Anglo-Indians can look back with pride at the rich hockey-playing culture they fostered. PRINCE FREDERICK on their contribution to the game then and now

Largely due to its strong link with the Railways, the Anglo-Indian community has a rich hockey-playing tradition. As Railway schools fostered the sport, Anglo-Indian youngsters had a head start. National players were drawn from Railway teams and Indian squads with Anglo-Indians in the majority were not uncommon. The composition of the Indian hockey squad that struck gold at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics underlines their dominance. Nine Anglo-Indians (eight in the playing eleven and one spare) were in the 13-member team.

Anglo-Indian localities have played a vital role in popularising the sport. Bow Barracks in Kolkata is credited with nurturing a vibrant hockey-playing culture. Despite the loss of playing spaces, the twirling of hockey sticks is still heard in this Anglo-Indian area.

The revival

“Hockey matches are conducted on a street in Bow Barracks,” says Harry MacLure (Editor, Anglos In The Wind) who is part of a group masterminding the revival of Anglo-Indian hockey. Kolkata also has one of the oldest and most respected Anglo-Indian hockey groups in the country — the Calcutta Rangers Club.

Just as in Kolkata, Anglo-Indian hockey is present, if only in a weakened form, in every metro and also in a few small towns such as Podanur in Coimbatore. Hockey is woven into life at Veteran Lines, a predominantly Anglo-Indian area in Pallavaram.

Many Anglo-Indians from around Chennai take the trouble to visit this suburban locality for a game of hockey. Alan Coyne, who distinguished himself playing for the State Bank of India, lives in Porur but makes regular pilgrimages to Veteran Lines. The St. Thomas police grounds are still home to hockey and Vepery has a band of Anglo-Indian hockey enthusiasts.

Glorious past

However, Anglo-Indian hockey today pales terribly when compared to its glorious past. Anglo-Indian schools were partly characterised by the zeal with which they promoted the sport. Many Anglo-Indian players were initiated into the game by school coaches. The Anglo-Indian school teams were so formidable that they were expected to give a tough fight to any professional hockey team. “Now, except for St. George's, no Anglo-Indian school in Chennai has a hockey team. While you can't blame the schools for letting studies take precedence over sports, it is sad Anglo-Indian schools have lost one of their defining qualities,” says Coyne.

A lack of will at the school level to promote hockey is but a minor factor contributing to a drop in Anglo-Indian hockey groups. Migration of Anglo-Indians (starting from the 1970s) to other countries in search of better opportunities is the main factor. A majority of clubs disbanded because its key members settled abroad.

Making a contribution

Interestingly, Anglo-Indians have helped the cause of the game in the lands they set foot in. In an article, titled “Anglo-Indian contribution to Australian hockey” in Anglos In The Wind, Trevor Vanderputt says that as early as the 1930s, an Anglo-Indian occupied a respectable place among Australian hockey coaches. Dennis Dunbar, who had played for the Calcutta Rangers Club, went on to coach many groups in Australia. Reciting a litany of Anglo-Indian names associated with top-notch coaching in Australia, he singles out Richard Carr for special praise. As a coach, Carr is said to have shown the Aussies that ‘skills can achieve' what power can't.

“Thanks to migration, the Anglo-Indian community in India has dwindled. But that is a poor excuse for not attempting to produce such hockey legends,” says MacLure, reflecting the present mood in the Anglo-Indian community.

Raising a toast

Harry MacLure, Editor of Anglos In The Wind (AITW), is an unlikely promoter of hockey. “I've never held a hockey stick in my life,” admits MacLure, the driving force behind “A Toast To Hockey”, a two-day tournament (January 8 and 9) at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Station meant to celebrate Anglo-Indian hockey. “A shared passion for hockey has bound the Anglo-Indians together. Through this event, AITW attempts to demonstrate the power of this binding glue.”

MacLure performed the onerous task of contacting hockey teams around the country and likely sponsors in India and outside with ease, thanks to AITW's worldwide reach. The principal sponsor is Canadian Social Service for Anglo-Indians (CSSAI).

Without exception, the people he contacted welcomed the idea of a tournament for Anglo-Indian hockey teams. In November, he visited Kolkata to invite legend Leslie Claudius to be the chief guest. The invitation was readily accepted. Leslie is a towering figure in Indian hockey and his association with the event will go a long way in promoting its goals, which include popularising the game among Anglo-Indian youngsters, says Maclure.

Anglo-Indian teams from Kolkata, Vizag, Hyderabad, Secunderabad, Guntur, Bangalore, Goa, Chennai, Trichy, Villupuram and Podanur will square off against one another. The teams are not charged any participation fee; there is no entry fee for spectators.

In keeping with the tradition surrounding Anglo-Indian hockey tournaments, “A Toast to Hockey” will be followed by “The Grand Hockey Dinner Dance” at St. Bede's School Campus (from 7.30 p.m. onwards on January 9). Tickets (Rs. 300 per person) for the Dinner Dance (which features a music band and DJ) are exclusively available at Anglos In The Wind, A-77, 3rd Avenue, Anna Nagar East, Chennai - 600102 (near Roundtana). For details, call 42080058.