Night football takes off in Kashmir
The Valley has found a new champion but it was not any of the well-known footballers who took the field. The star of the night were the floodlights.
Entertainment-starved Srinagar hosted its first-ever football match under floodlights on Tuesday night, raising hopes of a return of the vibrant nightlife the Jammu and Kashmir capital once had before militancy brought the curtain down nearly three decades back.
Thousands of enthusiasts turned up for the exhibition match between an Indian Stars XI and a J&K Stars XI at the astro-turf football ground at TRC Srinagar in the city centre, mirroring the mood.
“This was the first-ever match that was played under floodlights in the state. The TRC Stadium is the first stadium in the state that has been properly lit up. We can now have night matches under lights and can even host international matches,” Sarmad Hafeez, secretary, youth services and sports, told The Telegraph.
“There is no evening activity in Kashmir. As darkness sets in, there is nothing to do. We have youngsters who sit with computers, spend time on social media. Now they can go out and play. This could be the return of something (close to a) normal life.”
The match coincided with continuing militant activities and fatal attacks on security personnel elsewhere in the state, now under President’s rule, but the floodlights seemed to have dispelled some of the gloom.
Hafeez said around 8,000 to 10,000 people had turned up to watch the match that was played from 8pm to 10pm.
The crowd cheered for former India players like Bhaichung Bhutia and Renedy Singh, who played for the Indian Stars XI, and Jammu and Kashmir born Mehrajuddin Wadoo, also a former international, who represented the local side.
Before the beginning of militancy, the Valley had a thriving nightlife, with evening shows at around a dozen cinemas while markets would remain open till late.
There have been some improvement over the years but most people are home by evenings. That changed on Tuesday.
Earlier, governor Satya Pal Malik’s advisers Vijay Kumar, K.K. Sharma, Khurshid Ahmad Ganai and Skandan Kumar and chief secretary B.V.R. Subramanyam unveiled the floodlight facility.
The 15,000-capacity stadium, built at a cost of Rs 4.5 crore, was unveiled in 2014 and has been the home ground for the state’s top clubs, including Real Kashmir FC and LoneStar Kashmir. Real Kashmir plays in the Indian I-League, while LoneStar plays in the I-League’s second division.
Real Kashmir FC had made its I-League debut last year and impressed in the opening season itself. The team was at one stage in the contention for the title but eventually finished third after Chennai City FC and East Bengal.
Since 2015, TRC Stadium has been used for I-League matches and other local football tournaments but they have always been day games.
Hafeez said Tuesday night’s match was just the beginning because 10 more stadiums and fields with floodlights were ready to be inaugurated anytime soon.
PS: The Indian Stars XI won 7-6 in a penalty shootout after the match had ended in a tie. But, for once, the result was not important.