Evenings in Sopore draw hundreds of young men and boys from across the region to a football field in the periphery of this town. They spend at least two hours at this field under floodlights, where Sopore, since early September, has hosted the 32-team ‘First Super Cup – under lights’.
Sopore is among the most affluent towns and is known as the fruit bowl of the Valley, but it is also a separatist stronghold and was once a hotbed of militancy, which means security is always high. But since the tournament began on September 5, teams from Srinagar, Bandipore, Kupwara and Baramulla and fans flock to the floodlit field to watch football and gossip. The tournament is slated to end on October 16.
In this town starved of entertainment, the idea of a tournament, says Zafar Ahmad Sheikh, Secretary of United Reds, a local football club, “came from nowhere”. This football club and a small-time businessman, Owais Masoodi, are the brains behind this change.
“One day, we (friends) were talking to each other on how to keep people away from bad habits like drugs. We decided to have a football tournament at our ground. Then, the idea of night football cropped up,” says Sheikh.
Sopore does not have a well-established venue for sports and arrangements for night football, because of the shortage of infrastructure and the security situation in the town, were an uphill task and the government was ready to provide support.
Buoyed on by the idea, locals then joined hands and contributed money from their own pockets to set-up 24 high-voltage floodlights, on four sides of a vacant patch of land at the Karnshivan neighbourhood of the town.
“We have installed these lights from our own pocket,” says Masoodi. “We have also kept a backup power supply in case the electricity goes off.”
Abdul Hameed Haji travels 2 km every evening to be part of this “festival”. “It is not just a football match, it is like a festival here,” he says, “It is also a social space that we have reclaimed.”
The shadow of conflict, however, still lingers on. “On the first day, when started the match here, two drones were constantly watching our every movement,” says Irshad Ahmad Dar, a football enthusiast, who lives in the neighbourhood.