The ‘Hockeypatti’ of Madurai

Igniting hockey temper: Veteran hockey coach L. Raju at a training session. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R. ASHOK

Vadipatti, a bustling rural suburb was an unknown entity in sports till L Raju arrived here three decades ago. Today, the town is synonymous with hockey with players of international calibre emerging out of Raju’s stable.

The veteran hockey coach, who began his career in Coonoor as physical education teacher in a management school, came to his home town to serve in Government Boys Higher Secondary School and it turned out to be a blessing for the students when Raju converted the existing football ground into a hockey ground and started coaching them. “I noticed the boys playing football very spiritedly. Their sprinting ability caught my eyes. As I was also interested in our national game and wanted to produce quality players, I taught them the nuances of hockey and it is producing good results,” says Raju.

With the help of like minded coach Thangaraj, he transformed the place into a hockey hub. Soaked in the artistry of Indian hockey, Raju taught his students dribbling and dodging skills and evolved a distinct hockey style for Vadipatti.

“Even in those days when astro turf was unheard of, Raju sir insisted on speed and accuracy and that brought name and fame to the town,” says A.G. Kannan, president, Madurai District Hockey Association.

Raju spotted boys under 10 years and formed a formidable team, which won several district-level tournaments and shot the Vadipatti players into prominence and soon they were invited to represent the State team. “I formed a junior team and took them to Bharathiar Day Sports where we won the title. Then our boys took part in Republic Day Sports hockey tournament and won laurels for the school. Two of our boys were part of the State team that won All India Rural Sports title. It was a huge encouragement for our boys and they started to take the hockey seriously,” says Raju.

The success of the school compelled the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu to set up the Hockey Talent Development Centre (HTDC) at the school. The centre receives fund from the State to organise regular training programmes for the students and summer camps for the newcomers. “Our students come from poor economic background and they do not have the wherewithal to buy even wooden sticks. But the centre provides free graphite hockey sticks and training for the boys,” says Suresh, Physical Education Teacher of the Vadipatti school.

Buoyed up by the stupendous success of the team and to give them enough opportunities, Raju and like minded friends including advocate Rajagopal started the Ever Great Hockey Club two decades ago and it provided good platform for the boys to whet their skills and strengthen their game.

The club took part in local open tournaments to test the standard of their players. Brushing aside initial set backs, the players performed spiritedly to outsmart much stronger Indian Overseas Bank team from Chennai in a tournament. That gave them enough confidence to march ahead and it paved the way for players like V. Raja who represented the Indian team, Arumugam who plays for Services team and Gopinath who represented Junior India team. Ever Great Hockey Club has been organising state and south zone-level tournament for 17 years now.

“I still can’t forget how Raju sir encouraged us to put in more effort. His mentorship was crucial for me to perform well in international matches. Even today I remember his words while playing,” says V Raja, Indian hockey player, who is now busy playing in Australian and German hockey leagues. Inspired by Raju’s brand of hockey, Raja has started Vadipatti Raja Hockey Academy in Chennai employing the strategies and techniques he learnt from the veteran. Vadipatti’s fame inspired neighbouring places like Panjampatti and Pandiarapuram to pay more attention to hockey. “I was also trained by Raju sir and have developed a team that has won several state-level titles.

We have good infrastructure facilities at our school,” says P G Raja, physical education teacher of the Madura Sugars Higher Secondary School, Pandiarajapuram.

Hockey selectors look for Vadipatti players in every selection trials and there is never a state team without them. “Credit goes to Jothikumaran, former secretary general of the Indian hockey and A.G. Kannan for their steadfast support in creating an identity for our players,” says Raju.

Now, people of Vadipatti take to this sport for job opportunities. “Our players are employed in different Government services. Army and Department of Police are major recruiters,” says Kannan.

Playing on astro turf has become a standard norm for national and international hockey matches but Vadipatti does not have a single astro turf ground and the players train only on clay grounds.

It has forced players to move out of Vadipatti to places like Chennai. Still, Vadipatti remains a force to reckon with in the field of hockey.

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 11:11:19 AM |

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