One phone, many subscribers: Real Kashmir FC’s story during communication lockdown

Be it at the dead of night or at the crack of dawn, the lone mobile phone that Real Kashmir FC’s co-owner had provided his players would keep changing hands during the communication lockdown in the valley.

Sandeep Chattoo, who co-owns the club with Shamim Meraj, got the phone activated with “special permission”, and it was the only means through which the players could get in touch with their families, in India and abroad.

“Sometimes the phone would ring at 3 o’clock in the morning, calls would come from Zimbabwe, England and Nigeria,” Chattoo told PTI here on Tuesday.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the club’s affable co-owner would go to any extent to make his players comfortable and allay their family’s concerns. With a smile, the hotelier would, however, make light of the situation that had prevailed back home after the abrogation of Article 370.

In lighter vein, he said the snapping of phone lines and internet services worked for his team ahead of its second season in top-flight football.

“I would like to believe that it helped us a lot because with internet they would waste a lot of time on net, spending too much time with their girlfriends. I am actually happy that all their concentration and energy were channelised towards our main goal and make sure that they win the league,” Chattoo said.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the team’s jersey launch in the capital along with its partner, sportswear giant adidas.

While the valley is not the easiest place to work as a football coach, Kashmir has been a “home away from home” for RKFC coach David Robertson, the man behind the team’s rapid rise.

Chattoo doesn’t let go of an opportunity to praise his coach who has never approached him with a problem.

“It has been so easy for him, his son is also here and he is in his second year. His family keeps coming. You ask him how it is in Kashmir,” he said.

While a lot of credit goes to the work done by the owners, Chattoo said it is the coach, his family and the players who are showered with plenty of warmth by the locals in Srinagar.

“They are like heroes, they go to a shop and the shopkeeper doesn’t take money from them. That is the problem for them. They go to the bank and the bank manager says ‘why did you come here, we will come to the hotel’.

“The are treated like stars there. We don’t let them go alone because the auto guys will get hold of them and ask them for selfies.

“See, the team has brought a lot of positivity with its performance last year (they finished third in their first I-League season). The thing we have done is something that is more than football.

Barring the first three-four weeks in January 2107 when he was hired, Robertson didn’t find staying in the valley difficult.

“The first few weeks were difficult, and I left, but they quickly persuaded me to come back.

“I would say that Real Kashmir is one of the best looked-after teams in the league. My family has lived here so they were not worried at all. My wife is in Aberdeen now so I went home for two weeks because the season was extended. I never feared for my life here.

“It’s a safe place and as soon as I go home, I feel like coming back here. It’s an emotional attachment,” said Robertson, who felt that the pre-season, spanning almost four months because of the lockdown, was a bit too long.