By Rohit Mundayur
New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) Real Kashmir’s new signings are disappointed that they missed out on the opportunity to play in front of their famously passionate home crowd in the I-League this year, said the club’s head coach, David Robertson. As part of the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, the league is being played this season in four bio-secure venues in Kolkata and Kalyani with no crowds.
Among Real Kashmir’s new players are striker Asier Dipanda Dicka and winger Lalrindika Ralte, who have played against the club at the picturesque TRC Ground in Srinagar. “A number of the new players have played against us in Srinagar. They are actually disappointed that they have not been able to play in front of the home crowd because Kashmir has some of the most passionate crowds in India,” Robertson told IANS.
Robertson said the older players in the team have been describing the home atmosphere to the new arrivals. The Scot, however, feels that the advantage that the team have in this situation is that they don’t have to be hopping flights for an away game.
“Playing an away game always meant that taking at least two flights. So we don’t have to travel that much this year, but we do miss our home crowds. Kashmir crowds for the last couple of years have certainly been the quality point in our games. They really get behind the team, almost become the 12th man and it’s difficult for away teams to play in front of those crowds,” said Robertson.
Real Kashmir’s players and support staff are residing in the Novotel Hotel in New Town, Kolkata. They were left short-changed last season when the league ended abruptly in April with 28 matches left to play. While Mohun Bagan had sealed the title, Real Kashmir were just one point behind second-placed East Bengal and third-placed Minerva Punjab with a game in hand on both teams. They were still to play a total of five games in the season.
Robertson feels the players and officials are doing as much as they can to do their bit in ensuring that the season doesn’t get disrupted and this has, in a way, brought clubs together.
“We are trying to take each game as it comes, but we can never tell what can happen. I think the organisers have done everything they can in terms of safety and precautions and we just have to hope that things continue in the same manner and the league doesn’t get disrupted because it will be a real shame for every club that have spent money to come here and players who have come from around India and the world,” said Robertson.
“You also have to think about how the foreign players can go home if things get bad. Players and officials in other clubs that I have spoken to are taking this very seriously to make sure that something like that doesn’t happen because otherwise it will amount to almost two years of the league being disrupted. It think this has brought everyone together across the board. At the moment we have five teams in our hotel and the players as far as they can stay away from each other and stay safe.”
The Sports Ministry in its revised Standard Operating Procedure for conducting sports events amid the pandemic had allowed for stadiums to be filled up to 50 per cent of its total capacity for outdoor events. The All India Football Federation (AIFF), however, said that it was not considering opening the gates for spectators at any point this season, and Robertson feels that it is better to keep it that way.
“I think safety wise [it is better to] just keep it the way it is. It is such a short season, just until the end of March. I just think that for the safety of the players it is better to ensure that there as few people near them as possible. It will be difficult to ensure that it remains safe so I think it is better to continue the way it is right now,” said Robertson.