| Mohammedan Sporting coach Aloke Mukherjee |
Calcutta: Football fans in Jammu & Kashmir will get a chance to witness a top club in action as Mohammedan Sporting will be visiting the Valley in the coming week. The occasion is all the more special because it will be the first visit in 28 years by a top Calcutta club to India’s northern-most state.
In an initiative taken by the central government to promote football in the Valley, the Mohammedan Sporting have been invited to play two friendly matches in Jammu and Kashmir — on Sunday and Tuesday respectively.
Confirming the news, Mohammed Kamaruddin, the club’s football secretary, said that the team would leave on Friday and Saturday in two batches. “Union sports minister Ajay Maken called up our president Sultan Ahmed a couple of weeks back... He invited us to play two matches against J&K XI in mid-July. We readily agreed because these matches will give us useful practice ahead of the season. Also, it is a huge honour for us,” Kamaruddin said.
The matches will be played at Srinagar and Baramulla, respectively. “Initially, we were asked to play at Leh and Srinagarů But they said there are some disturbances at Leh and hence shifted the venue,” said Kamaruddin. Since the 1984 Federation Cup, no football club have visited the Valley because of political disturbances. It was learnt that the idea of conducting the matches was mooted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), as part of its initiatives to promote peace in the Valley through football.
East Bengal’s new signing Ishfaq Ahmed, who hails from the state, informed that the PMO called the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council and Jammu and Kashmir Football Association asking them whether they are interested in holding a match.
After receiving their consent, the ministry sent an invitation to ‘national club’ McDowell Mohun Bagan. But Bagan, citing pre-season engagements, were not keen to accept the invitation. Consequently, the offer was made to Mohammedan Sporting, who happily obliged.
Talking from Kashmir, Ishfaq said: “See, there isn’t much entertainment for the people here... I think football is one sport, which the people of Kashmir are really passionate about. Moreover, Mohammedan Sporting have a huge fan following here. I think people will flock the stadiums to watch the matches.”
Ishfaq, along with former national player Mehrajuddin Wadoo, will be playing for the J&K XI. “We have already started our practice... It is a great opportunity for the J&K players to learn from the big-club players,” an excited Ishfaq informed.