The recently held 63rd National Hockey Championship showed that the talent cupboard is not bare. Players with promise were seen in a number of sides.
One name stood out and got noticed through the sheer weight of goals. Shajeeh Saeed of Police scored hat-tricks in three matches. He was the recipient of the only individual award of these nationals: ‘Best Emerging Player’.
The unassuming Sargodha boy has already been through a long struggle at the young age of 20. “I wasn’t much interested in hockey during my early school days. When I was in class nine, Mr Fayyaz, a former national level player, who has been running Sargodha’s best hockey club, visited our school, Government Islamia High School. He expressed his desire to raise a strong school hockey team. I figured in the trials and was selected.”
Hockey became his passion. A right side forward from his early days, he twice appeared in the Punjab Youth Festival, first when at school and later during his college (Punjab College, Sargodha) days.
“For regular practice, I joined Sargodha’s best side, Ali Aamer HC. The club has given a number of stars to Pakistan, including Malik Shafqat (World Cup winner, 1994) and Olympian Shabbir. Tasswar Abbas, Pakistan’s current international also plays here.”
Shajeeh’s precocious talent was spotted early and he gained selection for the Pakistan Board for his first national junior championships in 2012. Next year, he figured in the national seniors. The same year, 2013, he had his first call for the national junior camp. Amazingly, that year he was also among the probables for the national seniors as well.
Since then, Shajeeh has been regularly appearing at the national senior as well as junior championships. Moreover, he has been repeatedly called for the national junior camps but the Green shirt has eluded him so far. And he is still without a job, a sad reflection on the country’s hockey affairs.
“I have appeared for a number of departments in the nationals: Police, PIA, PTV and Railways. What to talk of a permanent job, I have never been offered even a yearly contract. The departments I have appeared for pay me a paltry sum.”
In the past, so many departments who had their hockey teams keenly looked for skilled players. This incentive played a major role in luring youngsters to Pakistan’s national game.
A 1984 Olympian told this scribe, “When I came to attend my first senior national camp as many as nine departments approached me with offers of permanent jobs.” Those were the days.
This has been a cause of great frustration for young Shajeeh. “My family is not well off. My father is a primary school teacher. The emphasis at home has always been on studies. Hence, my love affair with hockey hasn’t gone well with the family, especially as my studies have been affected.”
It has been a true labour of love. “Parents have often rebuked me, saying ‘the path you have chosen is not going to lead you anywhere’. In fact, I was twice thrown out of the house and had to find refuge at the rooms located inside Sargodha’s stadium. Each time, I was called back home a few days later. The family has now probably given up.”
However, he is hopeful that things will change after his masterful display at the recent championships. “Yes, talks are going on with a department and I might finally get a job. The selection for the national senior camp after a gap of more than three years is also heartening.”
Was he expecting such a performance? “I was also surprised; three hat-tricks in as many matches in the biggest domestic event. But I had been single-mindedly pursuing my dream despite all the disappointments, and hard work eventually pays”.
Even his family appreciated his success. “They felt very happy and were proud watching me receiving the award of ‘Best Emerging Player’ from legendary Manzoor Jr, Pakistan’s gold medal winning captain of 1984 Olympics; it was live on TV.”
There is no letup in his training routine. “I play six days a week: four days at my club’s grassy ground and twice on the synthetic turf of Sargodha’s hockey stadium. For physical fitness, I do running and stair climbing.”
Shajeeh gives credit to Fayyaz Ahmad, Sargodha’s prominent hockey organiser. “Right from the early days, Fayyaz Sahib has been a great support. He buys me sticks and shoes, and takes great interest in my training.”
Shahbaz Ahmed is his all-time favourite player. “When I started playing, everyone was talking about him. I often watch video clips of his matches and have even stored some of these clips on my cell phone. I also admire Shakeel Abbasi.”
After a long struggle, it seems Shajeeh Saeed’s cherished dream of donning the Green-shirt is about to materialise.
The tale of his journey is fascinating as well as poignant.