Football has always managed to capture the public imagination in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir. The TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar remains chock-a-block whenever Real Kashmir takes the field and the crowd backs the local outfit with all their heart.
Even when there was a strict lockdown in Kashmir, more than 11,000 fans turned up for the match against Mohun Bagan during the 2019-20 I-League.
While the boys in the valley have had several platforms to showcase their talent, the girls haven't had that luxury. But with the Snow Leopards management set to launch a U14 and U10 girls team, there is hope that things are going to change for the better.
In a pioneering move, Real Kashmir have entered into a strategic partnership with Delhi Public School (DPS), Srinagar, to give wings to a project that aims to develop woman's football in the region.
The project will be headed by Poonam Chattoo, who feels that the time is ripe for Real Kashmir to venture into a territory that only a few professional clubs in India have dared to.
"The idea of a women's team was always there on top of our minds. We needed to get our bearings right as we are very new into the business of football. We are also learning with each passing season. Real Kashmir will be looking after the technical aspect of the project like providing coaches and other necessary things. Whereas, DPS will help us with their infrastructure.
"It provides us with the required security and the right kind of facilities that girls require. For example, proper washrooms and a locker room. You need to be a little more careful when you are handling little girls," stated Chattoo to Goal.
The registration for both the teams are underway and the coaching staff has also been finalised.
The #ShePower programme, has been kickstarted with the aim of developing Women Football in the state. @_AIFF_ @ILeagueOfficial @manojsinha_ @PMOIndia pic.twitter.com/vgGYz636jv— Real Kashmir FC (@realkashmirfc) September 21, 2020
Yet every entrepreneurial venture has its fair share of challenges and in this case, it is about convincing the parents to allow their daughters to take part in active football, given the volatile situation in Kashmir.
"A boy can always hop on to a local bus and reach the ground. But a girl cannot do that, especially in Srinagar. So you have to make proper arrangements for transportation as well. Moreover, the school is a bit far from the main city. So we have to choose a point where the parents will drop off their kids and if they want they can even come and have a look at the facilities at the school. These are the confidence-building measures that you have to undertake here at the take-off phase," explained Chattoo, who is a regular visitor to all Real Kashmir home games.
The management does not want to rush into playing competitive tournaments and instead wants to focus on nurturing the girls to the fullest.
But all said and done Kashmir still does not have a senior professional women's team playing in the Indian Women's League (IWL). Is this a stepping stone to realise a bigger dream?
"The best tournaments in the country are in the senior category. And hopefully, we will have a senior team someday. For now, we just want to put a few smiles on the faces of the Kashmiris. There is an immense amount of talent in Kashmir and they just need a platform to showcase their skills," concluded Chattoo.