Valley of optimism

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Valley of optimism

Backed by an unbeaten away record, a goal-scoring Scottish defender and a miracle coach, Real Kashmir are realising the I-League dream.

Picture this: you take up a new role in Kashmir, a state with almost non-existent football culture; guide them to promotion and turn them into genuine contenders of country's primary league title in their first season.

That's what David Robertson has done with Real Kashmir.

The team with a 2-1 win against Mohun Bagan in Kolkata on Sunday rubber-stamped their credentials on I League and look to be on a run that could well end with the trophy in their laps.

It would be premature to say the club has jumped hoops and have been the best side in the league. But catch a glimpse of the league table and you will know it's a pageantry of Robertson's efficient work with the club.

For a state that has long craved for a peaceful life, is well reaping benefits of 'the beautiful game'.

"I think the success of Real Kashmir will put the state on the map. The growth of Kashmir football has been very difficult. Unlike Kolkata, we don't have a tournament like the Calcutta Premier League. These players are pretty much playing among themselves. The players are getting exposure now and we have fans coming to watch the home matches as well. I think, with more professional players in the state now, it is beginning to change all that," Robertson told Mail Today.

Records speak for Real Kashmir. Seven goals conceded - the least by any club in the league - 15 goals scored, fifth highest in the league and five clean sheets to take them top of that particular stat chart. They are unbeaten in all away matches and are currently second in the table, three points behind league leaders Chennai City FC.

All this is accumulation of the former Rangers and Aberdeen left-back's stringent regime and his eye for a steady defence.

His major signing, also his son, Mason Lee Roberston has been a key member of the squad not just with his presence at the back but also as a frequent goal-scorer.

"I think he has played well. Any foreign signing can be a good addition to the squad and Mason has done well to adapt to the team. He has been important for us during the set pieces and as you can see, he has scored goals for us," added the father.

On his part, Mason, who left Scottish club Peterhead FC for a country he has never set foot in, is enjoying his first season at the club.

"I am having an amazing time in Kashmir. I think my father played a big part in me being here in India and I believe I made the right choice. I was introduced to the players and the people at the start and all are very welcoming. I believe my career is on the correct path," Mason told Mail Today.

Midfielder Surchandra Singh feels team unity has been the important factor behind Real Kashmir's prolific start to life in the top division.

The 25-year-old former Mohun Bagan man shifted base from Kolkata to Srinagar with a dream to one day play for the national team.

Looking back, the Manipur boy said it was the right decision to make.

"I come from the town where the likes of Renedy Singh were born. Whenever these guys came back from their clubs and national duty, they would train us. I have learnt a lot from them and it is the dream of one day playing at the big stage like them, that has kept me going," he told Mail Today.

"We are a unit and we play like a unit. Off the field, we have been on the road for so long, but the team integrity has been solid. I believe we can go on and be the champions."

From here, David Robertson and boys will have to step carefully in their quest to be another fairytale story of country's primary league champions.