“YA BALL JAWAY YA BANDA!” and “JAZBAY SAY KHAILO!” (It’s either the ball or the player and, give it your all!) were the two ultimate coaching tips from all our hockey coaches back then, the time when hockey ruled supreme in Pakistan. Be it PTI Ehsan of Islamia High School, Muhammad Ali of Hazara Club, Hafiz of Railways Hockey Club, Jan Muhammad of Sibi or Ghulam Nabi of the Balochistan Police Hockey Club, all of them hollered the same exhortations, or some equally passionate variant of them, to us players. As a member of the Hazara Club, I often thought the coaching tips from Muhammad Ali to be of the more brutal variety, compared to what we got from the other coaches in the late 70s and early 80s. The rumor was that, during his heyday, coach Ali himself had been a rather formidable player who showed no mercy towards his opponents.
Our team (The Hazara Hockey Club) used to practice in a wide pit-like field called “Khadday Ghulam” (Ghulam’s pit). Hockey was the obsession of our life, and our attendance at this pit of Mr. Ghulam was more solid and regular than our presence at school. Hockey sticks in hand, we used to jog all the way to the hockey grounds in the cantonment area to play friendly matches with the uniformed men from the different units of the Pakistan Army. These friendly matches would often turn into not-so-friendly encounters, especially when our team would get trounced by the well-coached Army unit teams. Our goal was to hone our skills and improve our strategy by playing against stronger teams. But there was also another factor that pulled us to these well maintained grounds where the hospitality was impressive. The sumptuous rounds of refreshment served at the end of each match that often included crispy pakoras and succulent jalebis compelled us to visit Army grounds again and again.
The Balochistan Hockey Association headed by Sardar Khair Muhammad was very active and vibrant during those years. Inter Club Hockey tournaments were regularly organized throughout the year. Teams and clubs used to compete for the most prestigious and coveted of trophies in the province, the Sardar Ghous Bakhsh Raisani Gold Cup. On the national level, the most important hockey event was the All Pakistan General Musa Khan Hockey Tournament. This particular tournament was more like a festival than a mere competition. All the big guns of Pakistani hockey would be there: PIA, Customs, the big bank teams and the provincial teams comprising national stars and Olympians. It used to be like the Oscars or the Super Bowl of Pakistan hockey. The presence of the superstars in Quetta, the accompanying spectators from all over the country and the national team selectors brought all the media to the city of Quetta and which projected it into international spot light. This was when Pakistan had all the international trophies to its credit. We dreamt of playing in such a charged environment where the stakes of every player was at its peak. We strongly believed that anyone who performed well would be considered for the national team. We believed in meritocracy which paid off in the form of success of our national team in the International arena. Unfortunately, such is not the case today. One can see our dismal performance in the World Cup being played in India.
A month-long training camps for participating in national events in the main cities of Punjab, Sindh and KP (then NWFP) were another common feature in which around 40 selected players from local clubs would participate. Among the regulars—the usual suspects—those who often got selected, on merit, were the following: Mama Farooq, Zafar “paa ustad’, Dawood “goalie”, Baber from Railways, Ilyas Butt, Mubashir Berlas, Anjum, Dr Arshad and Mehmood from Balochistan Police and myself (Sakhawat Hussain), Arif, Yaqoob, Saadat “Mashter”, Asif, Ghulam Ali “Ghulo” from Hazara Club.
Practicing either at the Pakistan Railways or the Gym Khana Hockey ground from 3 pm to 7 pm, on weekdays was real fun. At the end of each training session, we were given coupons (chits) to be traded for a bowl of doodh jalebi at a mithai (sweet) shop on Prince Road. Our week would end on Sundays by watching films at Imdad or Regal Cinema and devouring a steaming hot bowl of samosa chaat at the famous “Sunehri chaat” house on Abdul Sattar Road.
The train journeys to other provincial capitals and hockey loving cities for participation in All Pakistan Tournaments was the climax of the drama of hockey around which our lives revolved. The spectators liked our hockey because of our fighting spirit that refused to give up till the final whistle was blown. These train journeys were great means of establishing relationships and camaraderie with the players from all across Pakistan. Playing card games like rung along the way, eating halwa at Mach Station, dinner at Sibi Station and breakfast at Sadiqabad Station are but few cherishable memories that still mesmerize me. In one of the tournaments at the Army Stadium, Rawalpindi, we got the beating of our life and lost to the indomitable Habib Bank, 0-13. Back at the camp and as a face saving measure, our team captain tried to tell our fans that had not been able to watch our un-fateful match, that had the referees been fair and impartial, we would have had a fair chance of winning. One of the fans, Nawazish Ali, himself a veteran footballer who once played for the national team, cunningly insisted on knowing the final score. We tried to evade him but he was so insistent and gave us no other choice but to tell the truth. Upon hearing it, he let out an atrociously loud laugh and added, “Come on yaar, I am sure it was not the referees, a score of 0-13 is just too much for a referee to manipulate.”
The writer is a retired Air Commodore.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and Balochistan Voices not necessarily agrees with them.
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