs is a special feeling for a player like me,” said 21-year-old defender Muhammad Hammad. The 30-member current Real Kashmir squad has 15 players from J&K apart from six foreigners and nine from other states. Pic David Real Kashmir’s dream run: Coach Robertson explains how it happened Hirra Azmat Srinagar: Real Kashmir’s is a story that will always reverb in the memories of the Kashmiri people in the years to come. The Srinagar-based football club will be making their top division debut in the 2018-19 campaign and is all set to become the first team from the state to feature in the professional top flight in India. While the players are the ones who did the job on the pitch, the man who found the formula for success was coach, David Robertson, who has previously coached sides in his native Scotland and the United States. “It’s been great obviously, coming from Scotland and the US and then moving to India and Kashmir. It was a culture shock at the start, but once you get to know people in the area, it’s all very well,” recounts Robertson. Robertson believes there is no dearth of talent in the youngsters of the valley and wishes to inspire young kids. “There have been just two players from Kashmir who have gone on to play at the high level in India, and that’s something we want to change. I can say for sure there is a lot of talent here and it struck me since I first came here. The last-second division match against Hindustan FC – we won it with six Kashmiris in the team,” he remembers. He is hopeful about the telecast of the I-league matches. “The team has generated a lot of interest here, so hopefully, we’ll get noticed. The state’s been forgotten about for a number of years, and hopefully we can change that.” Robersaton says. After a fairy-tale season in the second division last time around, the pliable coach wants to put as many efforts in the team that is heading for its first season in the I-League. He says, “It has been quite an incredible last few months for us at the club. We have no expectations laid down as such and just want to take one game at a time. We’d like to compete well in our games, make sure we go in there and hold our own and after 2-3 games, we’ll see how the team does and get an idea of where we can finish towards the end of the season.” “I have been a great believer in the fact that one should take one game at a time, particularly since it’s our first time playing at the top level. I have seen and studied the level of the I-League and Indian football in the last two years, and we hope that we are organised and play to our level best.” Asked about the recent trip to Germany and the team’s response, the coach replies, “Germany and Dortmund are big names in football, obviously. A year ago, we took the boys to Scotland as we wanted to expose them to new experiences in terms of football as well as life. The trip to Germany was great and the next summer we will probably do something like this again.” He is all praises for the team and looks forward to a new season. “Pre-season matches in Mumbai were great as well. We played five games and like everybody else, we’re building up to the first game of the season. There are still a few bits and pieces to add but the fitness levels of my players are great. We can’t wait for the season to start!” The coach has currently three names on mind that are expected to stand out by the end of the season. “Farhan Ganie, Danish Farooq and Muhammad Hammad. There are other ones as well but these three played with us last year and I hope they continue to do well and contribute to the team’s cause,” he reveals. While the player and fans continue to celebrate, Roberston believes that this a work in progress and the club will face bigger challenges ahead. He says, “There’s a lot of excitement! In some of the second division games, especially against Lonestar Kashmir, there was a great atmosphere at the ground. We’re hoping for more of the same when the established Indian clubs come in.” He adds, “Our stadium’s quite tight and can get loud. At the moment, it is getting done up and upgraded, which will be good for the fans. I’m sure teams will find it difficult to come here and play against us.” “They’ve all waited for a long, long time for this moment and it’s finally happened after a fairy-tale story. I request them to come out in numbers and enjoy the experience, cheer us on and help us get through. It’s our first season! Hopefully, the fans are also as excited as we are.” ( Courtsey Indian Express)