“There are many poets in football, but poets don’t win a lot of trophies.”
Jose Mourinho’s infamous jibe may have been directed to Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp but it has been used out of context several times ever since. The common notion held is, it is not possible to win and make a statement if the focus is only on providing eye-pleasing football. It is also the manager’s duty to ensure that the squad he manages also wins trophies and silverwares, and not just the audience’s heart.
While revolutionaries like Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola have combined the two to provide European teams with style and swagger that is unmatched in modern football, there are others like David Robertson closer home who are churning out such miracles but are rarely ever placed under the spotlight.
Real Kashmir is the first team from the valley to qualify to I-League
Former Rangers and Aberdeen footballer Robertson has come to the forefront by guiding Real Kashmir FC to the topmost-tier of Indian football, the I-League. The Srinagar-based outfit made history by becoming the first club from the valley to make it to the I-league a few months back, all in a mere two years of their existence.
Speaking to The Scroll, former manager Salman Mir said, “We had the smallest budget in the entire division but it was fantastic to watch a local derby (Lonestar Kashmir vs Real Kashmir). People would pack the TRC Ground in Srinagar to watch these two teams play.”
Passion for the game has always been high in the valley, but lack of infrastructure, training facilities and finance has historically pegged it back. The intermittent violence and terrorists attacks have not helped the game’s cause either. However, in 2015, Shameem Meraj, owner of local newspaper Kashmir Monitor decided to give the boys a platform to showcase their talents. That is how the club was born.
In its initial days, Meraj had to collect funds from patrons and local businesses to run the operation. Curfews and lack of a proper footballing system meant that the intense struggle to exist continued for months. The Bakshi Stadium, which acts as the home stadium for the club did not have floodlights and snow clearance facilities which hampered practice sessions. However, where there is a will, there is a way.
Cashing on the immense popularity of the beautiful game, local footballers who have been plying their trade in the local J&K League were recruited as well as a few foreigner players. They narrowly missed out on the second division final stage last year, despite operating on a budget that is significantly lower than any of their competitors.
Real Kashmir is the first Indian club from J&K to play overseas
At the start of the current season, the club organized an exposure tour for the players to Scotland. Although it lost a few of its star players like Sushil Meitei and Loken Meitei to I-League and ISL outfits, local lads like Ifham Tariq Mir and Danish Farooq stepped up the ante.
They dominated the group stages of the 2nd Division and did not lose a single game, winning six and drawing four. The final rounds saw them registering a superb victory over Ozone FC and held Manipur’s TRAU FC and Delhi outfit Hindustan FC to a draw. They had finally made the cut: a mere two seasons after the formation of the club, they will now be facing India’s finest amidst the snow-filled backdrops of the Kashmir Valley. As for Robertson, he will now be hoping to build on the miracle achieved by his side and enhance the violence-riddled region’s legacy.
Before Real Kashmir’s achievement, Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Ishfaq Ahmed were the state’s greatest exports to Indian football. These two are still looked up by any Kashmiri footballer who dreams of making it big. They now have the means to make their dreams come true as well: because football, in all its glory and passion, will now be coming home to them.