“I have never faced any criticism for choosing to play for India and I am very grateful for that”

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The 30 year old valley footballer, Mehraj-ud-din Wadoo, delivered the last kick as Mohammedan Sporting Club lifted the IFA shield after more than four decades. 12 years of professional football and many accomplishments later, Wadoo, tells, Syed Asma, that he is yet to be famous enough

Mehrajudin-WadooKashmir Life (KL): How does it feel to be the person instrumental in helping a club lift Indian Football Association (IFA) shield after 43 years?

Mehraj ud din Wadoo (MW): It was a team effort but it feels awesome to be a person who played the last kick. The feeling of winning after 43 years can’t be expressed or explained. It is huge and exciting. I thank Allah for it! Besides, when 65,000 supporters came into the ground and started screaming we felt like winning the world cup. Mohammedan Sporting Club had never qualified to finals. It was the first time we did qualify and astonishingly we won as well. It is amazing!

KL: Do you have any other such remarkable performances in your list or was the first time?

MW: Yes, of course, I have been a part of teams who won many international, national and local cups but this year’s IFA shield is the most special one. It is unbelievable and unmatchable. What makes it more special is that it is perhaps the only Muslim club in India. To be a reason for their win, gives me a feeling of immense pleasure and pride.

KL: You have played for many football clubs in India, oldest and famous both. How did it happen? How difficult or easy was it?

MW: It was a very difficult journey but I must say I have been lucky as well. It has been difficult because of the conditions we are living in. Our body fitness is very poor besides, I perhaps belonged the first batch of footballers who came out of Valley to play. Kashmir till then did not exist on the football map. We have to prove ourselves time and again. The exposure and infrastructure available for us at home can never lead us to play in the national team or cannot make us worth the competition in the world outside. What proved to be the game changer in my life was in 2002 when our state team performed well in a North Zone tournament. We, Allah knows how, were trained in a professional football club and were allowed to play in Nationals. It has never happened before. In there I performed well and started to play for Aeronautics limited, Bangalore. Then rest followed- Mohan Bagan, East Bengal and now Mohammedan Sporting Club.

KL: How is the infrastructure for football back home?

MW: Very poor. I think it does not exist at all. Bakshi stadium is the only ground available for us. Rest of them like polo-ground, Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) ground, or the ones in our colleges are all in a bad shape and very little maintained. These grounds are common for all existing sports in Kashmir. Sportsmen are not trained this way. We need to build up proper infrastructure and appropriate facilities to our talented youngster and groom them to be perfect. Instead doing all this, the government is converting the existing grounds into parks like they did with Iqbal ground at Sarai Bala. All these factors compel aspiring youngsters to sacrifice their dreams for ‘a better future’ and we lose talent.

KL: You have achieved a lot till now what has been the response back home? How encouraging or discouraging is it?

MW: My family’s support has been phenomenal. My father Mohammed Sultan Wadoo, being a footballer himself, supported me all through my life. They never stopped me from playing, even though I earned peanuts. As far as government is concerned, they were never encouraging. They do not understand their role in making football a success in Valley. Look, if they encourage me and Ishfaq others will follow the example. Do you know Its only myself and Ishfaq from Kashmir who have moved out and played. It is very sad and disappointing.

But as far as people of Kashmir are concerned we are very thankful to them. Though, we in Kashmir are fighting against the Indian occupation but the people never stopped me or any other players from playing for India. They still show great love and respect to all the players who play for India. I have never faced any criticism for choosing to play for India and I am very grateful for that.

KL: Do you have any plans to ever come back home and prepare youngsters for competitive footballer in the world outside?

MW: I always wanted to train talented players in Kashmir but I don’t get enough time. Look, I am myself a beginner; I sacrificed a lot of things to reach to this point. It would be difficult for me to leave it mid-way and come back to Kashmir. But yes I am part of an association in Kashmir which is working on training youngsters besides, I too spent about three month in there and help them in any way I can. I will leave playing football and shift back only when I will stop enjoying it. Till then I will gain experience and will contribute in best of my ability at home.

KL: A dream yet to be fulfilled?

MW: I wanted to be a very famous footballer and play with all the famous and old clubs. Presently, I am trying my best to fulfil it. The other dream that is yet to be fulfilled is to form a strong club like ‘United Kashmir’ in Kashmir. I would love to train the best of the football team in the state.

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