Lonestar Kashmir FC: a landmark moment in Indian football

On Sunday morning, those who will be in attendance at the Ambedkar Stadium will witness a landmark moment in Indian football. Lonestar Kashmir FC will become the first professional football club from the state of Jammu and Kashmir to participate in a national league competition.

The baby steps will be taken by, remarkably enough, the youngsters. Kashmiri teenagers will participate in the I-League under-19 competition; Bengaluru FC will be the side's first opponent in the Rest of India Group A at the Ambedkar Stadium on Sunday.

One would expect it to be a daunting challenge for the callow footballers, but tougher peaks have been scaled. After the September floods in J&K, many of them faced the improbable task of building their lives again. They were shocked, as head coach Hilal Paray emphasised.

Yet, they found the strength to not only live a normal life again, but also retained football as a significant part of their lives. “I told them that they have to accept it and move on. Life can't stop,” said Paray. It was an obvious thing to say, but looking at the joy on the faces of the footballers, one could surmise that it had a positive effect on them.

Since the squad is entirely made up of players from the state, it was an experience that brought them together. People at the club now hope that the cohesion will help the side leave a mark in this national competition.

If officials attached to the club are to be believed, it's a surprise that it took so long to establish a professional club in J&K. Football features among the most popular sports in the region, as even local league matches attract decent crowds.

With the popularity of the sport fuelling the desire for more involvement, the J&K Football Association roped Iftikhar A. Lone to start a football club. One of the region's prominent businessmen, Mr. Lone heads the Lonestar group.

While other corporates have shown an interest too, club secretary Majid Yousuf reveals that the owners will not welcome external investment since it may hamper their long-term vision for the club. It's a vision for sustainability.

For the first five years, the club has leased three venues in Srinagar and one in Jammu for carrying its football operations. In fact, plans have been discussed for the club to possess a stadium of its own.

When it eventually happens, the club will hope to own fully contracted players as well. In the current u-19 side, players have been loaned from various local sides in J&K.

Sajid Yusuf Dar, an AFC Pro Licence coach like Hilal Paray, has been placed in charge of the senior side. Hence, Kashmir FC is among the few Indian clubs to have two Pro Licence coaches on its staff.

It's indicative of the role played by Kashmiris in Indian football, much before the club came into existence. Players like Mehrajuddin Wadoo have already gained nationwide recognition for their displays on the football pitch.

However, as Club Secretary Yousuf claims, institutions' inability to get involved into full-time football activity ensured that no club could be formed until now.

Now that the club is here, the immediate task is to acquire qualification for the final round of u-19 I-League. In Hilal Paray, though, Kashmir FC doesn't have a natural leader. He doesn't usually involve himself in youth coaching. But, there are other motivations, arguably much stronger. “I want to do well for the state and for its people; for young people and those who were affected by floods.”

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 11:44:33 AM |

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