“Ye kye aaw soan Danish” (Here comes our Danish), shouted Muhammad Amin Wadoo, a former footballer from old city’s Rainawari, who is now in his seventies, as Real Kashmir Football Club made their way into the Turf TRC Stadium in Srinagar.
Donning a traditional cloak (pheran) and a cap, Wadoo places the groceries kept in a jute bag on his lap.
He looks up with a smile on his face as the team heads towards the centre of the field.
Physically weak now, Wadoo joins the students wearing green uniform to cheer for the home team that rewrote history to become the first from the strife-ridden state to play in the prestigious I-League.
As Real Kashmir’s star player Danish Farooq passes the ball, Wadoo can be seen shouting instructions from the stand.
As students continue to cheer loudly beyond him, Wadoo says:
"“It reminds me of my days as a footballer for Mission Sports Club during the 1960s. I would play at the forward position. Things changed in between. But now the game is again gaining grounds in the valley.”" -
Braving the November cold, the two things that caught Wadoo’s attention at the end of the day were the popularity of the club and its star player Danish Farooq in action.
“I pray that the game again flourishes in the valley,” Wadoo wished as he walked out of the stadium after the game.
Though a popular game in the region even before British time, football has again seen a revival with the emergence of local clubs and various competitions at a professional level.
On Tuesday, 6 November for the first time in history, Real Kashmir locked horns with one of the leading football clubs in the country.
Keeping in mind their past season heroics and first match success against Minerva Punjab, at least 6,000 ecstatic spectators gathered to watch the first ever I-League match in Kashmir.
The stadium, which is used to hosting matches of lesser importance during winters, presented a colourful scene as people irrespective of their age attended the historic event.
According to one of its officials, the stadium was seeing such a huge number of spectators for the first time since its establishment.
"“It has been only a few years since the new stadium has been built. But the gathering I saw today (6 November) has to be a record-breaking one.”" - Stadium Official
The atmosphere became emotionally charged Danish missed an opportunity to score a goal in after the second half of the game. The entire crowd started chanting in unison as the game headed towards the end. Sloganeering and drum beats filled the arena as the slogan “Apna Danish Apna Danish” reverberated in the air. All they wanted was a solitary goal from their favourite Danish.
Many in the crowd had dedicated the entire day to witness the historical match and cheer for the ‘local heroes’.
Shujaat Saleem, who works for a software company in New Delhi, was in town for his vacation and he made sure he was there at the ground on Tuesday for the match.
"It is an awesome feeling to cheer for a local team. Our home team is doing well and you don’t want to waste an opportunity to see them compete hard." - Shujaat Saleem, Spectator
One of national players from Kashmir, Ishfaq Ahmad, was also in the stands on Tuesday, 6 November. The former Mohun Bagan footballer couldn’t hide his excitement and flew back to his hometown to watch the prestigious match.
"“Today, I am high on emotion to see a football club from my state has made it to the I-league. It is a proud moment for all of us and I couldn’t hold my excitement. So, came here to watch the game.”" - Ishfaq Ahmad, footballer
Ahmad expressed his desire to play for the club.“I want to play for them but right now I am busy with some other professional commitments,” he said.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, and many other state officials and sportspeople including Ranji Trophy cricketers Manzoor Pandav and Adil Reshi were there on Tuesday, 6 November to cheer for Real Kashmir FC.
Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, Syed Abid Shah, who is a self-confessed football fanatic appreciated the support shown by the general public for the home team.
"“We have been waiting for this match. We did whatever arrangement we could do and more will be done in coming time to make such games more successful.”" - Syed Abid Shah, Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar
The match might have ended in a draw, but a hero’s welcome awaited the club – the presence of a sea of people near the dressing room spoke a thousand words.
(The author is a freelance journalist from Kashmir with an experience of over eight years of reporting issues on various beats.)
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