It was a bittersweet experience for those sitting in the Abdul Majeed Kakroo stand and the Mohammad Yousuf Dar stand of the TRC football ground in Srinagar on Wednesday. The ball flew at them on a frequent basis and when it did, there were smiles and laughter in the crowd. But the smiles turned to frowns of considerable frustration as their team continued to miss the target.
That was the story for most of Real Kashmir’s match against Mohun Bagan on Tuesday. In fact, it has been the case for I-League’s newest side thus far this season at home. Real Kashmir dominated possession for large parts of the match, as they did against NEROCA and Churchill Brothers, but didn’t have goals to show for it.
About half an hour before the match started, with the cold air being filled by Azaan from the mosque that overlooks the ground, the travelling Mohun Bagan supporters were making themselves comfortable – and heard – in the away stand. “We are Mohun Bagan fans,” said Arijeet Samanta while adjusting the green and maroon shawl around his neck, “If we get 30 leave days in a year from work, 25 will be reserved for matches.” Samanta was part of the Delhi Mariners, the chapter of Mohun Bagan fans based in the national capital. “There are people from many parts of the country here, not just Kolkata.”
When the teams came out for their warm-up routines, the Bagan fans cheered for their players. Away fans are not something the locals were used to but they knew the drill. Over the course of the next hour, they ensured that the Bagan fans were drowned out.
The atmosphere seemed to reach a crescendo just before Mohun Bagan scored. That was the period when the home side managed to put together a couple of corners and “KAASHMIR! KAASHMIR!” rang from the stands behind the goal. But such is the nature of the game, Mohun Bagan countered, a cross came in to the Kashmir box and Dipanda Dicka scored the goal that turned out to be the winner. Silence fell around the ground and for once, the Mohun Bagan fans held sway on the air.
It took only a few seconds for the home supporters to regain their bearings. Mohun Bagan were wasting time towards the end, keeping the ball away from their box and the opposition’s feet as much as possible and in such situations, the away goalkeeper tends to bear the brunt of the away fans’ ire. At one point, Shilton Paul turned around, smiled and gave a thumbs-up. The crowd answered him with jeers. He repeated the gesture after the full-time whistle. This time, though, the crowd clapped in the respectful way that football fans do for a rival.
One tends to wonder why it is that Real Kashmir have not able to convert their impressive possession stats into chances and, ultimately goals. Coach David Robertson, though, knows his team and its limitations. “Remember one thing – we are new to this league. It’s going to take time to adjust. We were not playing against a local team from here but one of the best, the most famous clubs in India. My concern would be if we were playing these games and we were losing 4-0 or 5-0,” he said in the post-match press conference.
Perhaps that was also there in the fans’ mind. They did not stay back after the match – anyone who knows the area would tell you that leaving as quickly as possible is only logical unless you are fond of traffic jams. But they stayed until the final whistle, making as much noise as they could. It didn’t matter to them that this was Mohun Bagan’s second win in four matches, or that the away side could not field their star player Sony Norde. Like Robertson, they knew that their team was playing against a big club, and Bagan to sweat it out in the cold to get a win.