With a population of a little over 200,000, Terrassa is probably smaller than many Indian suburbs. But in this city in Catalonia, about one in every 2,000 persons is a hockey Olympian.
When one talks of hockey cradles, Sansarpur, Gojra or Rotterdam are some of the cities that immediately come to mind. But Terrassa remains an under-rated, almost unheard of, nursery of the modern game. The city has produced 125 hockey Olympians since the sport made its debut at the Games in 1928.
In fact, one-third of the Spanish team here for the World Cup is from Terrassa – Marc Bolto, Pau Quemada, Pepe Romeu, Quico Cortes, Vicenc Ruiz and Miguel Delas. Several more play club hockey in the city. “Spanish hockey is because of Terrassa. It breathes hockey. a perfect hockey town,” says Spain coach Frederic Soyez.
A hockey town not by accident, but design. And it began with a cultural exchange programme between the English and Spaniards.
The story goes that close to a hundred years ago, a few Catalan families from Barcelona and Terrassa, a growing textile town, sent their sons to England to learn the trade. Some of them returned with hockey sticks. Weaving wool, it turned out, wasn’t the only thing they were taught at the exchange programme. Hockey was a popular leisure activity among the bourgeoisie and after they returned, the Spanish boys formed the RC Polo club in Barcelona.
But while Barcelona took to football, Terrassa got hooked to hockey. The city continues to reap rich rewards of the seeds that were sown a century back. “Hockey players are treated like superstars here. They are household names and you can find their photos on buses as well,” Soyez says.
The town got its superstars, and they have continued to inspire several generations of players. The Amats, Malgosas and Escudes are all famous surnames in world hockey, and all have their roots in Terrassa. Cortes, the 35-year-old veteran, says the ecosystem formed a century ago, and nurtured till today, has ensured Terrassa continues to be a conveyor belt of players.
The system, he says, is simple: the distance between the hockey clubs and schools isn’t much, the teachers are closely associated to hockey themselves, and since most families have a member who has played the sport at some level, a child is encouraged to take up the sport at a very young age. “Everything is local, and linked to each other. Then there is the pride of playing for your club – it is a big honour to play for your local club,” Spain captain Delas says.
The clubs, in that sense, have contributed greatly to Terrassa’s legacy. Atletic Terrassa, Club Egara, Club Deportio Terrassa all have rich histories and have won multiple domestic titles among them. Atletic, founded in 1952, has won the Spanish league a record 21 times, apart from two continental titles. Earlier this year, they were named European Hockey Federation’s Club of the Year.
Delas says players from Terrassa are unique because of their skill set. Spain has three traditional hockey hotbeds — Barcelona, Madrid and Terrassa. While Barcelona and Madrid have players much more in sync with the European style, the players from Terrassa are famous for their deftness, visible in the way they have played here — calm with the ball and unafraid of showing their individual skills.
“They are skillful because they have a lot of players and get good coaching since childhood. So players from here have confidence, which they bring from their club to the national team,” Delas, who picked up an injury and was ruled out of the World Cup two days ago, says.
When Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992, the hockey matches were played 20km away in Terrassa. Now, they have set their sights on the next World Cup. “To celebrate 30 years of Barcelona hosting the Olympic Games, we want to host the next World Cup in 2022 in Terressa,” former International Hockey Federation president Leandro Negre says. “It is a special place to host the event.”