As Lonestar Kashmir script history, losses mount back homehttps://indianexpress.com/article/sports/football/as-lonestar-kashmir-script-history-losses-mount-back-home/

As Lonestar Kashmir script history, losses mount back home

Lonestar Kashmir was born in the aftermath of the deadly floods that swept the state last September, claiming nearly 300 lives.

 kashmir, sports, sports news, Sheikh Rizwan, Lonestar Kashmir, Lonestar Kashmir FC, football, football news, I-league
Lonestar Kashmir made it’s I-League second division debut on Monday.

Sheikh Rizwan grimaced at nature’s cruel joke he and his teammates were having to endure. Considered one of Jammu and Kashmir’s best midfielders, the 24-year-old stood in the tunnel waiting for the referee to lead the teams out on the field. It was to be the biggest day in the unheralded and often uncertain careers of Rizwan and his other Lonestar Kashmir FC teammates.

After spending decades in obscurity, the club finally put Kashmir on the national football map when it made its I-League second division debut against Aizawl FC in Siliguri on Monday. But the moment of glory was overshadowed by nature’s fury.

Lonestar Kashmir was born in the aftermath of the deadly floods that swept the state last September, claiming nearly 300 lives. The decision to set up a professional football club was an attempt to unite the community, channelize the energy of the directionless youth in the right way. Tragically for them, they played their first match on the day when Kashmir was facing another threat of floods.

“It’s devastating. Every single one of us have suffered because of the floods. To see it happen again, that too on the biggest day of the club, is very sad,” says the club’s secretary Majid Dar.

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For decades, Kashmir has been conspicuous by its absence on the national football circuit despite its players making it big individually. The only time they play nationally is during the Santosh Trophy or the National Games. The state is not represented in the domestic league as it does not have a proper club. Kashmir FC, the only side that existed, did not have the infrastructure or the wherewithal to play outside the state.

Sheikh Rizwan grimaced at nature’s cruel joke he and his teammates were having to endure. Considered one of Jammu and Kashmir’s best midfielders, the 24-year-old stood in the tunnel waiting for the referee to lead the teams out on the field. It was to be the biggest day in the unheralded and often uncertain careers of Rizwan and his other Lonestar Kashmir FC teammates.

After spending decades in obscurity, the club finally put Kashmir on the national football map when it made its I-League second division debut against Aizawl FC in Siliguri on Monday. But the moment of glory was overshadowed by nature’s fury.

Lonestar Kashmir was born in the aftermath of the deadly floods that swept the state last September, claiming nearly 300 lives. The decision to set up a professional football club was an attempt to unite the community, channelize the energy of the directionless youth in the right way. Tragically for them, they played their first match on the day when Kashmir was facing another threat of floods.

“It’s devastating. Every single one of us have suffered because of the floods. To see it happen again, that too on the biggest day of the club, is very sad,” says the club’s secretary Majid Dar.

For decades, Kashmir has been conspicuous by its absence on the national football circuit despite its players making it big individually. The only time they play nationally is during the Santosh Trophy or the National Games. The state is not represented in the domestic league as it does not have a proper club. Kashmir FC, the only side that existed, did not have the infrastructure or the wherewithal to play outside the state.

Opportunity in tragedy

The Jammu & Kashmir Football Association and the state’s sports council saw an opportunity amid the tragedy that hit them last September. “The majority of the youngsters were getting involved in activities like stone-pelting and minor fights and would end up behind bars. They were unemployed,” Majid says. “After the floods, we feared the situation would become worse. We thought having a professional football club from the state would help in channelizing the resources in a better way.”

The wheels were already in motion before the state was submerged in water. A businessman, Iftikhar Lone, poured in the money and with the expertise of the local football officials, Lonestar Kashmir took shape. The club was officially launched on December 31 last year but it faced another major hurdle — ground availability. The only available facility in Srinagar, TRC Polo Ground, was destroyed during the floods barely a couple of days after then chief minister Omar Abdullah had inaugurated the artificial turf installed there. Another one was used for relief camps.

They moved to Jammu, where the team made up of semi-professionals, who played for departmental teams, trained. Few have played outside the state but the team has a couple of Nigerian players in its ranks. One would expect these to be daunting challenges, especially for callow footballers. But they had scaled tougher peaks. After the September floods, many of them faced the improbable task of rebuilding their lives. Almost every player on their roster has a story of personal loss and tragedy to narrate.

Rizwan says his entire one-storey house was swept away in September. The reconstruction was still going on when he heard about fresh floods on Monday morning. “I don’t know how I survived that phase. Everything I had, including my house, was washed away in those floods. Football came as a savior, a welcome distraction. The will to play for Kashmir helped in getting over the pain quickly. It’s true for most of my teammates,” Rizwan says.

On Monday, when they woke up for what was the biggest day of their careers, the players froze upon hearing about the floods. A sense of deja vu gripped them. After checking on their family and friends back home, they drove to the stadium for the early-morning kick-off in silence. Lonestar Kashmir lost their debut match to Aizawl FC 4-1. But it was one of those days where result did not matter.

They returned to their rooms, switched on the news channels and ensured their loved ones moved to safer places. “My mother instead asked me, ‘how was your match?’ I didn’t know how to react. But that’s what this club means to us, to our families. It’s becoming our identity now,” Rizwan says.
The Jammu & Kashmir Football Association and the state’s sports council saw an opportunity amid the tragedy that hit them last September. “The majority of the youngsters were getting involved in activities like stone-pelting and minor fights and would end up behind bars. They were unemployed,” Majid says. “After the floods, we feared the situation would become worse. We thought having a professional football club from the state would help in channelizing the resources in a better way.”

The wheels were already in motion before the state was submerged in water. A businessman, Iftikhar Lone, poured in the money and with the expertise of the local football officials, Lonestar Kashmir took shape. The club was officially launched on December 31 last year but it faced another major hurdle — ground availability. The only available facility in Srinagar, TRC Polo Ground, was destroyed during the floods barely a couple of days after then chief minister Omar Abdullah had inaugurated the artificial turf installed there. Another one was used for relief camps.

They moved to Jammu, where the team made up of semi-professionals, who played for departmental teams, trained. Few have played outside the state but the team has a couple of Nigerian players in its ranks. One would expect these to be daunting challenges, especially for callow footballers. But they had scaled tougher peaks. After the September floods, many of them faced the improbable task of rebuilding their lives. Almost every player on their roster has a story of personal loss and tragedy to narrate.

Rizwan says his entire one-storey house was swept away in September. The reconstruction was still going on when he heard about fresh floods on Monday morning. “I don’t know how I survived that phase. Everything I had, including my house, was washed away in those floods. Football came as a savior, a welcome distraction. The will to play for Kashmir helped in getting over the pain quickly. It’s true for most of my teammates,” Rizwan says.

On Monday, when they woke up for what was the biggest day of their careers, the players froze upon hearing about the floods. A sense of deja vu gripped them. After checking on their family and friends back home, they drove to the stadium for the early-morning kick-off in silence. Lonestar Kashmir lost their debut match to Aizawl FC 4-1. But it was one of those days where result did not matter.

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They returned to their rooms, switched on the news channels and ensured their loved ones moved to safer places. “My mother instead asked me, ‘how was your match?’ I didn’t know how to react. But that’s what this club means to us, to our families. It’s becoming our identity now,” Rizwan says.