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"I learned all about life with a ball at my feet," was Brazil legend Ronaldinho's take on what football meant to him. And it's a sentiment that Real Kashmir FC would probably identify with after adjusting to the valley's "curfews and cordons" courtesy the 'beautiful game'. The first club from Jammu and Kashmir to qualify for the I-League is slowly building up to that dream debut on the big stage when they take on Minerva Punjab FC on October 31 at Chandigarh.

"We can be the positive story coming from Kashmir. I appreciate the media for putting out the good word. Now it is for us to do all the hard work and shine, we have no other option," says the team's veteran mid-fielder Khalid Qayoom. Khalid and the rest of the squad enjoyed a day out in Srinagar recently, cheering on the players of an under-18 state championship match at the TRC Turf Ground recently.

The two-year old club, started by two friends -- Sandeep Chattoo and ShamimMeraj -- initially just for "fun", became the first club from the valley to qualify for the I-League by beating Delhi's Hindustan FC 3-2 in Bengaluru.

Khalid spoke about the many reasons why football has a "huge following" in the valley.

"Mehraj (former India player MehrajuddinWadoo) and Ishfaq Ahmed are the reason so many people want to become footballers. They are our role models. People see them as stars of the valley. God willing if we do better in I-League people will think the same way for us also," he said. The crowd at the practice match he was watching was rather thin, mostly outside thanks to the weekly flea market -- starting from the ground to the Hari Singh High Street.  Inside the ground, the decibel levels were significantly lower. Though not empty, the stands were mostly vacant. "Buck up", screamed Qayoom, joined by fellow mid-fielders Shahnawaz Bashir and Danish Farooq. This got the spectators involved, and what followed was a goal by Maharaja Sports.

Building the team up for the big challenge ahead is coach David Robertson -- ex- Rangers and Aberdeen player. The Scot said it feels like home here. Robertson is keen to improve not just players' skills but also his Hindi and loves to flaunt the new words and phrases he has been picking up -- sometimes without even asking. "Jaldi, jaldi... I use that a lot," he said smiling.

For someone who started playing football at the age of 14, Qayoom, a resident of downtown Srinagar, also spoke about the political turmoil and the "curfews and strikes" that affected his growth as a player.  

"We had to adjust somehow. Here also usually our practice starts at 9 in the morning, but if there is a curfew or strike we come at 7 only," he said. But that stopped bothering Qayoom and other players of the team long back. All they want to do is, shine, and shine now.

Are they in 'jaldi, jaldi?', you bet. 

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