Real Kashmir win as football returns to Valley
After Real Kashmir FC marked their I-League return to Srinagar with a 2-1 victory over defending champions Chennai City FC, their players took a lap of honour around the TRC Turf Ground to acknowledge the fans who had turned up. After all, the occasion was as much about them as the match itself, as Kashmir remained under partial lockdown since the abrogation of Article 370 in August.
Thursday’s match was the first major sporting event in the state in four months.
“We were under restrictions for months. Mobiles were also shut. Still there is no internet and all this has been so stressful. At least this gave me a sense of some respite,” said Javaid Ahmad, 29, a resident of Old City.
A heavy deployment of security forces had surrounded the venue to secure the ground and prevent any protests.
Approximately 5,000 people turned up to watch their team in action for the first time since February this year. Even though the ground can host 15,000 spectators, the club decided to keep the number down for the first couple of home games to assess security.
“We worked very hard for this, first to make sure that we organized this, get the permissions in place and ensure that everything remained in order, because something of this level was happening for the first time here in months. It was more than a game of football and winning for us,” Sandeep Chattoo, the co-owner of Real Kashmir, said.
Chattoo revealed that while the club had given away only 2,000 tickets prior to the match, the local police and the club decided to let around 3,000 more people in before kick-off.
“We gave out only about 2,000 tickets. But there were so many people who turned up at the stadium that they had to let people in. But that too was done only after taking the necessary ID proofs and telephone number of the people,” he said.
Despite the low numbers, the spectators made their presence felt with banners and placards and vociferous cheering as Kashmir FC notched up their first victory of this I-League season after two away draws.
“It’s just good to get back to playing here again, in front of the home crowd. We always knew that the fans will come and back us. A lot of credit must go to the supporters today, they were just fantastic,” Real Kashmir coach David Robertson said after the match.
The Snow Leopards—as Real Kashmir are called—set the tone from the onset at their den, and they were firmly in control within the first 30 minutes of the game. Local boy Danish Farooq opening the scoring in the 22nd minute with a clinical header. Ivorian midfielder Bazie Armand doubled the lead five minutes later, leaving the already buzzing crowd up on its feet.
“The players were so eager to get the game going, with the atmosphere the way it was at the start. How we played in the first half was all down to the excitement of playing in front of our home crowd,” the Scottish Robertson said.
Even though Chennai City upped their ante in the second half and found the net in the 48th minute through Syed Suhail Pasha, the hosts defied the defending champions to eke out the three points.
The Real Kashmir players and support staff has had to wade through some challenging times for the last few months, including having to do without internet or phone connections for long stretches of time, and having to shift their base to West Bengal to be able to continue with their pre-season when the state was under full lockdown.
“Nothing affects these boys, they are resilient and tough. They have overcome a lot of hurdles. They are just pure fighters, and there is so much desire,” Robertson said.
The 23-year-old Farooq, who was born in Srinagar, said they want to make every home game count this season.
“The last four months, we have been practicing really hard. And whenever we will get a chance to play a match here, we want to win. This year, people have more expectations from us, and hopefully we will be able to live up to it,” he said after the match.
The only blip in an otherwise smoothly-conducted match was that the official broadcasters—DSport—could not telecast the match live due to internet connectivity issues in Srinagar.
It is learnt that while there was basic internet availability at the ground, it wasn’t enough to pull off a live telecast. The match was, however, shown on the official I-League Facebook page.