They may have started the tournament on a losing note, going down 0-1 to Rajasthan on Sunday, but for the Jammu and Kashmir team just being at the Santosh Trophy is a blessing.
While most teams would have been busy chalking out football strategies, the concern foremost on J&K coach Abdul Majeed Kakroo’s mind was assembling the squad, one by one. With the valley plunged into despair yet again, the players had to sneak out during a curfew to make their way to Kolkata.
“When it was time to leave, the curfew was on so I had to travel to each player’s house with a small bus and pick them up from different locations all over Srinagar and then drive to Jammu, from where we took the train,” said coach Majeed.
“No one, not even the state government was ready to help,” he added, with a hint of resentment. “Thank God most of the boys were willing to play despite the hard times. For many in the squad, it was a chance to break the shackles.”
Kamaljeet, the captain of the side, believes that given the conditions back home, “representing the state itself is a huge dream come true.”
That Jammu and Kashmir took some time to find their feet against the less fancied Rajasthan was inevitable. The team had come into the national event with hardly any preparation.
“For starters, we didn’t have any proper team selection, leave alone practice because nobody could come for the preceding trials. We had to choose from whoever was ready to leave their homes and frankly we had a difficult time stitching together a team,” Majeed said.
The tournament itself is a huge respite for the players, where the sole focus now is surviving on the football pitch.
“When we came here, it was a totally different world from what we are used to back in the valley,” said Sameer Hussain, who did not have to face as much difficulty since he lives in a village in Budgam district, and not Srinagar. “Main yeh duniya bhi dekhna chahta tha. But at the same time, we are very worried about what’s happening back there.”
J&K had come out of a football hiatus when they played host to the Santosh Trophy after 30 years in 2008. But with the growing tension in the state, things have been pushed back into uncertainty.