The story of the Real Kashmir Football Club (RKFC), the first team from the state to compete in the I-League, begins with a 1,000 footballs.
In 2014, after floods devastated several parts of the restive region, Shamim Meraj, the editor of the newspaper Kashmir Monitor, and Sandeep Chattoo, a businessman, raised funds from friends to buy 1,000 footballs to cheer up the local kids. The game turned out to be so popular that the pair decided to look into launching a football club in Srinagar.
Two years later, in 2016, Meraj and Chattoo set up the RKFC, eventually scoring David Robertson, a Scottish footballer, as its coach and Adidas as its sponsor. Despite the protracted political conflict and outbreaks of violence in the state, the football team has become somewhat of a uniting force, Chattoo says, with players from all over Kashmir and crowds of supporters who throng the stadiums during local matches.
“Cricket is followed in Kashmir, but the popularity of football is growing more so because of RKFC and their performance in the league,” Chattoo told Quartz. “Kids now aspire to play for RKFC.”
Prashant Godbole, a photographer who travelled to Kashmir with Adidas to document its Real Kashmir campaign, agrees. On his visit, he met people young and old who were crazy about football, and determined to play despite the snow and cold winter weather.
“…it’s like the craze for cricket in the rest of the country,” he explained.
Over the weekend in Bengaluru, Adidas organised an exhibition of Godbole’s striking photos of football in Kashmir, which reveal a different side to a region always perceived by outsiders as dangerous and conflict-prone. Here’s a selection of Godbole’s images: