The fairy-tale football story: Scottish coach, Kashmiri team
Srinagar, Oct 14: Raising of eyebrows were natural when ex-Rangers player David Robertson decided to take in the reins of a rookie club in Kashmir, but now over a year down the line he knows the risk he took paid off mighty well — “four ready job offers” to be precise.
It was indeed a win-win situation for both — the team and coach. While Real Kashmir FC in May became the first club in the Valley to make into the I-League, for the coach the job offers are coming rather thick and fast.
The Srinagar-based club was started two years ago to help the community reeling from devastating floods in 2014.
“For me loyalty is everything. I am here for the cause — for Kashmir. But mind you it is not that only the team is benefiting out of it, when we made into I-League I got four job offers. It is both ways in that matter.
“This team, its players, its owners means a lot to me. I am always there for this team. Of course, the day I feel I am not the best person for the job… I will be the first person to call it quits,” said Robertson, who was a find of a rather famous Scotsman Sir Alex Freguson and had played for Rangers and Aberdeen.
Robertson, thanks to his frowning face and brawny physique, by the look of him is certainly not the friendliest of person to interview.
However, that is only till the time you don’t get to talk to him. Making a perception, that too in a jiffy, can go horribly wrong. And who knows it better than Robertson himself.
He wanted to leave Kashmir as soon he landed here for the first time.
“I had never been to India let alone Kashmir. Also, I thought that Kashmir is hot, like the rest of India. But to my shock when I reached the airport here it was winter time and a day into it there was snow.
“Power cut, no internet… I was ready to go. But then the club owner persuaded me to stay, and now I am so glad that he did that,” he said.
Robertson, who has worked in China and Uganda before, was in New York when an agent got him in touch with the co-owner of the Club and before he even knew he was in Kashmir.
Last year when asked to sign the deal, the coach admitted that there was this lingering apprehension back home about Kashmir not being the safest of place.
But that was then, now Robertson calls the place as “safe as any other in the world”.
“Kashmir is lot safer. In fact it is safer than a lot of places in the world. Of course, if you are in wrong place you will be in trouble… and that is true for so many places be it Phoenix, Glasgow.
“The trick is to be sensible and you won’t have any problem here,” he said, adding that had there been any “safety concerns” he would have not called his son Mason from Scotland to play for the club here.
The 23-year-old midfielder had quit Peterhead and joined the club for a full time contract.
“I could watch myself in him when he landed here for the first time. It was different for him as if he has entered some film set of sorts.
“However, the players here made him comfortable. And that was the only concern I had then, I didn’t want anyone to think that because he is my son he is here and that there is any favouritism. If he is good he will play,” he said while reminiscing about the day when his son joined the club.
Soon my wife and daughter will also be coming to the valley, and it will be there first time too, he added.
But to be fair, adjusting to Indian way of life takes time. More so when you are in Kashmir, and the list includes building an appetite for the much-enticing ‘Wazwan’ and putting up with the pan-Indian “poor time keeping” “Here time keeping is terrible and I tell this to everyone. They pray five times a day. Anyway, this is something that I have come to understand and respect.
“But then there are just so many excuses… one player didn’t make for practice on time because his motor-bike got punctured. Now this thing happened four times in the same month. Yes, for proof he would send me photo of the flat tyre – just that it was the same photo every single time,” he said, barely able to control his laughter.
That said, the players too had their complaints against the coach – what if they tell it in a jocular way.
While veteran midfielder Khalid Qayoom was asked to make an almost impossible sacrifice of the irresistible ‘white-meat balls’ (Gushtaba) for the sake of football, Danish Farooq said the coach, who has little or no knowledge of Hindi language, has somehow picked up Hindi abuses and uses it against them during training.
“Waise woh bol dete hain par unhe matlab kisi ka nahi pata (Yes, he abuses. But he doesn’t know the meaning of any one of them),” said Danish smiling, in his feeble attempt to make up for the damage already done on his part.
But then giving tough competition to the coach’s poor Hindi was one of the local player’s equally – if not more – imperfect English, and senior player Shah Nawaz Bashir cannot help but re-tell one such funny conversation when anyone asks about ‘how’s the communication between coach and players’.
“There is one player – I can’t name – who is not very good with the English language. Once after the match the coach called him and said ‘You dribbled really good. Keep it up for future matches’.
“Now, not able to make head and tail of it, he came to me and asked, ‘Bashir bhai, main sach mein itna bura khela tha? (Brother, did I actually play this bad?),” he said, ensuring this correspondent that he eventually did convey the right meaning.
Last checked, the coach is really working hard on his Hindi. The new words he recently added in the vocabulary includes: Paneer (Cheese) and Alloo (Potato).
Well, till the time it does not spoils the team’s recipe for victory, one doesn’t see anyone complaining, least of all the people from the Valley.