Real Kashmir qualifies for 2018-19 I-League

Real Kashmir, a club in only its second year of existence, beat Hindustan FC 3-2 on the final day of the I-league second division on Wednesday to clinch promotion.

Real Kashmir players celebrating after winning the I-League Second Division title. Photo: N. Sudarshan

Twenty-two years after professional football took root in India, a team from Jammu & Kashmir will ply its trade in the country’s top division for the first time. Real Kashmir, a club in only its second year of existence, beat Hindustan FC 3-2 on the final day of the I-league second division here on Wednesday to clinch promotion.

“You can see what it means for everybody… for the players, for the people of Kashmir,” said a beaming David Robertson, former Glasgow Rangers F.C. legend who is now Real Kashmir’s coach. “Just look at the emotions. It’s a fantastic achievement.”

Midfielder Danish Farooq, who had an outstanding game against Hindustan, concurred. “We have created history,” he said. “For me this is not a surprise. We worked hard for four months. Now we are in the top division. After this it won’t be just Real Kashmir which will grow, but Kashmir football as a whole.”

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According to midfielder Shahnawaz Bashir, it marked the continuation of the good work started by Lonestar Kashmir, which is credited with having kindled I-league aspirations back home. “It first started with Lonestar but they couldn’t make much impact in spite of working hard. But this has brought us a lot of cheer.”

'Spark'

“We never gave up. In spite of all the problems back home, we never stopped training, never stopped working. We don’t have much infrastructure. But everything needs a spark. I hope this is it.”

Defender Muhammad Hammad hoped that watching the likes of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will spur more people to take up the sport. “There is lot of talent,” said the 22-year-old.  “But in Kashmir, football isn’t valued much. People want jobs. Now may be youngsters will believe that it is possible to play football as a profession.”

Robertson though summed it up the best. “Two years ago, Real Kashmir was just an idea. Now we are in the I-League! A lot of people wrote us off. The fairy-tale was going on. Now the fairy-tale will go on against the East Bengals and the Mohun Bagans.”

The result: Real Kashmir 3 (Tariq Mir 22, Danish Farooq 42, Nadong Bhutia 67) bt Hindustan FC 2 (Kushwant Chauhan 34, 80).

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