The only time Greg Clark had been to India before was a leisure trip to Goa. But he knew life won’t be a beach on his second trip, in mid-2018, when his employers made him undertake, among other things, a ‘hostile environment’ training.
Clark’s destination was Srinagar, where he was in pursuit of a former Scottish footballer who was the coach of a nondescript Indian club that had just won the second division of the I-League. The idea of a Glasgow Rangers legend leaving behind his ‘millionaire lifestyle earned from football’, to coach a group of footballers from India, Europe and Africa in a ‘danger zone’ fascinated Clark.
Thus, David Robertson and Real Kashmir became the subject of his movie, which, on Sunday, won the best ‘Single Documentary’ award at BAFTA Scotland. “I was just looking for ideas. I wanted to do something with Scottish people in it but also show a different culture to the audience in the UK,” Clark, the director, tells The Totalsports.
The documentary, ‘Real Kashmir FC’, was in contention along with ‘In sight of home: The Iolaire’ – a story about one of the worst maritime disasters in the UK in the 20th century – and ‘The bank that almost broke Britain’, the story of the rise and fall of Royal Bank of Scotland. “We were up against a lot of very good, expensive documentaries. But just like how the football team defied the odds, we did too as we were the underdogs. So it’s like the story of the team itself,” Clark, 49, says.
The rise of Real Kashmir, a club formed in the aftermath of the devastating Srinagar floods in 2014, has been the most heartwarming story of Indian football in the recent years. From playing in the lowest tier of domestic football to challenging for the I-League title last season, the club’s journey has been a scarcely-believable one. And Robertson has masterminded it.
Clark, two years younger to Robertson, had watched the defender at his prime at Rangers, for whom he made 250 appearances and helped win multiple titles. “It wasn’t just a football story. It was about hopes and dreams,” he says.
Clark approached the club’s co-owners, Shamim Mehraj and Sandeep Chatoo, soon after Real Kashmir won the second division I-League in May 2018. Convincing the owners was the easiest bit. “I had to undergo training from the BBC to behave in a certain way. I had to do a hostile environment training for a week, some of the things in it are common sense when you are going into an area which is high risk. They train you for hostage scenarios and what to do if you are kidnapped. So you have to go through some extensive training which makes you fearful of going to the place,” Clark says.
At that point, it seemed like a punt; A crazy idea that he ‘should never have done.’ However, a couple of months later, after securing necessary permissions from the government, he landed in Srinagar. An ‘advisor’ he never physically saw made sure they never ventured into ‘dangerous areas.’ The minder, Clark says, would call his cameraman every morning. “The person never stopped us from going anywhere. But he would just get an update to ensure our safety,” he says.
It stayed the pattern during the whole six weeks of shooting the 58-minute documentary. With Robertson as the central figure, Clark explores the day-to-day challenges the club faces – from matches getting cancelled due to terrorist attacks, training during curfews and living without any connectivity to the outside world.
It’s intense, with Robertson inadvertently providing some comic relief. He has reported dropped the f-word 80 times in the documentary, prompting a presenter to joke about Robertson being ‘world’s most swearing football manager.’ “There was this incident where, everything is ready to roll before their first I-League match in Srinagar but they had forgotten to get the playing kits,” Clark, who was also nominated in Best Director – Factual – category, chuckles. “And David just went ‘what on earth..!’ He lost his temper so much that the armed security guards ran away.”
In another sequence, he is filmed telling a young player, who got a bit chatty during a training session, ‘If you played as you f***ing spoke, you’d be some f***ing player.’
His style, however, has worked in extracting the maximum from the players, who punched above their weight last term and remained unbeaten in the pre-season matches in the last few months. As the I-League gets underway later this month, Clark hopes to be back to shoot a sequel. “It would be great if that happens. But even otherwise, I will be there just to watch a match in Srinagar and experience the hospitality and warmth of the Kashmiri people.”