Guns, militancy, curfew, fear…those are the things that come to mind first when we think of the Valley as it is now. So when I learnt that the youth of the Kashmir were passionate about their football I was pleasantly surprised.
I strained to remember what it was like in my time. In Srinagar's Habba Kadal neighbourhood in the late eighties, we played the occasional game of football but I was partial towards cricket.
Riaz Ahmed Peerzada, the owner of the only cyber café in Sopore has a degree in Physical Education, and is a big fan of the sport. (He went on and on about the legendary Meharzussin Wadoo of Srinagar who had played for Mohun Bagan.) As it turned out he was not the only one. And neither did the interest stop at hero worship.
"There are local clubs --- Wular, Mohammedan, Baazi. Matches are played between May and September," said Imtiyaz Ahmed, a businessman who has played the right wing position for Mohammedan Club.
"For every match there is a minimum turnout of 5,000 people. Women are not allowed. Fans take defeat very personally. A lot of kangri (firepot) throwing happens among rival groups during these matches," he shared with a laugh.
As it turned out both Imtiaz and Riaz were very well informed about the international football scene. Seeing my expression of surprise Riaz said, "Most of the young people here are aware of the international scene. Barcelona is a favourite and Robert Alcamo has quite a fan following in the Valley."
Many local football heroes get jobs with local companies, and the transport and police services. An under-16 football academy is about to come up in Srinagar.
But youth have more than football on their minds.
A student of the ninth standard who was waiting for his turn at the computer came to me shyly and asked: "Are you really a journalist? Two months back there was trouble here, the school was closed for 72 days. We didn't have classes and I have my finals next year. Will you write about that? I am worried, the interruption is bad for my studies."