After IFA Shield win, new-look Real Kashmir hope for I-League glory
Real Kashmir FC’s Scottish coach David Robertson felt like he had been “hit by a bus” when he checked into his hotel room in Kolkata after flying into India from the UK.
“I got a Covid test done before leaving the UK, I got a test when I landed in India. There was so much paperwork to do. It’s just surreal, really. I took a day-and-a-half to get here, and honestly my body was in bits,” Robertson said during a virtual media interaction on Tuesday. “But that’s the desire to come back and try to put on a good show and hopefully at the end of the season - whenever that is - it’s all worth it.”
The start has been alright, with Real Kashmir winning the IFA Shield last Saturday ahead of the I-League season beginning from January 9 next year in a bio bubble in Kolkata. With no football since the previous I-League edition was suspended in March, a relatively new-look squad of fresh recruits and players assembling at different points of time, Real Kashmir went straight into competition mode for the December 6-19 tournament. That, with merely a couple of days of training as a full squad before their opening match on December 6.
“We trained together just 2-3 days before our first game, we’ve got almost a new squad, a lot of us haven’t played for 7-8 months, there was virtually no training and we went straight into games,” Robertson said. “I just think there must be something magical in that yellow jersey and badge. You’d think the players haven’t trained or played a lot together, but this just shows the desire of the players, the club, and everything about the place. Playing for Real Kashmir, at times, is not easy but every hurdle that’s thrown in front of us we somehow manage to get over it.”
The IFA Shield is laced with history and prestige but for the last few years it was only played as a youth event. Back with its senior status this year, the tournament was fought between four I-League (Mohammedan Sporting, Gokulam Kerala and Indian Arrows played besides Real Kashmir) and eight Calcutta Premier League teams. Real Kashmir had five unbeaten matches, including a 2-1 win against George Telegraph in the final. The competition might not have been close to what the team will expect to face next month in the I-League, but it gave the young club its first silverware since its formation four years ago. Enough motivation to aim for better outcome in this I-League than their third and fourth place finishes in the previous seasons.
“It was a great ending to win the competition. What is does do is show that we are a good side this year, and it gives us a lot of confidence going into the first I-League game. We’ve only been together for two-and-a-half weeks. We’ve trained as much as we can, put in double sessions. The IFA Shield success flew past quickly, and it has given players so much desire that they’re playing with a smile on their face,” the 52-year-old former Scottish footballer turned coach said.
Relegated to second division in the country’s football structure, the I-League has lost a lot of its sheen with prominent clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan switching to the top-tier Indian Super League (ISL). Real Kashmir are also eager to work their way up towards the ISL, with I-League winners set to get direct entry into the ISL in 2022 and 2023.
“Our expectations get higher each year,” Danish Farooq, the club’s star midfielder and local face from Srinagar, said. “I want this club to go much higher, whether I’m here or not. I want this club to play in the ISL one day; that’s my dream as well. I think this club deserves to play in the ISL. And hopefully we’ll get it done together.”
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