By Rohit Mundayur
New Delhi, Nov 12 (IANS) Real Kashmir’s home ground will remain in Srinagar next season and the club has received the necessary assurances from the authorities about the smooth conduct of the matches, the club’s co-owner Sandeep Chattoo said on Tuesday.
Real Kashmir was one of the biggest stories of the I-League last year due to its status as the only club to represent Srinagar in the history of top-flight football in India and for the sold out attendance almost every match got at the TRC football turf ground, where it played its home matches. Events that have unfolded in the city in recent months, however, had put a question mark over whether the team will still be able to host fixtures there. Chattoo however says that it is imperative that matches happen in Srinagar.
“It is very important for us to play over there because the whole essence is lost otherwise,” Chattoo told IANS. “This club belongs to Kashmir, we have the biggest fan base there and they all want to watch the match and be part of it. Who would want to lose the home advantage. In that way you can just fix up two venues and everybody could come and play.”
The club has been on the road ever since the revocation of Article 370, giving a special status to the former state of J&K, first taking part in the Durand Cup in Kalyani, West Bengal and friendlies in a number of cities across the country. They also held a pre-season training camp in Navi Mumbai.
Coach David Robertson said that the fact that the team has been moving about has been helpful in keeping them focussed on training. “To be honest with you its been easy because we have moved about a lot, seen different places and its a good tight knit group,” he said when asked if there were difficulties in keeping the players focussed on football in the midst of all that has been happening. “They all like each other, we’ve got good characters within the group. It’s all like a family with the players, the staff, the owners — its a unique atmosphere. I think that’s helped a lot.
“And besides, they are here to play football. Okay, they are away from their families but football’s full of sacrifices. They know they’ve done well last season and they want to do that this season as well.”
The club’s matches were sold out affairs for much of the previous season with the attendance shooting above the TRC ground’s capacity. Chattoo said that he is confident that there will be a repeat of such numbers this season and the club is actually looking to limit the attendance for the first few games.
“Everything is normal now but because of the prolonged shutdown, we don’t want 20000-30000 people coming in the first game itself. We want it to gradually increase so that the security forces don’t have to cope with so many people coming in all of a sudden,” he said.
Real Kashmir has attracted headlines across the world ever since they got promoted to the top flight at the end of the 2018/19 season and the most recent example of it is a documentary centered around the club and Robertson winning an award at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) Scotland Awards. Despite all that has happened in recent times, the Scotsman, who has turned out for Scottish giants Rangers amongst other clubs in his playing career, said that he has no plans to move on.
“It’s big and whenever I go back I go on radio shows, TV shows. All they ask about is Real Kashmir and my experiences. It’s been a fantastic journey. When I look back two years ago, there were no changing rooms, no training kit, no balls and now here we are standing with a partnership with Adidas. It’s hard to believe that we have come so far in such a short time,” he said.
“I could have moved in the summer but I’ve just got an emotional attachment. I really love Kashmir as a whole, I love the place, the people. I just love being the coach of the team. It’s not about money, I just love what I am doing. It’s a great place to work.”
Real Kashmir’s season starts on December 3 with their first match being played against East Bengal at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata. Their first home game will be after that on December 12 against Gokulam Kerala.