Apart from culture and rich heritage, the old city in Srinagar, also known as Shehr-e-Khaas, thrills with sports activities as well. With the efforts of some people who want to revive the lost legacy of sports activities, the old city is now known for its best players.
Mushtaq Bashir and Hinan Manzoor, founders of Downtown Heroes Football Club have a motive of bringing back the old legacy of their ancestors who were interested in football and have played as well.
“There is a rich history of downtown’s football. Our motive was to bring back the culture of football among the youth of the old city. Some of the top footballers of Kashmir are from the old city. The city has amazing and talented people and we wanted to provide our youngsters a platform wherein they can showcase their talent on national and international level,” Mushtaq said.
In 2019, the idea of setting up a football club had come to the duo in Italy where they saw different football clubs and decided to make one for downtown and later an education and youth activist, Kaiser Bhat joined them. Then, in September 2020, the Downtown FC was inaugurated.
“Over the years, downtown has been in the news for many wrong reasons. These things would not end by conducting seminars and events. We are trying to give an alternative to the youth so that they leave bad practices,” Mushtaq said.
Having focused on the children aged 12 and 15, they have set up a separate academy to impart training. The children are motivated to do hard work so that they can be further taken to professional clubs.
Talking about the past, Mushtaq said that people of downtown used to play all types of sports and games and sports are somewhere related to the culture. “Many good players from downtown have played at national and international level. In the downtown area we want to have a space where players can be trained. There we have planned to set up a library and coffee shops as well,” he said.
From the past some years, a surge in women footballers has been witnessed which has led founders to make a team for women footballers also. “We want to organize a women’s football tournament. We are finding a space so that their family can also watch them playing. We have to give them a safe environment where family or relatives of female footballers can see. The trust of their family will also be formed,” he said.
Currently playing in I-League, 26 years old Farhan Ganai, a footballer from Hawal has received many practice sessions with Downtown FC. He said, “I was not their player but whenever I went for practice, they never stopped me which was a good thing and they were always encouraging. Encouragement means a lot for a player in a place where opportunities are less. Plus, the formation of such clubs creates a good competition among players.”
For cricket maniacs, Downtown Champion’s League (DLC), the t20 like cricket tournament was started in 2013. The players belonging to Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir played under the same banner so that new players can rub shoulders with the experienced.
Naseer Ahmad Bhat, one of the directors said such activities give wings to youth. “DCL was established keeping in mind that every person enjoys cricket. Whether poor or rich, urban or rural, every guy plays cricket and has some talent but opportunities are less. The hidden talents come out through these activities. There were many people who were not known to anyone. They became famous when they came forward, toiled hard and were provided a platform,” Naseer said.
The league having the similar concept of Indian Premier League has different teams and started with the process of bidding of players. Umpires in the matches were qualified from the BCCI. Due to unfavorable conditions, the league couldn’t take place for some years but the management is planning to start in the coming year.
Being a cricketer himself, Naseer said that a player gets less opportunity here. He said, “I am aware of the problems faced by a cricketer here. The same players keep on playing every year and new players don’t get a chance. This was the motive that we should do something like this where everyone gets equal chance. Our motive is that if only one player plays for the Ranji trophy it’s an achievement for us.”
Naseer and his other associates have planned much about cricket. “We have planned to do one tournament with under19 players. We will get players from all the districts of Kashmir,” he added.
Talking about downtown, he said in 2015 we had made a separate team called downtown tigers so that talent from the old city can be recognized. In local playgrounds, local leagues happen and one gets to see huge crowd of people hanging on the fences.
There is a huge fan following of cricket and games among downtown people. Initial matches of DCL were played in Islamia College because of the demand of people. Owing to the fan following of the players, the grounds were packed by people in no time.
Owais Shah from Sonwar was an icon player of one of the teams, Elegant Stickers in DCL. He said the DCL cricket was played on turf which really meant much for the cricketers who have always played on mats. “Because of the non-availability of turf grounds, our cricket doesn’t get much upliftment but DCL really set a standard. It is an opportunity because we get to play good cricket,” he said.
Playing cricket for the last 15 years, Owais has played initially in a number of tournaments “It’s like when there are more schools, there will be more literacy so more tournaments will make better players. Good number of tournaments are organized here but their standard is very low. There should be more tournaments like DCL,” he said.
Starting at the age of 14, Owais has played Under 15, under 17, under 19, under 22, under 25 cricket teams, has also played for Ranji Trophy one day and t20 and continues to make a name in the game.
One of the fastest bowlers of valley Shahrukh Dar from Soura started cricket by playing with various clubs. In the 2013 tournament of DCL, he was an emerging player of Elegant Strikers. Having played Syed Mushtaq Ali and also Ranji Trophy squad, during under 19, he took 5 wickets haul against Andhra Pradesh and represented North Zone in U-19. In 2019, he was also net bowler of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
He said, “The league organized by DCL was very professional. Such tournaments polish the skills of every sportsman and make them better in the game. The old city has talented players and people also want to see good matches happening. This will encourage kids to go into the field of sports as well and can be a good source of recreation for them too.”