Srinagar: Driven by a spirit to do something for their society, few young engineers, IT experts and entrepreneurs have formed a football club to fight social menaces including the drug abuse among youth in Kashmir.
“Football is in our blood. This game can be a real game changer if youngsters get all the support from the society and the government at all levels,” says Aaqib Amin Bhat, co-owner, Galaxy Football Club.
Amin who is an engineering graduate from National Institute of Technology (NIT), says that soccer can bring about a change in Jammu Kashmir. “There are many wings of sports but I strongly believe that football is in the blood of Kashmiris. I am sure football can bring about a change and that change will be for generations to see," he says.
He says when they first launched the club several matches were played on city outskirts and in the Downtown, Srinagar which generated immense “support” for players.
Bhat says, football in the last one decade has seen a paradigm shift in its promotion and popularity. With the launch of a prominent club and I-league team, Real Kashmir FC, the football and the supporters and football enthusiasts had a big relief.
“We are witnessing a lot of youth are getting involved into drugs and other social evils. This is a humble beginning to do our bit,” Bhat says.
About the name of the club, he says, “I remember all of us were focused on making this team known and famous and that's why we came up with the name Galaxy FC.”
Captain of the club, Feroz Ahmad Yattoo, says, “We were a bunch of good players but they (players) were supposed to be put through a test of fire.”
“We started organizing locality matches and later participated in an open youth football tournament held in Khadmil. That is how the journey started,” he says.
Vice-captain, Mashhud Adham, who is also an engineering graduate from SSM College of Engineering, calls football as a biggest “respite” for his society.
He says he was happy to witness football lovers coming together in villages and towns and pooling their money to launch small clubs and an initiative of organizing night football for the youth.
“Coming from a school like Biscoe where sports was considered to be an integral and important part of life, we were always inclined to get on the ground and get our hands and feet dirty,” he says.
Adham says in 2018, he along with his like-minded friends, decided to float a football team. “It all started with an evening time hobby and soon turned out to be something very competitive between us,” he says, adding “with each passing day, the passion and intensity started to grow and we were even more focused on beating each other and pushing our limits to the top.”
Another player, Shazan Ali, says that getting featured in the few of the local dailies was the biggest appreciation. “The commencement of I-league here in Kashmir was the ultimate push we needed,” he says, adding that watching big names of Indian football playing here was a source of inspiration.
He says, when he and his friends heard north Kashmir residents joining hands and contributed money from their own pockets to set-up high-voltage floodlights, this encouraged them to launch their own club and “play for the change.”
‘Love for Football’
Kashmir’s love for football is well known. It is not uncommon to see boys and girls dribbling the ball, rather than hitting it with a bat—preferred in many parts of the India—in the nooks and crannies of the Valley.
Elders share tales of how they would climb the tall trees around stadiums to watch matches in the 1980s and ’90s and spend hours in harsh winters playing football. But all the sports activities came to a grinding halt when scrapping of Article 370 followed by a complete lockdown was announced in the Kashmir region. Further lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, hampered these football enthusiasts to resume the football activities.
Despite a lack of exposure, the valley has produced footballers and AFC PRO License coaches. The Kashmir valley also boasts of players like Chennayin FC’s defender, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, and Kerala Blasters’ winger, Ishfaq Naseem. According to footballers, the lack of proper infrastructure and facilities have to be addressed immediately by the government.
“The only way football can progress is if we have facilities in winter, when most of the activity stops...We don’t have a facility in entire state where there are floodlights, which don’t even cost much,” 14-year old footballer, Arsalan Ashraf Ganaie, told Greater Kashmir. He further said that despite the lack of infrastructure in the valley, football was picking up in winters.
“You don’t need to invest a lot,” he said, adding, “It is a game where you need a good turf, rest it’s a cheap game: A ball and 24 players can play.”
Secretary, Jammu & Kashmir Sports Council, Nuzhat Gull says that “government has many schemes for uplifting the sports infrastructure across Jammu and Kashmir.”
She says that several efforts were on to boost the sports infrastructure across Jammu and Kashmir.
“Sports activities have resumed after a long hiatus in Jammu and Kashmir and we have launched various initiatives to promote the games,” she says.
President, Jammu and Kashmir Football Association, Zameer A Thakur, told Greater Kashmir, that the association was receiving applications for enrolling new clubs in Jammu and Kashmir and the process of their registration was on. He says that with the support of the Sports Council, several initiatives were underway. “We are also launching a Professional League soon in which I-league level teams will participate,” he says.
“We have also submitted a calendar of activities to the government which is under consideration,” he says, adding “We are working on creating clubs at the block levels. Also we will be launching more activities to connect youth to legendary support.”
How the ball dribbled in Kashmir
According to observers, if football is the most popular game in the valley today, credit goes to Tyndale Biscoe. In autumn of 1891, Biscoe brought one football from Mumbai to Srinagar. At the time, the idea of introducing football in the valley was making rounds in Biscoe's mind. After arriving in the valley, Biscoe with this beautiful idea went to CMS School, Fateh Kadal in Srinagar and later it became one of the popular sports in Kashmir.