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Fani brings best of IndoFrench duo Tony & Ashley (5/21/2019)
--s2h Team
In 1968, Tony Fernandes set out for France at the behest of its hockey federation to boost fortunes at the Mexico Olympics later in the year. Half a century down the line, Tony, 82, not just provided valuable inputs for French hockey, he also paved way to instill a sense of professionalism in Indian players. Tony and his son Ashley recently won many Indian hearts with a grand gesture towards mitigating misery of cycle 'Fani' that devastated lives of millions in Odisha. The father-son duo donated Rs. 200,000 towards the Chief Minister’s relief fund to help rehabilitate those affected by Fani.

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It was in 1992, just after the Barcelona Olympics, that Tony, a fringe player for the Indian national team in his hey day, forged a link between his French Club FC Lyon and India players notably Dhanraj Pillay, Jude Felix, Shakeel Ahmed Khan, Gavin Fereira and Harendra Singh.

As coach of the club, he helped work out contracts with fine financial deals for the Indian players. Beyond that, he also helped them imbibe not just progressive skills, tactics and strategies that typify the European game but also cultural and social skills in a foreign land that prove as vital as action on the pitch. (PIC: The Father Son Duo of Ashley (left) & Tony Fernandes.

word-wise Tony goes down memory lane for a change: “I played for India in 1967 as an inside-forward. The following year, I went to France when the French federation asked me to give them a hand with their Olympic team".

“I attended University, learned French and began working with the team,” he revealed.

.“Later, I switched to FC Lyon as honorary coach while working for a transport company, handling service after sales,” Tony explained.

“I took the opportunity to approach Indian stars to play for the club,” he said.

His efforts proved a forerunner that eventually opened up vistas for Indian players to ply their trade in Europe – notably in Germany, England and the Netherlands.

Tony of Goan ancestry, grew up in Mumbai where he owns a flat in Bandra, an abode to escape the French winter.

His son Ashley, 51, played for France and then served as joint-secretary for the French hockey federation.

The duo were in the news recently when Ashley, connected with St Xavier’s school, Bhubaneswar, and running an education program, part of the family philanthropy Play and Learn, donated Rs 200,000 towards the Chief Minister’s relief fund to help rehabilitate those affected by Cyclone Fani that ravaged Odisha recently. undefined

Ashley, also chairman of the Indo-French Business School was travelling back to France when the disaster gripped the state and consulted his father Tony on an attempt to do his bit for the cause.

Tony, who witnessed the World Cup in December last year, responded with an instant affirmative stemming from emotions related to Indian hockey in general and Odisha in particular after soaking up a memorable World Cup at the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar.

It was Ashley’s birthday, May 6, that made the gesture auspicious.

The senior Fernandes, however, had begun making significant contributions to Indian hockey a good generation ago when he ushered players into French club hockey.

“To develop in sports, you need to have a general knowledge of everything. In Europe, hockey players are usually highly qualified – doctor, engineers and others,” he revealed.

“As a result, they constantly think on the pitch. I urged our Indian players to do the same. With our rich skills, we tend to play by instinct but I drew up plans for each game which induced them to think and adapt and not just go stereotype,” Tony explained.

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The clutch of India stars initiated into professional hockey by Tony certainly lived up to the prototype.

Dhanraj Pillay, a rare superstar in hockey, spread his wings and eventually played pro hockey in Germany. Jude Felix did much to boost the stocks of Singapore as player and coach while Harendra went on to coach India, catching up with his beloved FC Lyon coach at last year’s Odisha World Cup in Bhubaneswar.

On knowing his mentors Tony-Ashley's gesture, thankful Harendra said: " Tony uncle once again has shown that sports is a way of life that makes us better if we stay true to the spirit. They prove that life is not about wealth accumulation but about contribution. I salute these great souls, who hold French passport but their heart bleed if India is in trouble like Fani.

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