While this is largely my personal account of the exploits of the very early IITM Hockey teams, many others as above acknowledged have contributed to its finer details. I begin this story right from our 1st year i.e. 1964-65. We witnessed our first Inter IIT Sports Meet in then Madras in December 1964(understand that IITM started taking part in 1962). That year, I was just one amongst many hockey hopefuls who started playing daily within a few months of joining IITM after trying to strike a balance between studies and sports. Our sports energy level also depended if that was an academic or workshop week. During the December 1964 Meet, we had many IITM individual athletes winning gold medals like Anand Swaminathan (110 meters hurdles), Joshy Paul (long distance running) and Minu Kalappa (long jump and hop step jump); while Lionel Paul excelled for us in tennis. But, we were somehow not strong in team games. At that time, the earlier and well established IIT teams from Kharagpur, Mumbai and Delhi performed very well with Madras and Kanpur very new to the family of IITs. I may add that Anand, Joshy and Lionel were also the Governor’s Prize holders for their respective outgoing batches.
I got into the Hockey Team in 1965-66 as a left wing-half, but sadly that year, the Inter IIT Meet scheduled in Kharagpur was cancelled due to the Indo-Pak war.
Before I move on, I must mention some names, who I believe, were the real forerunners of IITM Hockey Teams. The leading one was Anand (Andy) Shivaram, who was not only tall, but had a towering presence in the middle and occupied the pivotal centre-half position and captained the team. He was an outstanding player with excellent stick work and game-marshalling skills. He was my role model as I moved later into the centre-half position. He passed out in 1966 and sadly the IITM team missed him thereafter. I believe he left the country then for further studies. I do believe that he could have played for India at sometime if he stayed back!
The other prominent member of those early teams was Vasu Srinivasan, who was a very skillful forward and difficult to contain. The other was Lionel Paul, who played on and off for the IITM hockey team as he focused more on tennis and became an outstanding singles player and won the Stanley Cup for Inter Collegiate Tennis in Chennai many times during the 1960s, also beating Anand Amritraj in one year. Lionel returned to IITM after a few years in industry to do his M.Tech in Industrial Engineering alongside me, and continued to dominate the tennis scene at IITM.
One person I cannot miss out is Basu John Vetteth, who was the real driving force of those early teams and its one-time captain. He was a bustling aggressive player in the forward line. His significant contribution was also to get more guys to come out of the hostels and play hockey on a daily basis. Later, in life, he is used to run a well-known photo studio in Chennai for many years (now defunct). Sadly, he is no more with us today. May his soul rest in peace!
Another guy I would like to mention is Jagadesan (otherwise known as Jack), who played in the half-line and captained the 1967-68 team (Photo 1 attached). He was a skilled player but somehow lacked the stamina to last the full time- no thanks to his heavy smoking! Possibly this was the reason why I managed to keep away from smoking and worked hard on developing my stamina to hold the pivotal centre-half position. As far as we know, Jack after joining CFTRI, later on went to manage his family chilli business and probably lives near Madurai now.
During those early years, IITM used to play Inter-Collegiate Hockey League in Madras and were part of a group which had Madras Christian College (MCC), Guindy Engineering, AC Tech and Jain College, Meenambakkam. Later on, we did manage to play with other teams like Stanley Medical, Pachiyappas at other grounds including the YMCA grounds in Nandanam. Though we were not the strongest of teams then, we managed to put up creditable performances from year to year. MCC was undoubtedly the strongest team, but we really enjoyed playing with them for their generally clean and fast hockey. Talking of the MCC team, they had one guy in their speedy forward line named Monappa, who later on went on to play for India for a few years. Another of them, MB Aiyappa, a weighty full-back, played for many years for the Tamil Nadu State team. These league matches on both home and away basis really helped develop our hockey skills.
Thinking of coaches, we did have our own Institute Gymkhana coach in Joga Rao. Though he was sincere and hardworking, he had his own limitations. He was graceful to accept that and arranged specialist coaches from outside to hone up our hockey skills. I can recollect one Mohammad Ghouse and then Jimmy Carr, both, I think from Southern Railways. Every year before the Inter IIT Meet, they arranged a couple of friendly matches for us with the Southern Railway team to get us into match-readiness. I recall one occasion when we took on this reputed team at the Egmore Hockey Stadium and they had a speedy right winger V.J Philips, who later went on to play for India for several years.
December 1966 took the team to then Bombay for the Inter IIT Meet. We came back disappointed as didn’t make much of an impression. With only 5 teams in the fray, even one loss meant you were out of the tournament. Personally, I felt very bad then, as I missed a penalty stroke against IIT Delhi, which was our Waterloo!
Though the team composition changed somewhat from year to year with passing out seniors, the general skill level of the team was improving, though any wins were still eluding us. December 1967 took us to Delhi for the next Inter IIT Meet. This was again a big disappointment as we got nowhere. We “Madrasis” were not used to the extremely cold conditions, and frequently we guys cramped and even minor knocks became really painful. (I only hope that current teams acclimatize and prepare themselves properly before going to such cold locations to play!)
From the next year onwards, things seemed to be really looking upwards, with a fairly well settled team for the next IIT Meet at Kanpur in December 1968. I thought we performed creditably this time, though reaching the finals still seemed elusive. One of the things at this IIT Meet was the selection of an All IIT Stars Eleven to play the Northern Railway team in an exhibition match. If I recollect right, 4 of us from IITM were there viz. Gurshaminder Singh Gill, Varghese Abraham, D.A Muthana and yours truly. It was an entertaining and fast match but they still prevailed. One memorable incident of this Kanpur Meet was how the whole IITM contingent got stranded at Jhansi junction in the middle of the night. The Railways just forgot to connect our coach coming in from Kanpur to be connected to the GT Express bound for Chennai. This we discovered when we got up in the morning and found ourselves still in Jhansi station. After stopping some Chennai- bound trains and thereby upsetting the entire Northern Railway time schedules – we made strong representations to the Railways officials at the Jhansi Divisional HQ Office. Finally, they promised to attach us to Chennai but possible only the next midnight. Hence, we all ended up spending the whole day and evening in Jhansi. Each of us had our own plans. Personally, along with 2-3 others (can’t recollect who?) we hired an auto and went around the city and then also saw a Hindi movie (Dilip Kumar in “Ram and Shyam”). That night, many of us kept vigil to make sure that we were finally connected and on our way back to Chennai!
Varghese Abraham, our captain in 1968-69, was a speedy forward with excellent stick skills and played in the left-in position and was a part of innumerable attacks on rival goals and made many glorious runs. He and a few others also played for a club in the first division league in Madras. After passing out in 1968-69 and taking up a job at Dunlop India Calcutta, Varghese Abraham played for a Bengal district team in the Beighton Cup tournament.
Gurshaminder Singh Gill, the only Sardar in the team, was our full back then and he was another outstanding player and later captained the team in 1969-70. I believe he was trained at the NIS, Patiala. He was possibly the first one to be awarded the Institute Blue honor for truly outstanding performance in Hockey. As far as I know, he went to Germany after passing out in 1969-70.
It was the turn of Kharagpur to host the IIT Meet during December 1969. By this time, I believe that we still had a decent team (especially in defense) though we lost many players from the 1968-69 pass outs in Varghese Abraham, Ashok Rao, Vikram Cariapa, Vinay Goel, Daryl Cordeirio and JP Ramappa (and others in Peter Masilamani and (late) Chandy Mathews). Though I belonged to the same batch, my continuing for M.Tech meant playing on for another 2 years.
Meantime, we got some new talents in the forward line, especially in Chandrasekhar (nicknamed Chicky) who was our star centre forward. Along with the trusted and reliable Raghavendra Rao and others, we now had a more potent forward line. No wonder then, that our performances at the December 1969 Kharagpur Meet were very good and we finally managed to reach the finals after a really hard fought semifinal. In our first match against Delhi, Chicky just stole the ball from the bully –off, dribbled his way all to the goal in Dhyan Chand style and stunned the opposition with a first minute goal! Later, we defended for all we were worth for the whole match and won. Next match, we again won against Kanpur thanks again to Chicky for an opportunistic goal to reach the finals. Meantime, we were the cynosure of all eyes, and also the target for plenty of rough play. I was particularly targeted by the rivals as being one of the key players for IITM and got hit many times so that I couldn’t play in the finals. Sadly, we lost the finals to Kharagpur, but at least managed to get the runner-up position for the first ever time (Photo 2 attached- 1969-70 Team). Chicky was the new star of the team (and subsequent IITM teams as well) who brought the goal- scoring thrust into our forward line.
When I returned home from Kharagpur, I had to seek medical attention for my damaged knees. It took me 3 months of therapy and rest before I resumed playing hockey. My bad knees meant that I had to carefully calibrate my appearances for the team during 1970-71. Meantime, D.A. Muthana had established himself very well in the half line and took over my pivotal centre-half position and also captained the winning 1970-71 team. Interestingly, Muthana and I share a common background in coming from the same military school background (King Georges School, he from Belgaum and me from Bangalore) and both played for our school team. I wish to share two tidbits from my school hockey days. One, I had the opportunity of playing against Vece Paes(father of Leander Paes), then a really dashing centre forward for St Joseph’s European High School, Bangalore. He later switched to centre half position and played for Bengal and India for many years. Secondly, our school hockey team used to play practice matches with the then Mysore State Women’s (yes Women’s!) hockey team before they went to play the Nationals. Their team had two brilliant players in the Britto sisters- Elvira (centre –half) and Rita (left-in), who, you guessed, both played later for India. Their mother Mae Britto was their coach. My right-half job was to police them. It was really comical when we played them for the first time. We boys were all shy and scared about having close tackles and by half time, they were two goals up. Then our coach (still recollect was V.V. Naidu!) told us,” Come on guys, they are playing like boys, and you like girls! So buck up!” Then we played tough and managed to draw this game two all. We slowly got comfortable playing them and had a good many practice games.
My continued participation in the 1970-71 teams was the result of a planned and careful rehabilitation program and playing only key matches throughout the year. This was intensified in preparation for the December 1970 Inter IIT Meet at Chennai, where it all finally happened! I now switched back to my original left-half position and managed to keep all opposing forwards at bay. The team performed very well throughout and winning the trophy for the first time beating Kharagpur and making history for an IITM Hockey Team! (Photo 3- attached of Muthana collecting the trophy with other team members). We put up a splendid all-round team performance both in attack and defense and it was a great team effort and avenged the previous year’s finals defeat. Mine was a really controlled performance and luckily my knees held out well throughout. I must add that our star forward Chicky was later selected from Chennai for the All India Combined Universities team but he could not participate due to exams.
The trophy winning team consisted of:
Goalkeeper: Ranjan Somiah
Full backs: Ajit Purang and B.Kumar
Half backs: Ashokan, Muthana (Captain) and K.Sashi Rao
Forwards: Ravi Kannan, Prem Watsa, Chandrasekhar, Anantanarayan and Raghavendra Rao
Reserves: Mammen, Victor Paes, David Roby and Khatri
I am so glad that I could savor Inter IIT Meet success for the first time after playing for IITM for 7 long years! Hence, my “SEVEN YEARS TO HOCKEY GLORY”!
At the 1969 Batch Reunion at Coorg held in December 2011, here are some Hockey Team Members assembled (left to right): D.A Muthana (1971 batch), J.P.Ramappa, Ashok Rao, Peter Masilamani, Abraham Varghese and K.Sashi Rao.
It is really heartening for us all old timers to know that IITM has done very well in Hockey over the subsequent years and continue to win the Inter IIT Meet Hockey Gold even now. Keep it up guys!!
K.Sashi Rao (IITM Hockey Team 1965-66 to 1970-71)
(With additional inputs from Abraham Varghese, D.A Muthana, Raghavendra Rao and Chandrasekhar, all my team members at sometime; and Lionel Paul, a very early IITM Hockey team member)
Ksashirao– reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org