Afzal Manna, a former stalwart of Pakistan hockey, passed away in Lahore a few days back. During an illustrious career, he won silver at the 1964 Olympics and golds at the 1958 and the 1962 Asian Games.
Inside left was his preferred position but he also played as the centre forward when the team required.
He was born in Amritsar before Pakistan gained independence. The city gave a number of players who served Pakistan hockey with distinction such as Munir Dar, Zakauddin, Dr Tariq Aziz, and Khawaja Aslam. The families of all of them moved to Lahore after 1947.
He started his hockey with the Brothers Hockey Club which practised at a ground adjacent to the Punjab University old campus. His was a precocious talent; he was only 16 when he appeared in the maiden national championships in 1954.
In those days, Railways were the biggest patron of sports among all the departments in Pakistan. The Railways’ hockey team was one of the strongest.
Manna made such an impact at the 1954 nationals that he was immediately picked up by the Railways; it turned out to be a lifelong association. Very next year, he won the national championships with them.
Manna never looked back; he was called to the Pakistan camp for the 1956 Olympics. And he gained the coveted national selection for the 1958 Asian Games.
This Asiad heralded Pakistan hockey’s golden era. The Green-shirts won the gold with India failing to win an international title for the first time since 1928.
After missing the selection for the 1960 Olympics, Manna made a comeback in the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta where Pakistan defeated India 2-0 in the final to retain the title.
He finally won an Olympic selection in 1964. Pakistan’s regular spearhead Abdul Waheed Khan got injured at the Olympic training camp in Abbottabad. Manna played as the centre forward in Tokyo. Pakistan lost the final against India and returned with the silver medal.
With three goals, Manna was the joint top scorer among Pakistani forwards. That was also his last international appearance. He continued to represent Railways, last playing the nationals in 1975.
Participation in 19 national championships speaks of his physical fitness and enthusiasm.
Once his playing days were over, Manna turned to coaching and umpiring. He blew whistle at many domestic events and also remained coach of the Railways team for a number of years.
Many of his pupils won national selection. He was also sent to Indonesia by the PHF on a coaching assignment for six months.
Later, he coached youngsters at a local club run by his family in Lahore. It was only a few years back that he stopped training the colts due to health reasons.
Nevertheless, he was seen at the ground watching the game till his last days.
According to his contemporaries, Manna had wonderful stick work and unique dribbling skills. He was tall and his long strides made it difficult for the opponents to check him. On his day, he was almost unstoppable.
A jovial and witty person, he was very popular among his teammates and friends. His funeral was attended by a large number of people, including a number of former hockey internationals.
Manna’s exploits inspired the younger siblings. His brother Sarwar Jamshed toured East Africa with the Young Pakistan Team in 1974. Anwar Jamshed was a member of the Pakistan Whites team which participated in the Quaid-e-Azam centenary tournament in 1976.
Hockey had become the family’s passion and the next generation carried it. All his three sons were active on the domestic scene for a long time. Zahid Afzal appeared for Pakistan in test matches against the visiting Chinese national team in 2003. Manna’s three nephews, Yaqoob, Shahid and Ghous, played for either Pakistan juniors or the whites’ squad.
Ghous has also coached in Macau, Chinese Taipei and Myanmar. He is currently working for the Asian Hockey Federation as the manager of coaching and development as well as the head of national associations’ relations.
In the past, when Pakistan were the world beaters, it was almost an aberration if a hockey stalwart’s wards didn’t pick up the stick.
In recent times, with the fortunes of the national team nose-diving, the game has lost its sheen of the past in this country.
In the glory days, apart from fame, hockey also offered job opportunities as so many departments had their own hockey teams.
Most of the departments have even closed down their sports wings now. As a result, it is rare to find sons or other relations of former stalwarts taking up the sport. But not this family: the third generation is already making its mark. Manna’s grandson Azfar Yaqoob has been a member of the national team for quite some time now. Azfar’s younger brother Murtaza was a standby for the Pakistan team which figured at the under 18 Asia Cup last year.
It is said, ‘the family eats, drinks, sleeps and dreams hockey’. Decorated Olympian Afzal Manna started it all.