The team officials of Gokulam Kerala and Real Kashmir were at loggerheads more than 24 hours before their players faced each other on the field for the I-League match on Saturday. The match ended 1-1 without much in the way of fireworks for the viewers but what happened on the previous day was as bewildering as it was unprofessional.
On Friday, the Real Kashmir players and staff entered the EMS Stadium ground in Kozhikode and started training on the small patch of grass available on the side of the playing field. Gokulam Kerala CEO Ashok Kumar, on noticing this, asked the team to leave the field as neither the home or away side has the permission to train inside the stadium designated for their fixture on the day before the match day.
Upon being asked to leave, the Real Kashmir staff and Ashok Kumar got into an argument but not before he was allegedly manhandled by a few officials of the visiting club. The video of the argument was posted on Twitter by Real Kashmir and that was the start of an online furore.
There were support pouring in for both teams but a tweet by Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of J&K, added another angle to the story, one of safety which in no way helped in settling the outcry.
Have been told @realkashmirfc are facing numerous difficulties down south in the run up to their clash against Gokulam Kerala FC to the point where they are unsure they will be safe playing tomorrow. Request local authorities to intervene to ensure safety of players & staff. — Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) December 14, 2018
Real Kashmir’s media manager Omar Babri reasoned to Goal that coach David Robertson only wanted to inspect the pitch ahead of the match, which he is within his rights to do with the permission of the match commissioner. He also admitted the club’s first tweet on the issue was a mistake as it depicted Kerala in a bad light.“We love Kerala. We have nothing against the state, Gokulam Kerala is not Kerala. We are only against the actions of a few of the officials.
“We were allotted 10 AM - 11 AM for training and were waiting at the hotel for the bus to arrive from 9:30 onwards. We came here and entered the stadium and the CEO of Gokulam Kerala rudely asked us to leave, using words like ‘Poda’ which we know is bad language.
RKFC head coach and staff being asked to leave training ground. ‘This is Kerala not Kashmir’ @realkashmirfc told. Strange. pic.twitter.com/kTjkqC1bEv — Real Kashmir FC (@realkashmirfc) December 14, 2018
“The first tweet was a mistake by our social media person. It had the hashtag #GodsOwnCountry and it is wrong to mention the state as a whole in this. It was just the behaviour of a few officials (that was problematic). We have no issues with Kerala or the people here,” he affirmed.
Goal was able to confirm that the bus did arrive but there was a delay, due to Hartal. The hotel where the visiting team stayed was a few hundred metres away from the stadium and the players and the staff were seen waiting for a few minutes at the stadium gate. However, a second video posted by Real Kashmir on Twitter showed the players warming up inside the stadium.
Gokulam Kerala President VC Praveen told Goal , “There was definitely no mistake committed by Gokulam Kerala. They have no authority to come into the stadium. Even our own team is not allowed to practice inside the stadium on the day before the match day.
He further added, “Real Kashmir, being a new entry (in I-League), probably did not know the rules and regulations. They manhandled our CEO and when a person tried to shoot the video, they destroyed the camera. What was shot on video was our CEO asking them to leave the ground.”
Praveen also condemned Omar Abdullah’s tweet, “It was blown out of proportions, two hundred per cent. I don’t see why any of those people have to get into this.”
Ashok Kumar, CEO of Gokulam Kerala, told Goal that the Real Kashmir staff started the ruckus. “I cannot tolerate abusive language on the field, it is my workplace. I greeted them when I saw them, they rudely asked ‘Why the hell are we not being allowed to train?’. They kept asking why I did not allow (them to train).
“I am not bothered about their tweets because they did not give the right picture. They posted the last part of the picture. I was not violent against them, they were violent against me. If I had retaliated, the match would not have taken place. I don’t have complaints but I want the facts to be known the world,” said Kumar.
Gokulam Kerala’s team manager Rajah Rizwan, who arrived at the stadium from the training ground upon receiving Ashok’s call saying he was manhandled, told Goal, “If they came to inspect the ground, how come they had all the training equipment. When I arrived, I saw them changing to their training kits. It is a blatant lie. They shot a video saying they are training here while their bus was waiting outside.
Does this look like a training ground??? Team @realkashmirfc had to train on this dump as no ground or transport provided for training today in Calicut. @ILeagueOfficial pic.twitter.com/OK0G4qi1Ed — Real Kashmir FC (@realkashmirfc) December 14, 2018
“From their two videos itself, we can see that the runner boards were destroyed. It was done by Nagen Tamang who threw bottles at them. They invaded the property and destroyed it. We are ready to apologize for shortcomings from our side but cannot accept manhandling.
“One of their officials repeatedly threatened us, “You will come to Kashmir but you won’t go back”. He said it again today (Saturday). He was in the dugout today during the game, I believe he is their technical director."