We Do Have What It Takes – A Tamilnadu Village that Breathes Hockey
For the villagers of N Panjampatti in Dindigul district, hockey is a way of life. They play the sport for the sheer love of it. The village’s tryst with hockey dates back to pre-Independence, for even then, it produced an exceptional player, K V S Maria Soosai, who was with the British Army and played for the British team then. The seeds of hockey were planted in the village from pre-Independence era due to its association with the defence services as Panajampatti is also known as a military village as many are in the armed services.
Further, the Government Higher Secondary School started in 1966 laid special emphasis on the sport by forming an exclusive hockey team. The first physical education teacher of the school, Muthu, by 1967, started a hockey team which flourished till 1970. However, there was a downturn by 1980 as the sport lacked patronage with no instruments for the youth to play then. But a few dedicated youth in the village wanted to bring back its glorious past. In 1987, the villagers started ‘Indus Hockey Club’ in Panjampatti, which celebrated silver jubilee this year.
M Francis Joseph from the village who is also a professor of history narrates those earlier days. Francis is the president of the Indus Hockey Club as well.
M A Subbiah, former physical director of Gandhigram Rural Institute, and S D Fernandez, guided the villagers and supported them during the initial days of the club. “In 1984 and 1985, after completing my college, I wanted to bring back hockey but we were struggling even without proper hockey sticks. We used to carve out hockey sticks from trees and bind unripe guava fruits with cycle tubes to make them into hockey balls. It was at that time that Subbiah and Fernandez provided us with sticks and equipment and supported us to start the club,” he recalls. From then on, Panjampatti always ruled in the field of hockey and successfully started a women’s team in 1991. Every year, the club organised a state-level hockey tournament in Panjampatti village on a big scale.
The village has produced more than 70 talented hockey players till date and most of them are well settled. “Along with hockey, we always insisted on education and found every means to push our boys and girls into educational institutions through the game of hockey. Our motto of hockey is ‘Education – Discipline – Service”, says Francis. Today, the next generation from Panjampatti, armed with the game, are studying in various colleges in the state. “All our hockey players are well settled in life with good jobs because our club insisted on education along with hockey. We are proud to be part of the club and our village,” says A Nepul Raj from the village who is also an assistant professor of media studies in a Chennai college.
Despite coming a long way, the villagers do stress the lack of patronage for the sport. “If India should rule in hockey, hockey must develop in the villages again. But unfortunately, we are far away from that goal due to lack of infrastructure and good coaches at the grassroots level,” points out R Sathesh Franklin, organising secretary of Indus Hockey Club and assistant professor of physical education in a Madurai college. As a next measure, the hockey players of Panjampatti are planning to encourage the sport in local schools. “We are planning to take the sport ahead and start hockey teams in government schools nearby. Our intention is to encourage hockey in all government schools. We are planning to do so with a few neighbouring schools on an experimental basis,” Francis added.