EB, MB’s ISL foray opens opportunities for others: Real Kashmir co-owner

Real Kashmir, a football club in Srinagar where gun and stones are more popular than the sport, have in the last few years been able to utilise the energy of the Kashmiri youths to its fullest. Having started their journey in 2016, the club has gone from strength to strength.

Promoted to the top division of the Indian football league within two years of its inception, the team finished third in the very first year.

Speaking to IANS, Sandeep Chattoo, co-owner of the team, explained how the club has changed the perception of the youth of Kashmir.

“There is no doubt that our club has changed the scenario and lifestyle here. Right now, in this pandemic, we have inter-district tournaments. Football is presently being played in the Kashmir districts. So, the awareness and the talent have always been there. That the club had to show the path, and that had already been done,” he said.

“We have strengthened our academy. We have around 3,000-plus strength now. We have a much better reserve team now. We have under-18, under-15, under-13 teams, and much more. We are planning everything in a way that in the next three years there will be development at the grassroots level football in the state,” he said about his plans.

While many people have questioned the status of the I-League after the inception of the Indian Super League (ISL), Chattoo doesn’t agree that the I-League has been relegated to second tier. He feels the players wouldn’t be short of motivation.

“It (I-League) has not been relegated or declared as a second-tier competition or anything. Everybody is saying so, but it’s still the Division One, at par with ISL. There may not be any promotion for two years, but who knows about the future,” he said.

Chattoo went on to say that the Real Kashmir team management will ask the players to work hard and perform well.

“There are now better chances for all the competing clubs because both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have gone to ISL, though it is very unfortunate for the I-League. It is, however, a big opportunity for the other clubs to grab the limelight in I-League. Good for them, but you see there is an aura around these clubs and we used to look forward to playing these clubs. But it is a matter of two years and after that there would be promotions to ISL as well,” he pointed out.

Chattoo says that as per the AFC guidelines, promotion from I-League to ISL may start after a couple of years. This year everything is uncertain because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is just not going to be the same kind of euphoria as in the normal times. “We don’t even know when the league is going to start, considering the raising Covid-19 cases. All the arrangements for the I-League are being made in Kolkata. But we need pre-season practice,” he said.

“If we talk about this year, it’s all going to be a makeshift kind of a thing…how foreign players are going to come, how coaches are going to come. When are they going to come? All players are practically unfit now. So, we need a good pre-season practice before the start of the league,” Chattoo emphasised.

Chattoo said everybody realised that because of the pandemic if the I-League takes place this year there would be no home games. “And for us the home games were something different — different from other states. It’s a kind of festivity here. But nobody can help these things,” he said.

“There is disappointment. Everyday hundreds of youngsters are asking if the league is happening or not. There are certain things we can’t do. But to compensate for the loss of that, we have strengthened our academy and we are going to start a vast grassroots level outreach program. Youngsters are getting involved, and the basic concept of development of football at the grassroots level is that it really works,” said the co-owner of Real Kashmir.