REAL KASHMIR FC HAVE written their name in Indian football history today, becoming the champions of the 123rd edition of the historic IFA Shield.
This is the first time a club from Kashmir has won a major national level cup tournament.
In a season of many firsts - including the tournament being held behind closed doors and not featuring both of the Shield's two biggest attractions (East Bengal & Mohun Bagan) for the first time since 1908 - the IFA Shield has added another another unforgettable chapter in its one-and-a-quarter century history.
Despite being just a CFL club, George Telegraph put on a spirited fight against the I-League club from the North. They themselves have had some unfinished business in the Shield; back in 1946 they were on a good but the tournament was abandoned due to anti-British riots, and the club went on to spent the next seven decades trying to get back to that level.
The first half was a tight affair, but the persistance of RKFC paid off. 35 minutes into the match, they were awarded a penalty, and Lukman - who had scored a hattrick in the previous game - converted from the spot.
But in the second half George Telegraph came out with a plan and Goutam Das, who had come on as a substitute, got hold of a cross from Bablu Oraw and found the equalizer.
Real Kashmir didn't let up and switched to a higher gear with their attacks. Just about ten minutes later, they took the lead again. This time it came through a set-piece.
Local hero and reguler free-kick taker Danish Farooq delivered the ball to Mason Robertson in the box whose header beat the keeper to find the net, resotoring RKFC's advantage.
Sensing the urgency, George Telegraph put everything they had behind their efforts to get back in the game and with just about 12 minutes left, Robertson who had earlier become the hero by scoring the second goal, almost bungled it when he brought down Vivek Singh inside the RKFC box.
A penalty was awarded to George Telegraph and Tanmoy Ghosh stepped up to take it. But RKFC keeper Mithun Samanta correctly guessed the height and direction of the incoming spot kick, reading Tanmoy's body language. He made the crucial penalty save with a dive to the left and kept Real Kashmir ahead.
The match was competitive till the last moments of the 5 extra minutes added onto the clock but Real Kashmir FC held on. And with this victory, the club which was established in 2017 and qualified for the I-League from the 2019-20 season, has claimed its first top level national cup tournament title.
You can watch the whole game right here courtesy the Xtra Time youtube channel...
Real Kashmir are the 46th club to win the IFA Shield, and they share this honour with top clubs from India and abroad including East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting, Churchill Brothers, Bayern Munich (Reserves), Myanmar FRFC, FC Pakhtakor Tashkent and Club Atletico Penarol.
The significance of Real Kashmir winning the Shield cannot be understated given the club's meteoric rise over a short span of time and the validation their victory has brought to the revival efforts of Kashmir football.
After starting their season with silverware, Real Kashmir FC will now take part in the I-League, which will be held in Kolkata itself due to COVID-19. And their early success has sealed them as one of the leading contenders for the title this season.