Will the huddle be back?https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/print/will-the-huddle-be-back/

Will the huddle be back?

The buzz around the Hockey India League offers hope to budding players at the nursery of hockey

The story of Sansarpur,a village in Jalandhar district of Punjab,can well be the story of Indian hockey. Called the nursery of hockey,the village has produced 13 Olympians,16 other international players,150 national players and a huge number of college-level players. That’s certainly a lot for one village. But just as Indian hockey slid down its peak,Sansarpur too lost its glory. Today,it has only one player,Ravipal,in the Indian squad.

About 35 boys are practising on the astro turf,which was laid last year after long-drawn efforts. The international-standard turf was meant to draw children back into the sport and revive old glory. Though they have got the means after a long time,the enthusiasm may take time to emerge. For most of the village kids,free diet is a big attraction—and for many,the only attraction. About 70 per cent of these budding players come from poor families in the village. The performance of the Indian team at the Olympics did dampen spirits,but with the buzz building around the Hockey India League,which will start on January 5 next year,they now see a ray of hope. India’s top 96 players,including the entire Olympic squad,will form the core of the League. Four out of the six franchises have already been picked up by major business houses.

Mohan Singh,the coach at Sansarpur Hockey Association,who trains these kids,thinks now is the moment. “The League can really tap undiscovered talent in the sport,” he says. Despite the Indian team’s below-the-mark performance,he remains an optimist: “Despite bad performance,the game is growing in the country. India hosted important tournaments in recent times,including the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.” He says a league for Under-16 players would go a long way in discovering talent at the right age.

A few players,who did not wish to be named,admitted that they practise here in the morning and evening sessions because they get free meals. They go through their motions but say they don’t see a bright future for themselves or the game. They resent cricket getting all the attention and money. “We want to play a great game but now even our parents want us to do something else as they think there is no future in the game now,” says one Gurpreet Singh.

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But he says the League can change the picture for them and if the media gives it the attention it deserves,even their parents would want them to carry on with the sport. Many of the youngsters practising here have played at the national level in U-16 and U-17 tournaments.

Sansarpur Hockey Association,which was formed in 1926,has produced five Arjuna awardees,including the late Udham Singh Kullar,Jagjit Singh Kullar,Balbir Singh Kullar,Col Balbir Singh and Ajit Singh Kullar,who is also a Padam Shree awardee and was the captain of the Indian team at the 1975 World Cup and the 1976 Olympics. The village has had four to five players in every Olympic squad till 1980.

The downfall of Sansarpur started in the 80s. The ground where they had practised all along belonged to the army and was taken back. There was no proper ground in the village for the kids to practise. As there was no free space available for a ground,the village pond was filled up and the astro turf laid on it. Former Olympian and president of the SHA,Col Balbir Singh,says they maintain the old ground and even organise tournaments there. The astro-turf,he says,is only

for practise.

The villagers too have lost interest in the game. “Once Sansarpur used to have many players in the Olympic team,but now we don’t even know the names of the players of our present team,” says Gurmit Singh,a villager. He recalls how villagers used to turn up to watch practice sessions at the local ground. “Now nobody has time for such things,” he says.

Former Olympian and now an MLA from Jalandhar (Cantonment),Pargat Singh,who was instrumental in laying the astro-turf,says there are many reasons behind Sansarpur’s downfall. He thinks the Olympians of this village could have done much for the game but only a few showed any interest. But he is hopeful that the League would encourage the youth and help Sansarpur regain its lost glory.