NEW DELHI: The fans of Kashmir have often shown their love for the beautiful game, something that was amply seen in the I-League, where they thronged the stands of the TRC Ground in Srinagar to support their local club Real Kashmir FC. Over the last few years, another club have grown into Kashmir’s burgeoning footballing ecosystem – Downtown Heroes FC.
The club who have become a part of the I-League Second Division, are spreading their wings one step at a time, with the prime aim of providing a platform for the local players.
Club co-founder Hinan Bhat says, “The Downtown area of Srinagar has a rich cultural history and is steeped in tradition. Over the years, sports has been a big part of the tradition in this area, with football being at its epicentre. It had become a place for instability in between, but we want to show the good side of this area, that those residing here are good, football-loving people.
“Our club is in its infancy, but we take a lot of pride in giving a platform to local players, especially when we see them getting opportunities in bigger clubs in the I-League or the ISL (Indian Super League),” he said.
Kashmir is no stranger to seeing their very own at the top echelons of football. Indeed, the likes of Abdul Majid, Arun Malhotra, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, and Ishfaq Ahmed have enthralled fans far and wide during their days, playing for top clubs across the land, and also representing the national team. More recently, Kashmir’s very own son Danish Farooq went from the I-League to the ISL, playing for clubs like Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters FC.
Head Coach Hilal Rasool Pareh says, “It’s always an honour to see our local players at the top level. One of our own boys from Downtown Heroes, Basit Ahmed Bhat, was also recently signed by Gokulam Kerala, which was a moment of pride for us.”
Due to the no-foreigners rule introduced by the All India Football Federation in the I-League Second Division and the State Leagues, Downtown Heroes consists solely of Indian players, most of whom are from Kashmir itself.
“We very much support the no-foreigners rule by the AIFF, as it completely aligns with our philosophy of promoting more local players,” said Pareh.
Downtown Heroes are currently playing in the J&K Premier Football League and the Martyrs Police Memorial Football Tournament, and will also take part in the Durand Cup next month.
“It shows that our club is going in the right direction when we got an invitation to play in a big tournament like the Durand Cup,” said Pareh. “It will be a very good platform for our boys to play against clubs from the ISL and the I-League.”
The ambitious plans of this club which was started in 2020 do not just end with the men’s team. The club also operate two junior teams, the U-15s and the U-19s at the state level, with all the players across these two teams hailing from Kashmir.
Co-founder Hinan also plans to promote women’s football in Kashmir.
“We are planning to have our own ground as well in the future, one which we plan to use extensively for our women’s team too. Our idea is to come up with a women’s team in the next couple of months and play in the Indian Women’s League in the future,” said Hinan. “Although everyone loves football, the Downtown area of Srinagar is prone to conservative ideas, and we want to work towards women’s empowerment through our women’s team as well.”