The stage is set at Srinagar’s Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) football ground, with weather seeming to root for the host team, Real Kashmir FC when it hosts Churchill Brothers in the I-League on Tuesday.
The hills and the mountain peaks surrounding the stadium are capped with snow. The temperature at night in Srinagar drops to minus 0.4 degree Celsius while it hovers around just five degree Celsius during the day. Untimely and heavy snowfall two days ago brought life to a standstill. Undeterred, the players are all set to play on Tuesday, a milestone in Jammu and Kashmir's football history.
“It’s a dream come true for me. I will be hosting and rooting for my own team, Real Kashmir, for the first time in the I-league. The best team will win but sports enthusiasts already have a sense of victory that big teams are playing in Kashmir,” says 19-year-old football fan Nazir Khan, who's donning multiple layers of clothing in the biting cold.
Sonam Lotus, director of the meteorological department, forecasts dry weather for Tuesday. The Real Kashmir versus Churchill Brothers game will start around 2 p.m. to a packed stadium with a capacity of 8,000.
All the matches will be telecast live on Star Sports. The snow-triggered power cuts have made organisers work harder to ensure live pictures are streamed on the newly installed solitary screen. Local authorities have been rushing against the deadlines get the facility up and running.
“In six weeks, we were able to meet national-level facilities. The home team playing 10 matches against the best clubs of the country has come as a shot in the arm for local players and football. It has opened up a window for the regular matches in Kashmir,” says Sarmad Hafeez, secretary, J&K Youth Service and Sports department.
Emotional video, snow, and home crowd
The run up to Tuesday’s clash has been both dramatic and musical. A two-minute emotional but musical short film made on Real Kashmir was released on October 31 to boost local crowd.
Even a blind old man from rural Kashmir is wearing pheran , a long woollen robe, and cheering for the team in the film. It’s no surprise that the video already has over 25 lakh views. The first dramatic 1-0 win against defending champion Minerva Punjab FC on October 31 has also bolstered Real Kashmir’s morale.
Away from the astro turf grounds, the Valley’s who’s who have their eyes on the big game. “This (win against Minerva Punjab) is baptism by fire. Real Kashmir, you are gold standard. I am sure you will come out glittering. As we say in Kashmiri, ‘ nare draaw suan ’,” says Haseeb Drabu, a senior Peoples Democratic Party leader and former state Finance minister.
Wearing the Real Kashmir jersey, former chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah’s enthusiasm was brewing online, during the first match.
“That’s called a debut. Defeating the defending champions in their opening match. Well done guys. Onwards and upwards. Here’s to more glory in the days ahead. It’s so nice to have something to cheer about,” he said in a tweet.
Will weather favour locals?
On the eve of the encounter, Real Kashmir’s Scottish coach David Robertson hoped that “both weather and home crowd will favour his team.”
“We have played in these conditions. Many in Churchill Brothers are not used to these conditions. We have already won the previous game. We would like to keep the momentum going. But we need to play like a team,” said Robertson.
Churchill Brothers' captain and coach are up for the challenge. The team’s Romanian coach Petre Gigiu admits the weather might “add to Real Kashmir's chances.”
“We have five players from across the world. They are used to such conditions. We are determined to do what we have come for to Srinagar. We want to win three away games and earn points before we play at the home ground (Goa),” said Churchill Brothers captain Eldor Hussain.
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