A Football Story from the World’s Most Militarised Zone

The Indian-administered Kashmir is widely
regarded as the “heaven on earth”- for its picturesque landscape dotted with magnificent
valleys, beautiful lakes, rivers surrounded by magnificent Himalayan ranges. Kashmir is also the reason for an active territorial
conflict primarily between Indian and Pakistan and has witnessed three major wars between
the neighbours and another limited war between India and China since 1947. More than 1.5
million lives have been lost in the Kashmir conflict since it’s origination. Amid all this football found feet in the beautiful
valley and became the major sport of the region, but, then came the insurgency in early 1990s,
and football was among the many casualties when Kashmir became one of world’s most
militarized zones. Although, the history of football in Kashmir
dates back to the last decades of the 19th century, when Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe, the founder
of the Srinagar missionary school introduced the sport to the region. It is said that when
Biscoe first demonstrated the game at Central Mission High School, Fateh Kadal, the students
refused to play the game; the ball was made of leather — a material Brahmins were forbidden
to touch. Despite the initial hesitation, football soon
caught on and by the 1980s, Kashmir had a vibrant local football culture, several players
from the region even went on to represent India.
However, in the last few years, football in the valley has grown significantly as people
have started to reconnect with the sport, finding solace in football amid the ongoing
strikes, curfew, armed conflicts and heavy military patrolling. And one of the main reasons for this blooming
football culture is Real Kashmir Football Club, an Indian professional football club
based in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu & Kashmir. Their fascinating journey from bloody summer
curfews to a snow-covered half season, has already become a stuff of legend in India. The seeds of Real Kashmir FC were sworn in
2014, when two friends – Shamim Meraj, the owner and editor of a local newspaper, Kashmir
Monitor and Sandeep Chatto, the owner of a hotel, were looking for ways to keep youngsters
entertained after a devastating flood hit the region.
The club took formal shape in March, 2016. Four months later it was selected to represent
the state in the prestigious 128th Durand Cup during a massive civilian uprising following
the murder of rebel commander Burhan Wani. The club went to Delhi with a ragtag team
which consisted of mostly semi-professional local players. They played against prominent
clubs likes Aizawl FC, Neroca FC, Dempo SC and predictably ended up last. They scored
four goals in five matches and conceded 14. “We had no idea what goes into playing at
that level. We were not prepared financially or football wise,” said club president Meraj. As the club turned their attention to the
I-League 2nd division, the 2nd tier of Indian national league,they got a manager in ex-Rangers,
Aberdeen, Leeds United and Montrose player David Robertson. The former Scottish international
had also managed Elgin City and Phoenix FC. In their first season in the league, Real
Kashmir FC finished third in their group and narrowly missed out to a place in the final
round. This was a humbling experience for Robertson
and co. as they learnt that it would take more than just one season to find their feet. In their second season, the team from Kashmir
achieved a remarkable feet by earning promotion to the top-tier, winning the tournament without
losing a single match. The introduction of two new foreign players,
defender Loveday Enyinnaya, and forward Yao Kouassi Bernard injected some much needed
experience into the squad. Local boys, Muhammad Hammad, Danish Farooq
and Ritwik Kumar Das were also crucial in the team’s title hunt. Midfielders Danish
and Ritwik were on the top scorers’ list, while Hammad partnered with Loveday and Abhash
Thapa creating the most solid defence league. The title race continued till the last match
of the tournament between Real Kashmir FC and Hindustan FC as both needed a win. On May 30, 2018, The Snow Leopards became
the first team from Kashmir to reach the I-League.. With no assistance from the AIFF or the state
government, both financial and infrastructural limitations have been a part of their journey.
The club had to rely on quiet support from goodwishers and friendly crowd fundings. The many amateur or semi-professional footballers
of the club work as daily wage labourers. During curfews, they must get through checkpoints
before they can get to practice. During shutdowns, they missed their games altogether. The one
available stadium in their home state is shared by other teams as well, so some practice sessions
took place in neighbourhood parks that have no goalposts, or even grass. Apart from that
they also have to fight against the harsh weather of the mountains. The promotion brought some much needed attention
to the club as they started preparing for the 2018-19 I-League season. On 31 October, 2018, Real Kashmir FC played
their first ever I-League match at Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Gurgaon, they defeated defending
champions Minerva Punjab FC at their own turf. The second decade of 21st century has seen
a new dawn for football in the Valley. The contribution of Real Kashmir FC to reviving
football culture in the region, cannot be emphasised enough. The TRC Turf Ground of
Srinagar has become a platform for the people of the region to showcase the real Kashmir,
all achieved despite the backdrop of violence and adversities.

32 thoughts on “A Football Story from the World’s Most Militarised Zone

  1. love from India… football in India is growing it just needs more and more support… more people in India needs this kind of pure hardwork and desire to towards the beautiful game.
    i thank you for covering this story.

  2. Hey @tifofootball if you could also come up with a video of Aizawl FC, The underdog champions of the I-League 2016-17 in India, it would be an honour to showcase the whole world of the beauty of football.

  3. long live kashmir ….and a simple advice for u fucking modi bakts ..u have 1.4 billion papulation still u r nt qualifying for football worldcup ….u guyz can only drink gov mutraa …

  4. Thank u bro for this documentary. Love from Srinagar Kashmir n from a Kashmiri footballer. We want our own nation n one day we would have our first national football team. N yah I'm also reading in biscoe school.

  5. For those barking against Burhan if he was a terrorist India wouldn't have to impose Governor Rule in occupied Kashmir . Good luck to Kashmir FC against Indian clubs 🇵🇰🇵🇰🇵🇰

  6. Thanks a lot for putting the real story of real kashmir by real kashmiris on this platform. Highly appreciated. Love from kashmir.

  7. thanks for showing the football love of kashmir…..real kashmir is gaining momentum with lot of support…..fans..all around kashmir…more has to come in future manh more achievements…fotball lovers cmmng nd like hers

  8. Its Kashmir as it is an Not "Indian Administered Kashmir"… please note Kashmir is integral part of India just as Wales of UK… Pakistan has forcefully occupied a part of Kashmir

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