The presence of star Kashmiri footballer Ishfaq Ahmed in the
Salgaocar football club will see the valley rooting for the Goan
giants, which will be looking to defend its I-league title this
season. But he rues the fact that the state lacks sporting
infrastructure, other than for polo and golf, and the "government
is not doing much to exploit the talent".
The widely travelled Ishfaq, who has also played for Air India,
Dempo and HAL, has settled down in Goa this year after a long
stint with Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan. The striker was also the
first from Jammu and Kashmir to lead Mohun Bagan and was honoured
this year during the club's centenary celebrations of the IFA
Ishfaq, the second Kashmiri after Mehrajuddin Wadoo to strike it
rich in Indian football, is determined to see Salgaocar defend the
I-League crown despite making a poor start with a 0-1 defeat
against arch-rivals Dempo in the opening match.
"My desire is to help my team Salgaocar qualify for AFC (Asian
Football Confederation) Champions League and AFC Cup and to give
my best every time I go on the field," Ishfaq, who hails from the
Barbarshah area in Srinagar, told IANS.
Ishfaq, who holds a BA degree from the Gandhi Memorial College,
wants to spread the message of peace in the troubled valley
"Being a Kashmiri, I faced many problems in life. I was abused and
even denied a flat. My colleagues called me a terrorist," said
Ishfaq, whose state mate Wadoo also plays in Salgaocar.
Asked about the future of the game in Kashmir, Ishfaq said:
"Kashmir has lot of talent. People are passionate about the game
but unfortunately, the government is not doing much to exploit the
talent that we have in the state. We have only one ground at the
Bakshi Stadium and that is not enough. We need more infrastructure
for the game. I have taken up the issue with the authorities
concerned but without any result. The government is more
interested in promoting polo and golf."
Ishfaq's parents wanted him to be an engineer or doctor but the
youngster had different plans.
"I followed my dream and achieved it. I am happy with what I am
doing," he said.
Recalling his formative years in Srinagar, Ishfaq said: "I used to
play in a stadium at Barbarshah. I was passionate and developed an
interest. Biscoe School had their own football team and offered me
a scholarship. After school I went to play for YMCA, which is the
famous football club in Kashmir and was recognised at the state
Ishfaq said it was YMCA coach Sat Pal Singh who helped him emerge
as a good footballer.
"Sat Pal Singh not only brushed up my skills but also helped me
turn into a professional. My teachers at Biscoe and Gandhi College
also supported me a lot," he said.
Asked about achievements, Ishfaq said: "I have represented my
country, which is a big achievement in itself. I was declared
player of the tournament in Santosh Trophy which was held in
Kashmir in 2008. I was also a part of the Mohun Bagan team that
played against four-time European champions Bayern Munich in
Oliver Kahn's farewell match. It was a dream come true to play
against the legendary German goalkeeper."
(Zehra Shafi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)