After Real Kashmir’s celebrations, the real story of Kashmir football

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As the fizz around Real Kashmir FC’s success settles and the focus shifts on fixing the infrastructural handicaps ahead of the forthcoming I-League season, football in Jammu and Kashmir seems to be on the path of revival; but not without impediments. “It is a positive story from the sports point of view,” says former India international Ishfaq Ahmed as he hails Real Kashmir’s promotion to the I-League — a historic first for a J&K club. “If you see in the recent past, it is only football which is doing something or the other. J&K lacks entertainment, particularly Kashmir… football fans here will now get a chance to see their favourite stars in action from a close range, and for the youngsters, it will be an opportunity to showcase their talent in front of the home crowd,” insists the 35-year-old midfielder.
Lack of infrastructure
However, the elation in his voice is soon taken over by the anxiety. “We don’t have the requisite facilities to host an I-League game,” Ahmed says. “There is only one all-weather football ground in Srinagar and that too is not up to the mark. It is without a proper dressing room. It doesn’t have the requisite facilities for players and their support staff. It should not happen that visiting teams refuse to play here.”
Ahmed’s concern is genuine and finds endorsement from Shamim Meraj, the owner of Real Kashmir FC. “Right now, the biggest concern for us is not the situation (in the Valley), it is the infrastructure,” he asserts.
“We don’t have anything here. All the noise about we have done so much is all false. We have just one all-weather turf and it is shared by 10 teams. So we get slots to train, like one hour… But if we are playing in the I-League, that won’t be enough. We need dressing rooms, we need toilets, we need media room, which is not there.” “We now hope that the government will fulfil its commitment… I met the Chief Minister last week and apprised her of the situation. She assured me of the needful,” reveals a concerned Meraj. Srinagar largely has three main football centres — while the famous Bakshi Stadium is under renovation, the Polo Ground does not meet the set standards. So the only place where professionals can play is the TRC Football Field, which has the synthetic turf. The other centres across the state where football is famous — Baramulla, Sopore, Bandipora, Anantnag and certain parts of Jammu — also don’t have the proper grounds to host the I-League matches, even though they house a majority of the 500 clubs that are registered with the J&K Football Association (JKFA).
“If we talk about infrastructure, we are far behind. A lot of work needs to be done to increase the infrastructural capabilities. The better grounds we have, the better number of footballers we will be able to produce,” reflects former India international Mehrajuddin Wadoo.
Looking ahead
The 34-year-old right-back, though, chooses to remain optimistic about the future and doesn’t want to delve into the past. “If we talk about football, it was always present here but whether it was going in the right direction or not is a subject of debate. If you see, Ishfaq and I were the only two players in the recent past to have gone out to play football. Around 17-18 years ago, we moved out of the Valley and after that no one else has made it to the national side.

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