Despite news of alleged terrorists making a futile attempt to attack CRPF jawans with grenades in the interiors of the city on a chilly Saturday, Srinagar's TRC Turf Ground is expected to wear its best frock for Sunday's I-League match between Real Kashmir and Mohun Bagan. The ground, the city's hotspot for football after the hallowed Bakshi Stadium went for renovation, can hold up to 10,000 fans but there will be no more than 2,000 locals when the gates open for 11:30 AM start. (More Football News)
Real Kashmir's Scottish head coach David Robertson reckoned that these diehard fans will provide the extra boost that the team will need against former champions Mohun Bagan, who are also coming off a morale-boosting win against Gokulam Kerala. Mohun Bagan's greatest challenge will be the extreme cold conditions and artificial turf.
“Football is obviously the main sport here. I have heard that the Bakshi Stadium used to be packed with 40,000 people in the past. People here love football. So they come in large numbers for our home fixtures, which really helps to motivate the boys," said Robertson.
Real Kashmir players practice. Courtesy: AIFF
Football has allowed the common Kashmiri to 'release' himself. The stringent security rules can be claustrophobic. The beauty of the land and the air has a sense of uneasiness. There is a media team from Delhi in Srinagar to cover the Real Kashmir-Mohun Bagan match. The restriction on using the internet seemed absurd when our smartphones became dumb. But that's the reality here.
The TRC Turf Ground will have only one entry and exit point for fans. Tickets have been sold after fans produced their identity cards to J&K Police who are manning the security arrangements. Yet, the passion is running high as Real Kashmir count on their colourful supporters who have backed this team from their Division Two days. The Snow Leopards have represented not just a football team from the Valley but a Kashmir that hates bullets and killings.
On the turf, of course, it will be war. Real Kashmir are unbeaten so far and are seventh in the 11-team table.
"The first half against Chennai City was the best 45 minutes we've played since I've been the coach here. We have improved from last season – we had four points from our first four games and we have five in three now – and we hope to keep going building on it, the season has just started," said Robertson.
Talking about his team’s opponents, the Scotsman lauded Mohun Bagan’s history. “Football wise, they are getting better and better. If you look at some of their matches, they are trying to be consistent this season and are in a good position in the table right now. But the season has just started,” he added.
Mohun Bagan's Spanish head coach Kibu Vicuna will be banking on the in-form Fran Gonzalez to strike, despite the weather and the hard underfoot conditions.
Used to playing in front of big turnouts, Mohun Bagan have not been goal-shy this season. With eight goals in four matches, Bagan have been riding their Spanish Armada where Gonzalez has been prolific with five goals and Joseba Beitia manning the midfield with tremendous vision.
Mohun Bagan had defeated Real Kashmir in the Durand Cup last year, but the past will have nothing to do on Sunday. It's a fresh game for both teams and the coaches know taking things lightly will mean sure death.
Note: The match will be LIVE on DSPORT from 11:30 AM onward.