Real Kashmir FC – A fairytale run to I-League

  • Asif M. D. Hajra
  • Publish Date: Jun 24 2018 9:52PM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 24 2018 9:52PM
Real Kashmir FC – A fairytale run to I-League

Exhausted fighting the floods aftermath, a few friends found solace in sharing dreams while walking along the banks of then awful Jhelum. One such dream was to establish a professional football club of national repute in Kashmir. And it took around two years to give it some shape. In April 2016, Real Kashmir FC was founded in Srinagar.

May 2018: Real Kashmir FC is 2017-18 I-league (2nd Division) champions. Within a span of two years the club has risen from a minnow to a national brand. With this win, the club has achieved the feat of becoming the first professional club of J&K to qualify for country’s most coveted league tournament, the Hero I-league.

Featuring Real Kashmir FC along with other top 9 clubs of the country, the next edition of I-league will find a new arena in Kashmir where national giants like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers, Aizawl etc. would display high quality football to its spectators.                    

Having started playing only in 2016, maiden 2016-17 I-league (2nd Division) season was a learning experience for Real Kashmir FC, which the club ended with 3rd position (out of 4 teams) in Group A in the preliminary round, thus failing to qualify for the finals. In its first I-league experience, the team accumulated 9 points in 6 matches with 3 wins and 3 draws. Incidentally then, it was another Kashmir-based professional club Lonestar Kashmir FC which topped the group ‘A’ table with 10 points, two steps ahead of Real Kashmir FC.

Season 2017-18 I-League (2nd Division) – its 11th edition - featured 18 teams divided into three groups of six teams each in the preliminary round. All the matches were played on double-round robin basis, in which every team played all others in their group once at home and once away.

Having done fairly well during this footballing season, Real Kashmir FC was placed in group ‘A’ along with Hindustan FC, Pune City FC (Reserves), Delhi United, Delhi Dynamos (Reserves) and Lonestar Kashmir FC in the preliminary round. 

The team displayed scintillating football throughout the preliminary round and emerged as the table toppers with a total of 22 points with 6 wins and 4 draws in a total of 10 matches. Besides maintaining a healthy goal difference of (+7) by scoring a total of 15 goals and conceding only 8, the team also remained unbeaten in the 10 matches played, signifying complete domination in most areas of the game. 

While defenders Hammad (who is a local prodigy) and Loveday (Nigerian national) defended rock solid during the whole round, goalkeeper Sukhwinder Singh made many crucial saves. In the attacking zone, Punjab-born Atinder Mani emerged as the highest scorer for Real Kashmir FC with a total of 4 goals, besides assisting in another 4. Among local boys, the team was spearheaded by flamboyant Danish Farooq who scored a total of 3 goals and the elegant Ifham Mir who also netted 3 goals. Ivory Coast national Yao also scored 3 goals during the preliminary round.         

The final round was a test of nerves for the team as confident Real Kashmir FC would face group ‘B’ qualifiers Ozone FC, group ‘C’ toppers TRAU FC and the best placed second team Hindustan FC. It was also the test of endurance as all the teams played three matches each within a span of 7 days (24th May to 30th May).

For Real Kashmir FC, final round started with a bang as the formidable team defeated local favourite Ozone FC (3-2) in FSV Arena, Bangalore. Despite conceding the lead twice, Real Kashmir FC retaliated handsomely on both the occasions to make the things even stevens during the regular time. During the dying minutes of the match, it needed Yao’s powerful shoot to seal the win and hence the team went back into the dressing room with 3 points in the pocket.                   

In its second match (final round), the team faced the dangerous TRAU. TRAU not only had scored the highest number of points (23) among all 18 teams, it had also netted the highest number of goals (26) during the preliminary tournament. This one, though another exciting match, only ended with a draw (2-2) and with this, Real Kashmir FC held on to its table top position with 4 points just ahead of 2nd on the table Hindustan FC also with 4 points, only lagging behind on Goals For (GF).

With Real Kashmir FC and Hindustan FC sharing same number of points (4) after two matches each, the last match between these two teams virtually turned into a final, the result of which would declare the winner of the tournament. While Real Kashmir FC needed at least a draw to win the tournament, for Hindustan FC, defeating Real Kashmir FC was the only way to win the tournament.

Finally, by defeating Hindustan FC by (3-2) on 30th May, 2018, Real Kashmir FC created history by becoming J&K’s first football club to win the I-league (2nd Division) and also qualify for upcoming I-league (2018-19). Yet again the heroics of local boys Ifham and Danish ensured a compelling victory for the team and with it, the end to a fairytale run to I-league.