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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Real Kashmir team back home after anxious phase

Team Bonding : No internet, no problem for Snow Leopards as they play and talk football throughout day in Srinagar.

football Updated: Oct 19, 2019 08:00 IST
Rutvick Mehta
Rutvick Mehta
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Real Kashmir players had been away from home for the last couple of months, post the revocation of Article 370 in the state
Real Kashmir players had been away from home for the last couple of months, post the revocation of Article 370 in the state(REUTERS)

“It’s great to be finally back home,” said Sandeep Chattoo, co-owner of Real Kashmir FC, gleefully over phone from Srinagar. Safe to say, every player in his team shares the sentiment. It had been a while since Real Kashmir players got a feeling of a place called home, of entering a ground the Snow Leopards—as the team is known—call their den, of dribbling the football across the grass at the TRC Turf Ground that was packed to the rafters for each home game Real Kashmir played in the last I-League season.

Ever since Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, Real Kashmir have been on the road, participating in the Durand Cup in Kalyani, near Kolkata, playing friendlies in places like Jamshedpur, Kochi and Goa and holding a pre-season camp in Navi Mumbai. All the while Kashmir was tense with telephone connectivity hampered, making the team’s local players edgy.

It’s been almost a week since the Kashmir club returned to Srinagar to begin training for the I-League season, and the players, coaching staff and the management couldn’t be happier.

“We’ve been moving around the country, and everyone is glad to be back in Srinagar and at our home ground. We also played a few matches against some local bank teams. So, we’re getting back to our routine,” Chattoo told Hindustan Times.

Not entirely, though. With the region yet to return to complete normalcy after Article 370 was revoked, Chattoo has put up the squad in his hotel.

The players have little else to do through the day apart from playing, thinking and talking football because internet connectivity in Kashmir is still blocked. Chattoo, a Kashmiri businessman, has placed a request to the authorities concerned for special internet connection at the hotel and is hopeful of getting it soon.

Not that his team is complaining. “I was having a chat with the entire squad in the hotel the other night and I was telling them how proud I was of them for understanding the situation we’re in. They all said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We can do without internet. We love football, we love Real Kashmir. Uske liye kuch bhi (anything for it)’,” Chattoo said.

The squad is a mix of local players, those from other parts of India and foreign recruits from countries like England, Zambia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. They have a Scottish coach in David Robertson, whose son is also in the team. Chattoo recalled how before the ban on postpaid mobiles was lifted earlier this week, everyone used his mobile phone—which Chattoo got activated with special permission—to get in touch with their families, in India and abroad.

“Fortunately, we had one of my mobile phones activated, which everyone used to make calls and speak to their families,” Chattoo said.

Despite such hurdles, the players aren’t creating a fuss because they know it is beyond the team owners’ control. Moreover, the one thing that stood out on their I-League debut last season—they finished a creditable third—was the team bonding, which has only grown stronger.

“I’m just amazed in the wonderful team I have, that in spite of all the problems here, they’re sticking together. And they’re having fun,” Chattoo said. “They all know it’s something the club cannot help. The club can only try and compensate it by making it a more family-like atmosphere. Fortunately, every player in our team has understood and really cooperated, which is fantastic for me to see as an owner.”

Request to defer home games

That said, Real Kashmir have requested the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to not keep any matches of the upcoming I-League season—that is scheduled to begin in the third week of November—in Srinagar till December 15. Chattoo said that with people in excess of 20,000 turning up at the TRC Turf Ground for every game last season, it will be difficult to manage the crowd this time around under the prevailing circumstances.

“About 20,000-30,000 people came for our matches last season, and we don’t want that to happen right now. So, we have requested the AIFF to defer our initial home games till after December 15. That will give enough time for things to get better here,” he said.