Holland boasts world’s best domestic hockey structure. There are around 350,000 registered players and 400 turfs; some clubs have as many as eight synthetic turfs. All the clubs have a number of teams, starting from under-8 and going up to the veterans. The league runs for eight months.
Dar Hockey Academy, Pakistan’s finest hockey nursery, has been a frequent visitor to Holland for training.
This August, Dar HA toured Holland for the fifth time. The previous visits had proved fruitful as a number of academy colts later gained selection for Pakistan’s national and age group teams.
Five of Dar HA’s first choice players who had assisted the Pakistan under-18 in winning the Australian under-18 title a few months back were still in Australia playing for various clubs in the domestic league.
The Dutch hockey season commences from September. The clubs’ sides, especially the first teams, were in the final preparation phase. Hence, in almost all the matches, the Dar HA had to face the first teams of the opponent club; it was Men vs Boys.
The youngsters performed remarkably well. Of the nine matches played, Dar HA won seven and lost only two.
One of the defeats came against Oranje-Rood, a leading club of Holland. The club is always studded with star players, from Holland as well as other countries. In 2016-17, they were the runners-up at the Euro Hockey League, equivalent to soccer’s Champions League.
Against the Dar HA, Oranje-Rood outfit included four players who have appeared for the Netherlands national team. Three others had been in junior teams. Yet, the Dar HA boys fought well, losing 3-5.
Dar HA has played more than 40 matches in the country over all these years. On paper, this was their toughest opposition.
The other loss came against Klein Zwitserland. The club holds the record of winning the Dutch league for eight consecutive seasons besides winning the European Club championships a couple of times. Here too, the under-19 boys faced a formidable opposition which had the Dutch national goalkeeper Laurens Buure. The side also included five players who have played for the Dutch national age group teams plus an Argentine who appeared for his country at the Junior World Cup last year.
The Lahore-based academy matched the superior outfit. They were one goal down into the second half, and striving to get the equaliser. The hosts went two goals ahead via a disputed penalty corner and it ended 2-0. The vast experience of the Klein Zwitserland proved decisive.
A memorable encounter was witnessed against MEP at Boxtel. The first five minutes, it was all MEP. They forced no less than four penalty corners. For a while, it seemed de ja vu; on their last tour in 2015, MEP had downed Dar HA 4-0. Displaying remarkable character, the youngsters managed to come out of the storm; Dar HA emerged 1-0 winners in the end.
Apart from a couple of big wins, the Dar HA victories were hard earned against strong oppositions.
It was learning all the way. One could decipher improvement in performance and confidence towards the later stages of the tour.
Academy’s head coach Danish Kaleem (World Cup winner 1994) carried out effective substitutions during the crucial stages of matches and there were also visible changes in the strategy as per the situation.
There was learning of another sort as well. The visit coincided with 2017 Euro Hockey Nations Championship at Amsterdam’s Wagener stadium.
The colts watched two high-profile matches in a wonderful atmosphere at the jam-packed stadium. A few days later, after winning the match against Den Bosch, the Dar HA colts watched the exciting final of the Euro Nations between Holland and Belgium live on the big screen at the HC Den Bosch’s club house.
As always, the Dar HA were the guests of MOP club based in the “hockey town” of Vught near Eindhoven. And as always, they were looked after wonderfully well. Four of the nine games were at the home ground of MOP and the Dar HA got good support. On one of the rest days, the MOP arranged a friendly cricket match between Dar HA and the MOP cricket club.
Kids are kids. The serious stuff of matches was interspersed with visits to, among other places, Scheveningen, the most popular beach resort of the Netherlands, and Efteling, one of the oldest theme parks in the world.
The Pakistani expats in the Netherlands came in good numbers for every match, often carrying the national flag. Pakistan’s hockey great Saeed Khan (World Cup winner 1978 & 1982 and coach of the 1994 World Cup winning team) specially traveled from Paris to watch the match at Boxtel.
Pakistani ambassador in Holland, H E Ms Iffat Gardezi witnessed the match against Klein Zwitserland at The Hague along with the embassy staff.
After every match, the Dar HA presented high-quality Pakistan manufactured hockey sticks to the best player of the other team. In addition, there were souvenirs and shields given to the umpires and the office bearers of the clubs.
Like the previous visits, the rough diamonds were polished and the good name of Pakistan enhanced.