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Hockey is Baldev's middle name (9/5/2007)
--K. Arumugam
Chennai, Sept. 5: Indian hockey’s plummeting fortunes in the last 25 years has not dissuaded Baldev Singh Kalsi from following the game with rare passion. The London resident of Indian origin had been to seven World Cups and six Olympics. He hasn’t missed a major tournament from 1982. And, Baldev is hungry for more in the silver jubilee year of his fandom. “I’m committed as ever. I will follow hockey as long as possible,” adds the mechanical engineer with the British Airways.

Hockey is an inseparable part of Baldev’s life. The 53-year-old’s maiden visit to Chennai is exclusively to watch the 7th Asia Cup. “India were superb against South Korea on Monday. I haven’t seen them play so well in recent times. I feel that the purpose of my visit is already achieved though I desperately want to see India in the final,” he says.

How did his association with India’s national game start? “I was born in Uganda where my grandparents had migrated to from Hoshiarpur in Punjab. Hockey had a great following in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) in the 60s and 70s. In our school it was a rage. I was in Uganda until I was 17. As a youngster, I had seen India and Pakistan play many matches in East Africa. Before their departure to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Indian team played a few matches in Uganda. I have the autographs of all the members of the gold-winning Tokyo team. The notebook is my prized possession,” he adds. After moving to England to pursue higher education, Baldev’s passion for hockey grew a few notches. “I played as a defender as well as a goalkeeper for Middlesex in the second division league. Later, when I joined Ford I founded the company’s hockey club. I also played for the British Airways for a couple of seasons,” he informs. His globetrotting started with the 1982 World Cup in Bombay. “I meet many fans of Indian origin in big meets. We all become friends and our tribe has grown bigger over the years. We had a great time during last year’s World Cup in Germany where a club in Monchengladbach allowed us to use their turf for our friendly matches. They also permitted us to cook our own food inside the club premises. We always attend matches wearing India’s jerseys,” says the senior most member of India fan club. “One of my London hockey friends, Bhupinder Plaha, is in Egypt now on holiday. He has asked me to film India’s matches here at the Asia Cup. He keeps sending me short messages to check out India’s scores.”

Baldev is pained by India’s poor show in the last three decades. “India have such a glittering history. I felt so sad when they finished 11th in the World Cup last year. It got worse when we were sitting in the stands with the fans of Germany and Australia. As a Sikh, I’m proud of my community’s contribution to Indian hockey. I was overwhelmed when I saw a giant portrait of Ajit Pal Singh, holding the 1975 World Cup, at the Ipoh stadium in Malaysia. I’m, however, optimistic that we will reclaim our lost glory. The boys are doing well now. Hopefully, we will make it to the Beijing Olympics. I’ve already planned my travel arrangements for next year’s Olympics,” he says.

The die-hard fan says the Asian style is unique. “I don’t like the power hockey of the Europeans. Fans all over the world love watching the artistic Asian hockey. I can never forget India’s 7-4 win over Pakistan in a wonderful match in the 2003 Champions Trophy. Hockey shops in the Netherlands sell thousands of DVDs of that match even today. It was a great advertisement for Asia,” he explains.

Will someone from his family carry forward his hockey torch? “I think my 11-year-old son will be a worthy heir. And, hockey is the only game we play in our garden,” he laughs.

Images: Hockey Features

Pic at top: Baldev Kalsi of London celebrating India's victory at Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, Chennai

Pic above: Another die-hard hockey fan Vijay Sathya enjoys Asia Cup victory in Chennai.

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