Srinagar: ‘Kashmir’ the name brings beautiful landscapes, serene sceneries to memory which are immediately followed by army operations, terror attacks but amidst all these, a Kashmiri Muslim man and his Hindu pandit friend have joined hands to promote football in the valley.
Co-owners of new I-league team Real Kashmir FC and friends Shamim Meraj and Sandeep Chattoo are here to exhibit the true meaning of sportsmanship in the valley, TOI reports.
The 2014 floods submerged most of the valley grounds and youngsters were left in plight with no sport to play. This was when the duo decided to form the club in 2016 sensing the need and a common ground which could cross the red lines drawn by religion and Indian politics.
“We wanted to channelise the energy of Kashmiri youths in a positive way. That’s why the idea of forming a club came,” Meraj, who is also an alumnus of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, recalls.
“Shamim and I have done it together, as a Hindu and a Muslim,” said the Pandit.
“We want to make a difference; we want to bring a football revolution in Kashmir. We want to make Paradise on Earth a paradise for football.”
Meraj Shamim is currently working as an editor of a local newspaper Kashmir Monitor owned by his family while the Sandeep is a local hotelier.
Well, the hard work paid off and just in a matter of 2 years, the club has made history by making it to the top division of I-League in India’s domestic football tournament.
The club has over 3,000 youngsters from various areas of Kashmir enrolled in its grassroots academy.
“There is a craze for the game and also talent. That’s the real face of Kashmir and we have shown that real face to the world by winning the second division league and qualifying for the I-League,” Sandeep said adding, “We want youth to take up football instead of pelting stones.”
When asked why they have not chosen a different name that is something like the international teams, Chattoo explains, “We want to show the Kashmir’s real face with boys and kids playing football just like any other part of the country. Hence the name Real Kashmir.”
Meraj talking about the staff and his team says, Meraj says, “I am a Kashmiri Muslim, Sandeep a Kashmiri Pandit. We have Africans, Scotsmen, Hindus and Muslims; players are from different linguistic backgrounds. All of them playing for a team based out of Kashmir is a great example of how football can transcend barriers.”
Though the club has reached national domestic tournament, it continues struggles with Infrastructural and financial issues.
There is no particular football stadium for the team and it usually practices at the TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar, which doesn’t even have toilets.
The club is yet to get a sponsor with only just weeks left for the 2018-19 season of the I-League.
“We still don’t have sponsors. It’s difficult to run a professional football team like this,” said Meraj. With no financial support, infrastructure, the duo are fighting hard to live their dream.
“Now, we just need wings to fly,” said Chattoo.