By R Elahi
SRINAGAR: Huddled together at the Synthetic Turf Ground TRC in Srinagar, 2015 I-League runner-ups Lonestar Kashmir FC players and coaches look a mixed bunch of youth and experience. Donning their black dominated training uniform, under the blistering heat of an afternoon sun, the Kashmir FC players are on their toes as they go through one training regimen after another. Guided by the forceful commands of their coaching staff, the players are put through drills that simulate real match situations involving KFC’s creative midfielders pinging long balls to the right wing.
Keeping a close eye on the proceedings, KFC’s owner Iftikhar Ahmed Lone watches from the sidelines.
“Kashmir FC started a year before the 2014 floods. We played the National Indian League back then and the team was completely made up of J&K boys. In 2015-16 we played I-League 2nd Division, becoming the first pro club from J&K to achieve that feat. And I must say it wasn’t easy because football here was in a deep slumber back then. People didn’t even know what I-League was,” Lone told Kashmir Observer.
“We have worked hard and spent Rs 5 to 6 crore over all these years so that football in Kashmir could be revived. LKFC is the first pro team of the Valley, every player and every coach here is paid. There are no volunteers. Our contribution to the game is huge because it was our players and coaching staff that became the foundation of clubs like Real Kashmir and others,” he said, momentarily stopping to applaud a well-worked drill that resulted in a goal.
“Our youth academy and our Girls’ Football Academy is a testament to Lonestar Kashmir’s motivation to develop and improve grassroots football,” Lone added.
Out on the field, Lonestar’s foreign recruits stand out from the local boys. A central defender cum defensive midfielder from Panama, with loads of experience playing across Latin American football leagues as well as in Mexico, passing the ball to KFC’s left back, a young boy from Kanipora area of Srinagar.
Another fresh recruit for Kashmir FC, a top priority addition, is its Mumbai born and raised Head Coach, Chandan Rathod. An AFC ‘A’ License coach, as well as a GK coach, Rathod has massive experience of coaching football clubs and youth developmental projects in Mumbai, Gujarat and Bangladesh.
At TRC, Rathod’s team execute meticulously scheduled drills and match simulations. He shifts between training KFC’s goalkeepers and then coming around to shout orders at his outfield players. Ably assisted by J&K’s well-known coach and manager Mohd Shafi Nari and young AFC ‘C’ Licensee coach, Masood Maqbool. Time is of the essence as Lonestar Kashmir’s ticket to I-League 2nd Division is forthcoming in the form of JKFA Professional League 2021.
“Our objective is to qualify for the I-League. But I’m here to educate coaches and learn from them as well,” Rathod told KO after the training session was over.
“Just like I want young footballers at KFC to get better and better, I want young coaches like Masood to excel and progress in their coaching careers. J&K needs well-trained local coaches who can train local players.”
“Me and Iftikhar Lone are on the same page regarding the direction of the club. We want to develop KFC’s academies so that we can strengthen the club’s future. We would also like to modernize the game of football in Kashmir. I saw in the UT Knockout League in March that it was like a rugby game instead of football. The officials need to be strict and consistent.
“The issue of infrastructure is also a detrimental factor to the overall growth of football in J&K.”
Lonestar Kashmir FC will begin their JKFA Professional League campaign on Monday, July 12 against Jammu-based club Shaheen FC at the Synthetic Turf Ground, TRC. The match is scheduled to kick off at 5:15 pm.
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