We Cheer for Iceland, But Why Are We Clueless About the Rise of Real Kashmir FC?

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We Cheer for Iceland, But Why Are We Clueless About the Rise of Real Kashmir FC?

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

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ndranik Eskandarian was on a tour with Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer when Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979, and the downfall of the latter’s regime foreshadowed the fate of football in the country. Three years earlier, Iran’s national team and Eskandarian had made their debut in the FIFA World Cup, and had charted Scottish football’s lowest ebb through the infamous 1-1 draw that knocked the Scots out of the tournament. Eskandarian, like most others in the team, was a part-time player. But that did not stop him and his team from leaving their mark on the sport, and a country which would not appear in the World Cup again for two decades.

Such stories are symbolic of why football is truly universal, and has at its core the most organic and earthly of stories. This year, the tiny country of Iceland, with a population one-sixth of South Delhi’s, will grab headlines in their debut at the World Cup. But as romantic as their story is, it still feels evasive, or at least myopic, to compare Iceland with India, even as inspiration for the average football enthusiast. Because to put Iceland on such a pedestal is to assume that such stories of bravura, of belief and courage simply do not occur within the country’s borders. Nothing could be further from the truth – a sentiment embodied by nobody better than Real Kashmir FC, which became the first club from Kashmir to win the I-League second division in May. Therefore, next year they will become the first club from the Valley to play in the I-League’s first division.

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