LoneStar Kashmir FC - The beginning of a new era in J&K football
Football has always been the state’s most popular sport. Despite cricket being adorned by the country in general, you would find it impossible to witness a decent crowd in cricket matches held at the Sheri Kashmir stadium in Sonawar; football on the other hand attracts people in their thousands.
Football has a rich history and significance in our culture as the game introduced a century back in the valley has a close connection with the hearts of the people. The game is played with great enthusiasm and passion all over the state.
Prior to 1947 only two tournaments were held annually at SP College grounds. Maharajas Birthday cup used to attract teams from various localities. Thousands of Kashmiris came to see these matches.
The rise of JKFA and Kashmir FC
The year 1966 saw the formation of JKFA and 21 footballers represented India. The turmoil in the valley starting in early 90’s resulted in a lack of exposure at National level although the JKFA tried its best to have a team registered with AIFF. Efforts have been on ever since. Recently LoneStar Group came forward and things changed.
The formation of Kashmir FC sees football in Kashmir reach its pinnacle. The popularity of the sport has played a pivotal role in the formation of the state’s first ever professional football team, which would compete with India’s best at the country’s highest stage.
After concerted efforts by the team management, and with support of several senior officials in the footballing circles of Kashmir, it is set to make its debut in the I-League. Kashmir’s first ever team to participate in the I-League - India’s highest level football league, is owned by LoneStar Group.
Kashmir FC is a joint initiative between the J&K Football Association and the LoneStar Group. Several key figures have played an important role in the club’s formation – Iftikhar A Lone is the chairman of LoneStar Group, a conglomerate with operations in multiple countries. Z A Thakur is the President of the J&K Football Association, and was recently appointed Treasurer of the AIFF, his elevation at the national level coming after years of service and dedication to football in the war-torn valley of Kashmir.
Both Thakur and his predecessor as President and now Patron of JKFA, N A Khan, have been working tirelessly over the last two decades and have been influential in convincing the AIFF to offer Kashmir its first ever club in the I-League.
The philosophy behind the club
The team management has indicated its desire that Kashmir FC would be very much a club for the public, as it embarks on its first year in professional football. The club does not want to have an authoritarian way of working, essentially implying that suggestions are welcome from all circles.
Being the first professional club from Kashmir, the club wants to win the hearts and minds of its people, and make them part of its success. It is as such open for all to come forward and contribute in whatever way possible to its growth and success.
For the state’s players, and more importantly for the youth, this represents an opportunity to showcase their talent at the highest level; Kashmir FC could well play in the popular Indian Super League next season too.
Introduction to I-League 2nd Division and youth development plans
The senior team will participate in the I-League 2nd Division to be held at Siliguri in ending March, with the team strengthening by adding a few foreign players as well as ex- Mohun Bagan and JCT stalwarts in the fray.
The team management has indicated a long-term youth development plan over the span of 10 years on the lines of top European clubs, where talent is honed from a young age and kids get all the right coaching and development at every step, leading to the production of world-class footballers.
The club will prepare a junior team the U-10/ U-12 category as part of its youth development and grassroots programme to be launched this year across various areas on the state. This year the U/15 team will also take part in the I-League tournament in September.
LoneStar has taken the responsibility of creating a complete professional team to give an opportunity to the footballers of the valley to compete against the best teams and players from India.
The grassroots developmental programs is aimed at targeting young budding footballers and nurture them from a young age till they reach their pinnacle, and hence be able to represent the team in top competitions in the country.
The club seems to be moving in the right direction as the U-19 Kashmir Fc team which took part in the U-19 I l-League for the first time at New Delhi in Feb 2015 produced a commendable performance against some of the best teams in country such as Bengaluru FC, Tata FA.
Kashmir FC comprised of home grown players received great appreciation and praise for their valiant display against teams who had players from all over the country and have been in existence for a long time. AIFF and other governing bodies present were quite impressed by the team setup and morale; disturbances caused by the flood didn't affect team preparations.
With such encouraging results, Lonestar is all set to redefine football in the state and bring about a professional and European flavor to the way the game is approached. It might not be long when Kashmir FC will be a force to reckon with in Indian Football.