‘Click to enable Adobe Flash Player’ prompts as I access the homepage of the official website of the J&K Sports Council. As instructed, I click and some background software runs and finally, the website is up and running; O’ho! Photo slideshow follows.
It is like 30386 era. The color scheme adopted for the website reminds me of BalrajSahnis’ films. Moreover, download the Sports Policy and it is still a draft for a year now. Click Activities button and scroll down to Performances of the State teams, it inter alia mentions ..... (upto Dec. 2012)......5 year lag is bad. Is it not?
Look! J&K Football Association website homepage under LATEST NEWS reads ‘Super Division League 2013’. Moreover, under LATEST FIXTURES AND RESULTS ‘J&K XI 4:2 M. Bagan Club’, referring to the goodwill exhibition football match at Jammu on 11th September, 2012. Imagine! The match was played two years before 2014 floods. Even ‘2014 floods theory’ would not come to the rescue on this.
These websites are quintessential reflection of the football infrastructure of the state.
Sports infrastructure of any country in general plays a vital role in accomplishing the recognition at global platform. Basic facilities like playgrounds, stadia etc. attract masses to participate in sporting activities, which in turn culminates into development of a sports culture across the country.
Essentially youth find sports as easy way of expressing their skills, power and enthusiasm. Moreover, the energy of youth is channelized into positive activities, which ultimately help in building a healthy nation. And in conflict zones, sports events help in promoting understanding, healing wounds, mobilizing support for social causes and breaking down barriers.
Back to the basic issue, statistics available on J&K State Sports Council website (assuming the figures are updated) mentionsthatsports infrastructure of the state includes 27 stadia, 6 indoor complexes, 23 training halls, 99 playing fields, 1 swimming pool and 1 Astroturf. Even though the figures are not sorted gamewise, yet for the sake of simplicity, it’s preferable to presume that the all these are multipurpose.
However, the numbers onlywould not reflect true picture of the sporting infrastructure available in the state. The quality of infrastructure in terms of the facilities available within the stadia, indoor complexes, training halls and playfields etc. assume more importance to arrive at a fair conclusion.And to segregate football? Was not possible theoretically!
As I introspect on the footballing infrastructurein the city, I roam aroundthe centre of the city within a radius of 500 meters and I am puzzled to witness the number of play-fields craving for attention.
Born in its vicinity, Goalbagh to me was an endless labyrinth, hosting huge concretestructures,a water treatment plant, large water pipes, heaps of rusty iron rods, lots of soayy and bushes of datur and a huge playground in the hind side.
Does the name of this ground signify it being a football ground essentially, or it implies its shape? The ground itself supports both the connotations, as I hear from the legendary Abdul MajeedKakroo, ex-captain of the Indian Football team and the most prominent sports star of yesteryears.
Kakroo says, “the memories of 1975-76 are still afresh, when I used to practice in the ground as a budding footballer. It is the same ground where I had the privilege to learn the basic football skills from then senior players including Tariq Jaloo, Ghulam Qadir and Maqbool of Nowpora”.
Goalbagh ground was home to local football teams of 1970s including Mehboob Sports club, Guru Bazar club and SherGarhi club.Moreover, this ground has been home to one more player namely Prof. Bashir Ahmad Shah, who at present happens to be member of the J&K Football Association and J&K Sports Council.
It was from this ground that legendary Abdul MajeedKakroo moved to join Court Road FC, then a famous football club registered with J&K Football Association. Though I only lost my pheran in the ground in my childhood, thisfootball ground has been lost forever by our progeny. It is the high-court premises now.
Move up and you see Hazuri Bagh ground, now the famousIqbal Park. Once a busy football arenaand home to the Food & Supplies FC and Mohammadan Sporting club of the valley, the ground hasproducedgood footballers including lateMohammad ShafiBooja alias MithaeKalae, Zameer A. Thakur, Bashir A. Malik,Nazir A. Andrabi etc.
Moreover, the seeds of the presently top-notch privately owned football clubs including Iqbal Sports and Maharaja FC were also sown in the same ground, besides once famousChinar FC (nickname Kahii team of Haft Chinar). It is from this ground thatmany players of Iqbal Sports joined the best team of the state, J&K Bank football team, which was established in 1989. Those who switched from Iqbal Sports to J&K Bank football team includedLate Mohammad ShafiBooja, Fayaz Ahmad Khan, Khazir Mohammad, Nazir Ahmad Sofi, Rizwan Sheikh and Manzoor Dar. Not to forget, famous Late Mohammad Haneef, Abdul Aziz Mandoo, Abdul Qadir Shaloo,HabibPanzoo, Hussain etc. are also a product of this ground.More than a decade back, Hazuri Bagh ground wasconverted into a public park, thanks to J&K Bank for this Corporate Social Responsibility initiative.
Cross the road and I see Bakshi Stadium, constructed during the reign of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad in the year 1961. The stadium is grand with the seating capacity of 35000 to 40000.
In 1980s such was the craze that the viewers would reach the roof tops and trees to watch match between rivals SRTC and Food & Supplies.It is said that once a football match was played under lanterns carried from the homes of the enthusiastic supporters. Visit today and from outside, it reminds scenes of Auschwitz concentration camp in theSchlinder’s List. Inside, it looks like a war-torn capital state.
Travel 3 kilometres south and I am in the Harnambal football field in Natipora area of south Srinagar. It is the only outdoor football ground catering to areas like Natipora, Chanapora, Nowgam and adjoining localities. This ground once a 100-kanals playfield has already been reduced to around 60-kanals. Almost half-portion of the field has already been grabbed by land encroachers. Moreover, a receiving station being constructed by J&K PDD exactly on the mouth of the ground, has dented to aesthetic sense of the field besides posing great risk to the youth and other visitors. With the increase in population density supplemented by misuse of the surrounding public, sooner or later, this field would turn into a dumping site.
Polo ground, originally set up by Maharaj Hari Singh to play the game of Polo, has steadily evolved into a ludo-gameboard with small segments for cricket, football, hockey and rugby and lots of lanes and by-lanes. Once a famous football cum cricket ground, it hasproduced famous footballers including Mohammad ShafiNaari, Farooq Ahmad Dar, Ishfaq Ahmad, Zahoor Ahmad Teeli etc. The ground now, besides making way for a Sumo stand and the backyard of traffic police, is also home to an under-construction indoor stadium rather rusty steel structure. The structure gives a glimpse as if it is questioning the construction of itself.
Eidgah most famous for sacrificial animals market during the festive season,also boasts of being the largest playfield in the downtown area. This playfield has been host to thousands of sports events, albeitmostly football events for decades now. Besides holding huge emotional content, the ground has been witness to various political activities during the recent past and has undergone tremendous structural change over the past few decades. But as far as development this playfield is concerned, the fateremainsthe same– primitiveone.
Back home, I discuss the issue with the famous Abdul MajeedKakroo and he has a few more to count including Malaysia football ground with lush green natural grass turf, Chandmari football ground, Resham Khan football ground, for whatsoever reasons, are not football grounds anymore. And for the youth in the vicinity of these grounds, the legacy of football has been was gone. Skills turned into new adventures, rather political adventures and many misadventures.
This narration of the plight of football infrastructure in the heart of summer capital city of Srinagar only corroborates our underperformance at the national level. But football does not live only in Srinagar. Its message is high up in Poonch and Rajouri, it has spread its roots in Bandipora and it is played in Kathua and Samba.
Baramulla boasting of more stadia than Srinagar, has been waiting for the first of its kind-Residential Football Academy in the state of J&K to be set-up by J&K State Power Development Corporation at a tentative cost of Rs. 10 crore as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility.
Spread over 70 kanals, the academy was planned to have the state-of-the-art facilities and the coaching facilities meeting international standards. Once said to be the best thing to have happened to football in J&K, this residential academy has not moved forward since its hi-profile inauguration in September, 2013 by the then Chief Minister.Years down the line, Ushkura Colony may or may not become a football academy, but the question remains, are the state projects ill conceived?
I wish I could travel across length and breadth of the state and portray the true picture of football infrastructure of the state. And I wonder, don’t we have takers of the game waiting introduction in Kupwara, Poonch, Rajouri, Bhaderwah? Can we not find Parvez Rasools of the game?
For the state, the focus has to be on building better facilities on the available football fields across the state.Also, target to host major football events of the country. We have, and we can host the next Santosh trophy. If the country gets to host another FIFA event, we can endeavour to get a share in the pie of hosting cities. Hosting helps build infrastructure.
Moreover, let football grow wings to fly east, west, north and south equally. Let us all be sincere to the game.As I quote from a famous charity single,
“We are the world, We are the children, We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving”! NOT TAKING for the game of football.
Disclosure: Views expressed are author’s personal.