Footballer-turned-coach of Real Kashmir FC David Robertson received the British Empire Medal (BEM), a coveted honour by the Queen for his services to the local community of Kashmir during his coaching tenure.
Militancy, insurgency, stone pelting, terrorism, these are the words that we keep seeing on media channels, sadly related to the beautiful Kashmir valley. In a region scarred by an armed insurgency and the presence of heavy Indian troops, the rise of Real Kashmir Football Club comes as a fresh breeze, providing Kashmir with its very own fairytale!
Recently, the footballer-turned-coach David Robertson received the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s birthday honours list for services to the local community of Kashmir during his coaching tenure with Real Kashmir FC. Robertson has helped inspire children in the war-torn region to play football. Channelising their energies into productive avenues away from mindless violence, radicalism and a sense of hopelessness.
It is remarkable that in a region marred by communal tensions, the seeds of the Real Kashmir FC were sown by a Hindu businessman and a Muslim editor. It has become the first team from the valley to make it to the first division of Indian Football.
The Real Kashmir Football Club is the first professional football club from Kashmir. It was created five years ago by a Kashmiri Hindu businessman, Sandeep Chatoo and a Kashmiri Muslim news editor, Shamim Meraj to show the real face of Kashmir with boys playing football and families cheering them. They wanted to find a way where the whole community could get together and utilise their energies productively instead of wasting their time and lives in the war-torn region.
Changing the Narrative
Football is helping reverse the narrative around Kashmir, which is today notoriously described as “one of the most dangerous places on Earth” to again being “the paradise on Earth,” as was once described by the 17th century Mughal Emperor, Jehangir.
The current situation in Kashmir demands an urgent engagement of the youth in constructive activities to wean them away from the desire to pick up the gun. The Real Kashmir FC provides an excellent alternative to the youth of Kashmir which has been marred by a lack of socio-economic opportunities. It is healing the hearts of the disgruntled Kashmiri people drawn to radicalisation. “Seeing all these people from diverse backgrounds coming together. Especially in an area that is often talked about for its tensions, and watch them unitedly supporting the team are the best 90 minutes I get to see” remarks David.
Interestingly, the team also exhibits great cultural diversity. It includes not just Indians, but Europeans and Africans too. The squad represents a multitude of religious beliefs including local Kashmiri Muslim boys, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and even Sikhs, making it one of the most diverse teams in the country. When asked about the culture and people of India, David replied, “Kashmiris are very generous and simple people. What I like the most about the culture is the importance Indians give to family relationships. The families here are very well-knit and strong. Often we hear family ties are weaning away in so many countries around the globe. People in India can teach a lot about that to the West”
About David Robertson
Formerly, Robertson has played as a left-back for Aberdeen, Rangers, Leeds United, Montrose and represented Scotland. Since retiring as a player, he has managed Elgin City, Montrose, Phoenix FC. He has even played under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. In January 2017, David Robertson took over the club when it was just six months old, not in a league, had no training kit or changing rooms, present in one of the most militarized areas in the world. Taking the reins, he has brought about a massive transformation to the sports ecosystem of the valley. And more importantly, given a new space for the youth to engage in. More so in a way that promotes unity and harmony. David had to adapt to a very different environment way too quick.
He confesses that the early days brought in a lot of surprises. “The culture, space, even the weather is very different. Coming from Scotland to a country as diverse as India had its own challenges”, he says while mentioning that despite all the differences in lifestyles, something in Kashmir makes him feel at home. “I really miss Srinagar and coaching the boys. The people there are very kind. I am hoping to get back to the game with them when the pandemic subsides”