Birth of football in Kashmir

Prof M L Raina

The football game is gaining popularity among messes in the Jammu and Kashmir State, particularly in Kashmir division. The emergence of some football players on national scence is a testimony to this fact. Besides, the football team of the State beat Karnataka football team recently. The match evoked great enthusiasm among football fans in the Valley. If this game has achieved this stature, there is a story behind its birth in the Valley. Based on some historical facts and the book written by Tyndale Biscoe the story runs like this:
They said “if we play foot ball, we shall grow muscles on our bodies and then we shall become Low Caste Folk like the the boatmen and coolies:. Moreover, if we play the game, we shall have to run about and be energetic and people will laugh at us, for gentleman must not be in hurry.
Then parents were also quite against what they call waste of time in sports. The boys were sent to school to pass examination and that is supposed to be the aim and end of school life. Most native school masters have same belief and take no interest whatever in games. Games are useless to them, where as passing examination means Government employment and a rich life and wife.”
It was the autumn of 1891 when Biscoe Tyndale sahib returned from Bombay with Mrs. Tyndale Biscoe that amongst their luggage they brought a ‘Foot ball’ the first thing boys of mission school had seen with great pleasure. When the Principal Tyndale Biscoe arrived at school at the set time and held up this football in the students view, it was expected it would evoke enthusiasm among students, but ‘alas’ it did not arose any interest or pleasure or enthusiasm amongst the students.
What is this Sir? Said a student, yes it is a foot ball. What is the use of it? For playing with, it is an excellent game and will make you strong and healthy. Shall we gain any thing means any rupee/money by playing it said another student. No, said the principal, then we do not wish to play this game. Sir that is it made of… “Leather” Then we cannot play at all, even cannot touch it. Take it away as it is unholy to touch.”
All right, said the Principal Biscoe Sahib. Rupee or no rupee, holy or unholy, you are going to play ‘football’ this afternoon at 3:30 PM. Better to learn the rules at once and immediately with the help of the Black board, rules and positions of the players were shown.
Yes, I was expecting trouble from the students so called teachers meeting in advance and explained them the plans after noon. The teachers were armed with sticks and posted enroutes to the playing ground in order that no student would run away enroute.
At 3 pm sharp the school gates were opened and the students rushed away thinking that they escape out side the school gate. We made them to walk straight on the road leading to the playing ground like cattle to a slaughter house. The students clothes were very dirty. It was a dirty, foul smelling. All were dressed on with the long night gown like garments, each boy was carrying a fire pot under his garments and so next to his body, we decide not to drive them too fast for fear of their tripping up as several of them were wearing long robe called “Pheran’’ in Kashmiri. Finally we reached with all the students to the playing field. Sides were made, the ground cleared and ready, the ball in the center and all students at their position and all waiting whistle to blow and start the game.
As the whistle blew the ball does not move at all. I again and again asked the players to kick the ball, on hearing the whistle.
I noticed that the players were looking one another and the crowd of spectators with unimaginable sign of fear on their faces. On asking the boys the reason of not kicking the ball they said “ we can not kick the ball as it is made of leather and we all are holy Brahmins.’’ On hearing this, I shouted one, two and three, still, the ball did not move. Again I shouted and the teacher loaded with stick who were behind the goal posts.
After seeing sticks with teachers and coming towards the field from Goal Post sides… ball started moving. The on lookers who have followed us from the city were wildly excited, for they had never seen in their lives before anything like it. The Holy Kashmiri Brahmin boys in their dirty night gowns (Pherans) popularly known troubling over one another using legs and hands along with their Pheran arms to kick at leather ball.
It was noise and excitement when, all of a sudden the storm succeeded by dead calm as unholy leather ball touched the face and almost kissed the lips of one of the holy Brahmins players. He thought all his front teeth were knocked and his nose gone for ever. He could not physically check his nose and teeth as his hands too had touched the leather ball. The player was in a dilemma and helpless and finally became motionless as he had never before in his life felt the smack of a foot ball and certainly never deemed of such a catastrophe. His face was defiliated, so he could not do what he would and would not do what he could. He did the next best thing, which was to lift up his voice and weep and this he did manfully. This moment was a terrible one for all concerned and especially for me. For now all eyes were directed to the primary cause of all this misery… This leather ball.
The principal Biscoe was in a fix as what to do? I could manage to take the unwilling school boys to the play ground. I could make unwilling legs to kick the “Ball back. Who could I make unholy face holy?
Immediately an idea came to my mind and said take this player boy to the nearest canal at once and wash him thoroughly. On their return I placed the ball again in the center, blew the whistle and the ball was kicked off. All the excitement once more and game was played with enthusiasm until full time whistle blew.
Every one left the field and scattered to various parts of the city to tell parents, neighbours, shopkeepers and all of this great “Tamasha’’ they had witnessed in which they had taken part even.
The remarks about me and the school in the every home at the Dinner Times were not favourable.
I have been told more that twice that I behaved in an unchristian like manner and that I had no business to force football or any other game upon boys against their will. Well we cannot all see alive and it is just as well that we cannot, otherwise “Rome’’ would never have been built and there would be much progress on this territorial sphere. The game introduced the leather ball to Srinagar and to the holy Brahmin who live therein, and although for the first year my presence was necessity at every game and finally football came to stay.
Now all the various schools, colleges, universities, Government and Private Departments have their own football teams and clubs in almost every district of Kashmir. This is how game of football came to Kashmir.
(The author is Veteran football player and founder
Member Jammu & Kashmir Football Association)