'Kashmir's Ronaldo' Danish Farooq fulfils father's broken dream with India debut
Danish Farooq's father had come agonisingly close to playing for India in the 1980s. Making up for years of hurt, Danish became the first Kashmiri in 11 years to represent the national team vs Bahrain.
Eleven years after Mehrajudin Wadoo, Danish Farooq put Kashmir football on the map again when he made his India debut against Bahrain last week.
"The feeling of seeing your lifelong dream turn into reality is not something that can be described," the 25-year-old India international told The Bridge.
Throughout the 80 minutes he was on the pitch in the 1-2 defeat before being subbed off, there were many Kashmiri eyes glued to the screen, waiting for a moment of magic from 'Kashmir's Ronaldo' or 'Apna Danish'.
Back home, his father Farooq Ahmad, a former footballer who played for Jammu & Kashmir in the Santosh Trophy and for Kolkata giants Mohammedan Sporting in the 1980s, could not hold back his tears. Now a 65-year-old who shares tips with hundred of aspiring Danish-es in Srinagar's Eidgah's ground every evening, Danish's father had once been the best footballer from these parts.
"I made it to the Indian national team camp in 1985 but could not make it to the playing XI because of an injury. Danish has fulfilled my decade-old broken dream. I wish to see many more like him play for India," Danish's father said.
Wadoo, the last international footballer from here, thinks Danish's success is a great moment for the state, but that more professional clubs need to come up in J&K if this moment is to be made the most of.
"A talent like Danish was spotted only when he played for Real Kashmir in the I-League. Of course he is a product of J&K Bank but unless you play competitions like ISL and I-league it is very difficult to be picked for the national team," Mehrajuddin Wadoo told The Bridge.
The Real Kashmir files
Danish has been a big name in Kashmir for many years now. He was among the few local players who made it to the Real Kashmir XI regularly a few years ago. Before that, he was made the captain of the J&K Bank team - one of the biggest local teams in the state - after he joined them at the age of 13 after a stint with Chinar Valley. But it was only after his ISL debut for Bengaluru FC this season that he received his first India call-up.
"My first inspiration was of course my father. I loved going to the ground with him. It was a bit of a challenge for me to reach where I am, but I cannot begin to think of the challenges he would have faced in his career," said Danish.
Back home after his India stint on Tuesday, Danish's house in Safa Kadal area of Downtown Srinagar was swamped with well-wishers. But this is something the man of the hour is used to.
"Whenever I returned from I-League or ISL also, many young footballers from near and far came to our house asking me to share my experiences with them. I tell them to never give up on their goals. There is cutthroat competition if you want to make it as a professional footballer, with outside players as well," he said.
"One positive is that more parents are now sending their kids to football academies, but the need of the hour is infrastructure and coaching centres. We need more coaches who can produce result-oriented players," he added.
For those who have seen Danish rise above the challenges of infrastructure and coaching to reach the ultimate stage, what stand out about him is his single-mindedness and the willingness to learn both from seniors and juniors.
BA Shah, general secretary of the Kashmir Football Association, said: "Danish's feat for the Indian team is an eye-opener for Kashmir's youths. We have had around 30 footballers from our state playing for India in history, but none in the last decade."
Basit Ali, 23, a former teammate of his at Real Kashmir told The Bridge: "Since the time he played for J&K Bank, his passion surprised us all. He would not miss practice even in the harshest days of winters. His journey from that team to the Indian team is sure to inspire generations. We were all praying for him when he stepped out to play for India."
From that J&K Bank team, Danish joined Lonestar Kashmir and then Real Kashmir. In 2017/18, he was their highest scorer. It was around this time that Real Kashmir's matches were heavily attended in the Valley - with vocal crowds chanting out their support for 'Apna Danish', 'Kashmir's Ronaldo'.
'Apna Danish' is now 'India's Danish'.