Police veterans host hockey tournament as tribute to past players

Teams from around Chennai played in the event organised by Mount Veteran Police Friends

For one searing sunny day you could almost relive that greatly loved, but slowly vanishing world of Anglo-India. On the tree-lined Magazine Road that curves around the foot of St Thomas Mount, dotted with Raj-era buildings and villas as faded as the bougainvillea creeping up them, stands Mohite Park. From inside, shouts of “C’mon boy” can be heard as boys and men in coloured jerseys dribble the hockey ball, sending clouds of red dust into the air.

At the dawn-to-dusk hockey tournament organised by Mount Veteran Police Friends (MVPF) over the weekend, 16 teams battled for top honours to take home trophies named after hockey stalwarts from the police service.

“We are a group of hockey players, mostly retired policemen, from the suburbs of Adambakkam, Pallavaram and Alandur, and we founded MVPF in 2019. We play on weekends and, before the pandemic, used to coach children for free. This is the first tournament we have organised, mostly to remember the fine hockey players from the Police service, some of whom have played at the National-level and the Olympics,” says AV Clement, organising secretary, former State-level mid-fielder and a retired sub-inspector whose father A Velanganni was a National-level player.

A smattering of photographs featuring well-known police players from Jubblepore, Calcutta and the Services, taken from Velanganni’s treasure trove of albums, features on the huge poster announcing the event. The tournament began with the Mount Veterans playing the Avadi Veterans in an energetic exhibition match.

Colonial legacy

While the Anglo-Indian exodus to other Commonwealth nations has thinned the community’s presence in St Thomas Mount, its sporting legacy continues and the cantonment remains a hockey hub. Anglo-Indian names such as siblings Charlie and Phyllis Huggins are well-known, and names such as those of Inspector-General of Police FV Arul and Inspector Ranganathan Francis — born in Rangoon, and who found fame as a three-time Indian Olympian — continue to inspire, along with 24 other personnel whose contributions to the sport were remembered at the tournament.

Ringed by spectators, the all-men teams clash; players are from across age groups “18 to 60”, says Kenneth Thomas, a retired sports manager from FCI, now part of the veteran group. While S Devadoss advisor, MVPF, and a National-level player keeps an eye on the proceedings, under the trees players rest, some stripped to their waist to beat the heat. Others douse their heads with water, still others practise.

Trophies named after seasoned police hockey players | Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B

The sharp crack of the ball meeting stick sounds like gunfire, narrowly misses my ankle and rolls to a stop. Nine-year-old Mugil grins as he runs up to grab the ball. He is here to cheer his uncle — from whom he is learning the game — playing with the Kanchee Hockey team.

By day’s end, Bharaniraja, a Postal Department employee, hockey player for 20 years and captain of Adyar A team, leads his men to glory. “We have players aged between 20 and 40 from across many Government departments and banks on our team. We get invited to play in at least five-six tournaments a year,” says the goal-keeper.

There was a time when hockey carried the nostalgic whiff of English public schools, an Anglo-Indian legacy of Olympic greats and a stout presence among Services players. Its journey from bellowing PT masters and peeling knuckles to retired men remembering the ones who played with them is just as wistful.

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