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‘Longest’ pre-season, security concerns have galvanised Real Kashmir: Coach Robertson

Sayan Mukherjee

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Real Kashmir
Real Kashmir unveiled their new home jersey and mascot 'Simba' for the upcoming I-League season.

New Delhi: He admits a four month long pre-season is unusual for a football team, as is a communication lockdown that took players practically to the stone age. But David Robertson is in his third year in India and has, by now, got accustomed to the glorious uncertainties of Kashmir and Indian football.

A “glass-half-full” kind of person, he insists his team Real Kashmir have emerged from the “longest training season ever” stronger than before for their second season in the I-League.

RKFC’s pre-season began in August with the Durand Cup. But a delay in unveiling of Indian football’s roadmap coupled with a hold-up in I-League’s commencement and finalising of broadcast partner meant the club has spent four months preparing for the league, which will begin on November 30.

“Considering the fact that we began our preparations in August starting with the Durand Cup this should be the longest pre-season in history,” Robertson’s tongue was firmly in cheek on Tuesday.

The Scottish coach was speaking at an event where the club’s adidas-sponsored new home jersey and mascot ‘Simba’ were unveiled.

He now believes, in hindsight, that because of the seemingly endless pre-season, where they played matches against I-League and ISL clubs in different parts of the country, RKFC are better prepared.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) might not have officially announced the fixtures list of the tournament yet, but RKFC are bracing for an away start, against East Bengal on December 3 in Kolkata.

The club’s co-owner Sandeep Chattoo said that delay in finalising of schedule is a “bit of a concern” but the AIFF has informed them of a provisional list of games, which could be made official after a meeting between I-League club officials and the AIFF honchos on Thursday.

As per the unofficial match list, the ‘Snow Leopards’ will host three matches in Srinagar’s TRC Ground in December (Gokulam Kerala FC on 12th, Churchill Brothers on 15th and defending champs Chennai City FC on 26th).

Tense political climate could be a hindrance for RKFC to host their home games in Srinagar. But assurances from authorities regarding security and with no objections – yet – from any club to travel to Kashmir, Chattoo is hopeful of conducting matches without any untoward incident. All seats of the 15,000- capacity TRC Ground were occupied in most of RKFC’s home games last season.

“We anticipate more fans to turn up this season. A scenario may arise that we have to cut down on the number of fans in the ground this time to avoid chaos. The problem could be managing of fans in the stadium,” Chattoo opined.

A diminished status of the I-League hardly bothers the club or its fans. Rather it’s the opportunity to support a club that they consider as an extension of their identity.

“Nothing changes for us. As far as we are concerned we are playing in the same league as last year,” Robertson said.

Finishing third last season has only whetted their appetite, hence the Leopards aim to win the I-League this time. “We will challenge for the title this year,” Chattoo declared.

Robertson said having exceeded expectations in their debut appearance last season,  the obligation to perform is thrust upon them, particularly after a documentary depicting their journey won the Bafta Scotland award in single documentary category.

“We were the new kid on the block last season. Our aim is to finish higher than third this time. Last year we had the best defensive record in the league. The addition of Kallum Higginbotham, Subhash Singh and Kashif Siddiqi will give us more attacking intent,” the Scot said.

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