HOCKEY: PASS ME BY, GLORY DAYS

Published December 10, 2023
Manzoor Hussain Jr receiving the Junior World Cup 1979 in Versailles, France
Manzoor Hussain Jr receiving the Junior World Cup 1979 in Versailles, France

The 12-day men’s FIH Hockey Junior World Cup commenced in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, on December 5. The players featuring in the event must be under the age of 21 as of December 31, the year before the tournament is held.

This is the 13th edition of the Junior World Cup, featuring 16 teams. Germany is easily the most successful country, having lifted the Cup six times. India and Argentina have been the winners twice while Pakistan and Australia have been victorious once. 

Pakistan’s sole victory came in the very first Junior World Cup in 1979. That was a time when the nation only wanted to see the Pakistan team on top of the podium in a title tournament — finishing second simply meant nothing.

By winning the first World Cup in 1971, the national (senior) team had completed the grand slam. They had already won the 1968 Olympics and the 1970 Asian Games. But Pakistan failed to land a gold medal in the next two Olympics (silver in 1972 and bronze in 1976) and the next two World Cups (fourth in 1973 and second in 1975). 

As the 13th men’s FIH Hockey Junior World Cup gets under way, Pakistanis may well be reduced to fondly recalling when the Green Shirts won the inaugural edition of the championship, way back in 1979

Pakistan regained glory by winning the 1978 World Cup in style. Later that year, they also won the Asian Games and the first Champions Trophy — again winning all the matches.

At the time, hockey in the country was lucky to have a most dynamic and visionary duo at the helm. Air Marshal (retd) Nur Khan was the president of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) and Brig (retd) M.H. Atif was its secretary-general.

Preparations for the first Junior World Cup were going on in earnest. Dr Tariq Aziz, captain of Pakistan’s gold medal-winning team of the 1968 Olympics, was appointed the manager of the young team. In August 1978, during a tour of Europe, the juniors played against top clubs and national senior and junior sides in major hockey-playing countries such as Holland, Spain and England.

When the national (senior) team appeared in its first assignment of 1979 — the high-profile 10-nation Esanda International Hockey Tournament in Australia — many junior players were also included in the side. Two of them impressed everyone in their debut tournament, right-out Kaleemullah and right-half Rasheedul Hassan.

Incidentally, they joined their elder brothers, the megastars left-out Samiullah and right full-back Manzoorul Hassan, in the national team.

Ahead of the Junior World Cup, the PHF arranged a 10-match series between the Pakistan seniors and juniors teams in Islamabad. The legendary right-in Manzoor Hussain Junior was named captain for the juniors. He was the only one from the seniors’ team of 1978. Two other members of the victorious 1979 Esanda Cup national team, emerging stars Kaleemullah and Rasheedul Hassan, were also in the juniors’ squad.

With just three members from the national team, the juniors surprised everyone by winning the series 6-3 against their seniors, the reigning World Champions.

In the traditional India-Pakistan style of hockey of the time, the attacks mainly originated through the moves of the right trio: right-half, right-in and right-out. The Pakistan seniors were deprived of the trio as Rasheedul Hassan, Manzoor Jr and Kaleemullah were in the opposition.  

Everyone, including the international media, regarded Pakistan as the favourites for the inaugural Junior World Cup in the historic city of Versailles near the French capital of Paris.

The 12 teams were divided into two pools. Pakistan lived up to the billing. They won all of their five pool games with a minimum winning margin of three goals. In the semi-final, Malaysia put up a good fight but Pakistan’s superiority was never in doubt. Pakistan won the match 4-2. Skipper Manzoor Jr scored a beautiful goal after a captivating defence-splitting run.

Pakistan met the erstwhile West Germany in the final. Germany’s 18-year-old forward Stefan Blocher was in the limelight for the first time. The tall lad who soon became the darling of hockey lovers across the globe stamped his class all over the tournament with mesmerising stick work and body feints. 

Dawn newspaper’s headline on the day of the final was ‘West German hopes rest only on Stefan Blocher.’

The Pakistan Junior team’s manager Dr Tariq Aziz noticed that Blocher changed his position frequently. “We need not one player to mark him,” he told his players. “You will need to adopt zonal marking for him. Wherever Blocher goes, the player in that area must block him.”

The strategy worked. Blocher himself recalls about the final: “I got very few balls in the final. The Pakistani diaspora from Europe was in a majority among the crowd. It seemed as if we were playing in Pakistan.”

It was within two minutes of the start of the match that the expats erupted in joy, as left-in Jan Mohammad put Pakistan ahead. The Green Shirts remained in ascendancy most of the time and, in the second half, centre-half Mohammad Rasheed scored off a penalty-corner to end the match 2-0.

The Junior World Cup also reached Pakistan. Manzoor Jr was declared ‘Player of the Tournament.’ Centre-forward Qaiser Iqbal with six goals was Pakistan’s top scorer.

Pakistan’s victorious team of the first Junior World Cup included fullback Nasir Naseer, whose father Naseer Bunda was a member of the Pakistan side that won the country’s first Olympic gold medal in 1960. Bunda has an immortal status in Pakistan’s sports history, as he had netted the only goal of the 1960 Olympics final against India. Meanwhile, fullback Afzal Chaudhry’s elder brother Arshad Chaudhry had been a member of the Pakistan team that had won the first World Cup in 1971.                  

The years 1978 to 1985 easily bring up the most glorious era in Pakistan hockey. The Green Shirts won all the title tournaments, global and continental. Four members of the victorious junior squad, Manzoor Jr, Kaleemullah, Rasheedul Hassan and goalkeeper Moinuddin, have their cabinets full of gold medals from the Olympics, the World Cup, the Asian Games, the Asia Cup and the Junior World Cup.

While Pakistan’s finest show at the Junior World Cup was in its first edition, its worst position came in its previous edition of 2021, when Pakistan finished 11th.

Pakistan also failed to qualify for the 2021 Olympics and they failed to qualify for the 2023 Hockey World Cup (the first time Pakistan couldn’t get in a 16-team tournament). At the 2018 and 2022 Commonwealth Games also, Pakistan finished seventh, its worst-ever position in this event.

The Green Shirts also placed fifth at the Asian Games 2023, our worst ever position at the Asiad. At the Asian Games, Pakistan also earned their worst-ever defeat in international hockey (2-10 against India). Meanwhile, we failed to qualify for the Youth Olympics for the first time after finishing a miserable sixth at the event qualifiers in 2018.

Given the current state of affairs, memories of those long-gone glory days may be all that Pakistanis can look forward to.

The writer is a freelance sports journalist based in Lahore. He can be reached on X @IjazChaudhry1 or Email: ijaz62@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 10th, 2023

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