Photos: Footballers defy Kashmir conflict to take Indian league by storm

Football was popular in Kashmir before the insurgency erupted in the 1990s, after which no tournament was held for almost two decades. But Real Kashmir FC have given locals a fresh taste for football success. Reall Kashmir is the first club from the conflict-torn region to make it into India's top football league. With the help of Scottish coach David Robertson, the ’Snow Leopards’ have emerged as serious title contenders in their debut I-League season and on February 6 beat Gokulam Kerala 1-0 to go top of the table.

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST 9 Photos
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Real Kashmir’s Danish Farooq looks during their I-League club football match against Gokulam Kerala FC on February 06, 2019. Bullets are heard every day in the world’s most militarised zone, but shots fired on goal by Danish Farooq have become a revelation in Kashmir. Farooq has defied stone-pelting protesters and pellets shot by security forces to make it to training. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

Real Kashmir’s Danish Farooq looks during their I-League club football match against Gokulam Kerala FC on February 06, 2019. Bullets are heard every day in the world’s most militarised zone, but shots fired on goal by Danish Farooq have become a revelation in Kashmir. Farooq has defied stone-pelting protesters and pellets shot by security forces to make it to training. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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Real Kashmir’s Mason Robertson (C) runs with the ball. “I have struggled a lot. But whatever the situation, I try not to miss practice,” said Farooq, whose father was also a professional footballer for Mohammedan Sporting, one of India’s oldest clubs. “Playing in the I-League is a dream come true and I am living that dream every day.” Other players are also wary of the security situation and would rather join clubs outside of Kashmir. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

Real Kashmir’s Mason Robertson (C) runs with the ball. “I have struggled a lot. But whatever the situation, I try not to miss practice,” said Farooq, whose father was also a professional footballer for Mohammedan Sporting, one of India’s oldest clubs. “Playing in the I-League is a dream come true and I am living that dream every day.” Other players are also wary of the security situation and would rather join clubs outside of Kashmir. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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“If you are a Kashmiri, even if you are a sportsperson, you are labelled a terrorist,” said midfielder Khalid Qayoom. “We want to change that perception. Kashmiris are not terrorists, it is just a label thrust on us.” But there were stark reminders of the troubles outside after his team’s 1-0 home win over Chennai City last week. Armed police and armoured vehicles patrolled as 15,000 rapturous fans cheered. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

“If you are a Kashmiri, even if you are a sportsperson, you are labelled a terrorist,” said midfielder Khalid Qayoom. “We want to change that perception. Kashmiris are not terrorists, it is just a label thrust on us.” But there were stark reminders of the troubles outside after his team’s 1-0 home win over Chennai City last week. Armed police and armoured vehicles patrolled as 15,000 rapturous fans cheered. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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Real Kashmir have come a long way since newspaper editor Shamim Meraj (R) and businessman Sandeep Chattoo (L) raised funds to buy 500 footballs to keep local youths occupied after deadly floods in 2014. The club took formal shape in March 2016. Chattoo said Real Kashmir started as “a joke”. “We just threw out the idea and went step-by-step. I had no idea how far it would go,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

Real Kashmir have come a long way since newspaper editor Shamim Meraj (R) and businessman Sandeep Chattoo (L) raised funds to buy 500 footballs to keep local youths occupied after deadly floods in 2014. The club took formal shape in March 2016. Chattoo said Real Kashmir started as “a joke”. “We just threw out the idea and went step-by-step. I had no idea how far it would go,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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Real Kashmir’s Gnohere Krizo (R) and Mason Robertson (2nd R) talk with the referee. Scotland’s David Robertson, came on as coach while Adidas agreed to a kit sponsorship -- the only Indian team to get the sportswear giant’s money. “We found our calling when we got to know... how the team has set on a mission to bring a positive change in the valley,” said Adidas marketing chief Sharad Singla. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

Real Kashmir’s Gnohere Krizo (R) and Mason Robertson (2nd R) talk with the referee. Scotland’s David Robertson, came on as coach while Adidas agreed to a kit sponsorship -- the only Indian team to get the sportswear giant’s money. “We found our calling when we got to know... how the team has set on a mission to bring a positive change in the valley,” said Adidas marketing chief Sharad Singla. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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Robertson declined offers from clubs in China and Uganda to take charge of the Snow Leopards but considered abandoning the club just two days in Kashmir, after a power and internet outage cut him off from family back home. Having stayed back, “Overall for me the pleasing thing is that the success of the team has put Kashmir on the football map,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

Robertson declined offers from clubs in China and Uganda to take charge of the Snow Leopards but considered abandoning the club just two days in Kashmir, after a power and internet outage cut him off from family back home. Having stayed back, “Overall for me the pleasing thing is that the success of the team has put Kashmir on the football map,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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Robertson even convinced his son Mason to quit a contract with Scottish side Peterhead to join the team. Local under-15 coach Owais Farooq said Real Kashmir’s triumphs have brought about a surge of interest among youngsters. “I receive so many calls every day from parents who want to enrol their children in training programmes but we don’t have enough grounds to train,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

Robertson even convinced his son Mason to quit a contract with Scottish side Peterhead to join the team. Local under-15 coach Owais Farooq said Real Kashmir’s triumphs have brought about a surge of interest among youngsters. “I receive so many calls every day from parents who want to enrol their children in training programmes but we don’t have enough grounds to train,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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Real Kashmir's players wave to fans after winning against Chennai City FC. Football is an afterthought in India, and the country’s 103rd-ranked international side has never participated in a World Cup. The sport was popular in Kashmir before the 1990s, after which no tournament was held for almost two decades. But Real Kashmir have given locals a fresh taste for football success. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

Real Kashmir's players wave to fans after winning against Chennai City FC. Football is an afterthought in India, and the country’s 103rd-ranked international side has never participated in a World Cup. The sport was popular in Kashmir before the 1990s, after which no tournament was held for almost two decades. But Real Kashmir have given locals a fresh taste for football success. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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“You can see the love that the people have given us,” said club co-owner Meraj. “That’s the biggest takeaway for us.” Thirty-five-year-old hotel worker Parvaiz Ahmad Reshi said he only started watching football on TV because of the club. “When I watch the game I forget my troubles. It’s so good to have something apart from violence and killings to talk about,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

“You can see the love that the people have given us,” said club co-owner Meraj. “That’s the biggest takeaway for us.” Thirty-five-year-old hotel worker Parvaiz Ahmad Reshi said he only started watching football on TV because of the club. “When I watch the game I forget my troubles. It’s so good to have something apart from violence and killings to talk about,” he said. (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2019 01:17 PM IST
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