Football back in Kashmir, but with crowd control
When the two sides kick off at the TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar, it will mark the first time a national level sporting event is held in the valley since the abrogation of Article 370 in August.
There is both a sense of excitement and a feeling of restraint as Real Kashmir FC gear up to host their maiden home game of this I-League season against Chennai City FC. When the two sides kick off at the TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar, it will mark the first time a national level sporting event is held in the valley since the abrogation of Article 370 in August. While the club is thrilled to be finally playing at home—it has seen two home matches already cancelled this season due to inclement weather—it is restricting the number of spectators for the encounter against the defending champions.
The TRC Turf Ground has a capacity to seat around 9,000 people, with matches last season—Real Kashmir’s debut season in the I-League—even witnessing fans in excess of 15,000 thronging the stands. On Thursday the scene will be more subdued.
“Football is back in Srinagar after a long time, and we are absolutely excited and thrilled about it,” Real Kashmir co-owner Sandeep Chattoo said from Srinagar on Wednesday, even as he was overseeing last-minute preparations and security arrangements at the ground. “But we are restricting the number of spectators for the first couple of games, because something like this is taking place in Srinagar for the first time after all that has happened over the last few months. So, we don’t want to take any chances.”
Chattoo said they are looking at limiting the number of spectators on Thursday to between 3,000 and 5,000. They have opened just one counter for ticket sales at the ground, and tickets are being issued after lengthy scrutiny.
“We have given tickets only after noting the person’s phone number and identity proof. We don’t want any untoward incident in the stadium,” Chattoo said. “We just want a good game of football so that the local police also don’t feel any pressure.”
Unlike last season, when every I-League game in Srinagar created a certain amount of buzz, Real Kashmir have kept it quiet in the build up to the battle against Chennai City. It is partly the club’s decision and partly because internet accessibility is still restricted in the valley.
“We have not publicized the match, because then it would have been a problem of everyone wanting to come and watch. Plus, internet is back only in certain places here, so there is hardly any form of communication between the people. Not many people know about it, and we want to keep it that way for now,” Chattoo said.
In fact, while the hotel that Chattoo owns in Srinagar—which is home to the Real Kashmir team—has internet access, the nearby hotel where the Chennai City team has been put up does not, according to Chattoo. “I told them, you guys are welcome to use the internet in my hotel,” he said, with a chuckle.
Despite these challenges and a feeling of wait-and-watch, the entire Real Kashmir family is looking forward to playing football at their den, having last played at home in February earlier this year in the league’s previous season.
“For the players, this is home. They are naturally excited to play their first game here. What they are going to miss is that fan-following and support like last year. But then we can’t have the best of everything,” Chattoo said.
“Let’s see how the first game goes, and then we will gradually build the momentum and the number of people that we allow. At least we re-start some activity and get football back.”