I-League: Real Kashmir giving people ‘hope, happiness and joy’

Real Kashmir co-owner Sandeep Chattoo talks about what has been a challenging I-League season…

Real Kashmir got promoted from the second division, made their debut in I-League two years ago, and finished third. The first club from Kashmir to play in India’s then top division, in their second season, is now fourth on the table after 15 rounds, with a game in hand over the top three teams.

The Srinagar-based club has had to deal with quite a few challenges in their first two seasons in I-League, including the infamous Pulwama attack, the scrapping of Article 370 and the Kashmir lockdown. They are now dealing with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic which has seen more than 150 cases crop up in India. 

With the whole world dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak, co-owner Sandeep Chattoo is in no hurry to restart the league. If his team wins their game in hand, they move to the second spot but health cannot be compromised and hence, a league restart seems unlikely. 

“Nobody can say that it should start and when it should start. Looking at the world scenario, safety is paramount. There is no question of we, as a club, wanting the I-League to start. We have to assess the situation. Safety of the community is the most important,” Chattoo told Goal

“The financial loss (if the restart is delayed or doesn’t resume) is for everyone around the world. Of course, it is a loss, we worked so hard, but so has everyone else. At this time, safety is important. It would not be correct to even think about completing the league, it is not in the hands of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).”

Despite facing one challenge after another to host I-League games in Srinagar, the valley has come to life every time Real Kashmir took to the field. 

“After Article 370 and the long shutdown, when we played our first home game, that was the first day a lot of youngsters came together. We had an attendance of around 4000. It instilled belief that football can change lives. We have since played seven games so far and the attendance has reached 11000.

“All games were conducted peacefully, except for against East Bengal where the crowd were angry due to refereeing. Our home games are something that everyone looks forward to because there’s not much to do here as it is. We have given something to the people here – hope, happiness and joy.”

Real Kashmir’s impressive output in I-League has opened the doors for a lot of plans for the development of football and tie-ups with foreign clubs. They have an ongoing partnership with adidas and have already signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with a League One club which includes player exchange programs and pre-season friendlies. 

On the club’s future plans, Sandeep said, “Last year we came third and had a game to play. We were on a winning spree when the Pulwama attack happened and then there was a disruption. We managed to come third and the team was putting in their best. 

“We wanted to repeat our performance if not better it. Article 370, the curfews, the lockdown, it was very tough for the team management and players to do the pre-season training here. The league started late, the team had ups and downs but the team now stands fourth with one game in hand.

“When the situation is beyond anybody, just have to hope and pray for the world. Looking at the journey of Real Kashmir, we have our own plans for the next year.”