It was around two-and-a-half seasons back that Real Kashmir FC, a team from the snow-clad Himalayan mountain range, earned promotion to the I-League. Since then, the club has gone on to take Indian football forward together in a region where football has “brought people closer”.
Real Kashmir FC’s Scottish head coach David Robertson has been with the club since its time in the Second Division League and has been an integral part of the journey that has turned the TRC Ground in Srinagar into a cauldron feared by the opposition. Now in his fourth season at the club, Robertson feels that he owes it to the people of Kashmir to come back. “I’ve had a few other offers over the years, but I just feel that I owe it to the people of Kashmir and everyone associated with the club, to come back and continue the work,” Robertson said to i-league.org.
“I’m not doing this for the financial gains nor am I using this as a stepping stone. I want to make an impact. Every time I go back home, I look forward to coming back here. I’m glad I did this. When I first came to Kashmir, Lonestar Kashmir was the more popular club and we would attract only around maybe 200 spectators to our games in the Second Division. The spectators were mostly men and it was more of going out in the afternoon to watch a bit of football.
“But things really started to grow once we made it to the Hero I-League. I remember when I had first taken over back in the Second Division, we barely had any infrastructure and to see the club grow from that to the professional unit that it is now, is immense,” he further stated. The Snow Leopards have left such days far behind, attracting thousands to the stands, with queues for the matchday tickets stretching for almost a kilometre.
“Nowadays you can see people from so many walks of life thronging into the stadium. Football has really brought people together. You not only have men and women, but you also get to see grandparents and grandchildren coming to the stands and it’s amazing how football has brought them all together. It has been nothing short of a fairytale,” he said.
“I’ve played and coached at so many places, but the atmosphere in Kashmir is unique. In places like the USA, it’s more of a case of putting on the jersey and pretending that you support the team,” stated Robertson. “Here in Kashmir, it’s pure passion,” Robertson added.
While the club surges forward, currently taking part in the 2020-21 I-League season, the long-term aim of Real Kashmir remains to bring forth more local players to the fore, and give them a platform to shine.
Robertson believes that such opportunities would also bring hope to the people of Kashmir. “When I first came to Kashmir, there was not much there. Once you are done with your day’s work, there’s not much to do in the evenings. But Real Kashmir has given something to the people. Every state or two needs a club that people follow, and that kids want to play for,” he said.
“We eventually want to have a lot of Kashmiri youth in the team. Currently, clubs like Aizawl, NEROCA and TRAU have a lot of local players. That is what we want to do in the long term. It just gives more hope to the people in Kashmir. We’ve seen Danish (Farooq) grow so much as a crowd-favourite in the last few years. Our aim is to produce many more Danishes over the years,” added the 52-year-old.