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Cultural Documentary

There’s real coaching at ‘Real Kashmir FC’ (2019)

Real Kashmir FC logo
Real Kashmir FC (2019)

Greg Clark’s documentary Real Kashmir FC makes you wonder if being a football coach is a career, a calling, or a sheer act of stubbornness. In the case of former Rangers player David Robertson, it appears to be a tasty stew of all three.

Director Clark took on the story because he was curious why a Scottish footballer, close to his own age of almost 50, had taken a coaching job in far away Kashmir. It helped that neither one of them knew beforehand how dangerous and chaotic life is in Kashmir. In 2018, Robertson increased the pressure to succeed by recruiting his son Mason, a former University of Washington Husky, as centerback and eventually captain.

Clark films for 6 weeks as Robertson takes his team through part of their first season in India’s top division, the I-League. Manager Robertson refuses to be conquered by a multitude of barriers: an unfinished stadium, power outages, civil unrest, a military presence, shutdowns, cancelled practices and games, and opponents that refuse to travel to Kashmir. His goal is to someday be one of the 130 head coaches in British professional football, and in his doggedness, to succumb to failure is not an option.

Robertson fills the screen with his workman-like attitude that sees the lack of perfection and the humor in everything around him. He is putting in his dues, and you hope for the best for him.

Club success

One point of the film is that the co-founders wanted football to unify an Indian state that is split between Hindu and Muslim. Real Kashmir FC is the first team from Jammu and Kashmir to play in the I-League and pre-pandemic, the games draw 16,000 fans. Note that there is not a lot of game footage and you don’t come away with an idea of how the team plays or what fans are really like.

Of course, the pandemic hit in 2020, and a followup documentary covered even greater chaos that consumed Kashmir and the I-League. And so, I was surprised to discover that in 2021, the father and son are still plugging away in Kashmir, keeping the club around mid-table. That kind of success speaks for itself.

Robertson in Arizona

It was interesting to learn that David Robertson coached Phoenix FC during their sole year in the USL. This club was apparently booted from the USL for financial issues, and the franchise was reborn with new owners as the current Phoenix Rising FC.

For other soccer movies about Kashmir, see Sikandar (2009) and Inshallah, Football (2010)

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7

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