Football and Kashmir are a match made in heaven: Valanka Alemao

PANAJI: Churchill Brothers SC managed just a point from their away clash against Real Kashmir FC but club CEO,Valanka Alemao, was still grinning from ear to ear.

Chasing the I-League trophy for the first time since their return to India’s premier club competition, Churchill Brothers have stuttered; from the first three away games, they don’t have a win. Yet, Valanka had plenty of reasons to remember what she described as a “match of a lifetime.”

“Churchill Brothers have played across the country. We have seen the passion that big clubs in Kolkata evoke. In Kerala, football always drew massive crowd and you probably will never find a more knowledgeable crowd than in Goa. But football and Kashmir is a match made in heaven,” Valanka told TOI on Thursday.

Kashmir hosted its first I-League match on Tuesday and India took note. A few days prior to the historic clash, there was snow all around. Power supplies were disrupted and it didn’t seem like Real Kashmir’s debut at home would be a memorable one. But almost miraculously, the sun was out and there was warmth all around.

“There were more than 10,000 people at the stadium and they were as passionate as any other Indian football fan, if not more. The troubles there are well-documented but football binds all of them,” said Valanka.

In front of the partisan crowd, Churchill played with their backs to the wall and were in all sorts of trouble after goalkeeper James Kithan was issued the marching orders. Churchill, though, put their experience to good use and managed to steal a point.
“This is Indian football’s most significant journey. This was a wonderful moment and I am glad that Churchill Brothers were part of this historic moment. Sports truly unifies, and Kashmir is the finest example,” said Valanka, drawing parallels with Invictus, the movie where South African president Nelson Mandela initiates a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land and enlist the national rugby team which went on to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Valanka, along with managing director Savio Alemao, had reached the stadium 90 minutes before kick off to deliver a team talk in the dressing room. But, they were stunned to see that there was hardly any seat left as fans didn’t want to give the historic match a miss.
Real Kashmir’s home debut marked a new milestone for professional football in Kashmir. Real Kashmir is the first team from the state to qualify for the I-League.