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Lucknow’s coach-couple carves careers on hockey turf

by thesquadron.in
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For hockey coach couple Rashid Aziz Khan and Neelam Siddiqui, the day starts at five in the morning as Khan leaves for the Sports Authority of India’s regional centre, almost 20 km from his house in Gomti Nagar, and Siddiqui goes to the KD Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium in Barabanki, 18-odd kilometres from her home.

But their mission remains the same — imparting training to young hockey players. The process continues in the evening too. Khan teaches finer points of the game to 80-odd hockey players at the National Centre of Excellence, while Neelam helps around 60 children hone their skills on a grassy pitch.

The popularity of this coach couple has grown manifold since their wards started making waves at the international level. The latest on the list is Mumtaz Khan, who scored eight goals, including a hat-trick, at the Junior Women’s World Cup in South Africa, where India finished fourth after losing to England on penalties.

The daughter of a vegetable vendor in city’s Topkhana Bazar, Mumtaz was first spotted by Neelam at the KD Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium. Not only did she convince Mumtaz’s family to let her grow in the game, but also ensured that she appear in selection trials for the state government-run girls’ hockey hostel in Lucknow.

“Except her elder sister Farah, no one in the family was ready to let Mumtaz play. But once I convinced them about her talent and future, they somehow relented,” said Neelam. The results began to appear in two years as Mumtaz impressed all with her natural speed and stamina.

“Even on the grassy pitch at the KD Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium, Mumtaz was unstoppable and her speed always impressed me,” she said. “She is a fast learner and always adapts to situations quickly. The best part of her game is that she keeps trying variations.”

In fact, Neelam wasn’t the only one who taught Mumtaz the intricacies of hockey. Rashid, too, played a role in grooming the 19-year-old. “Before starting my daily coaching stint at the CB Gupta Ground (adjacent to the Babu stadium), I used to visit the Babu stadium. Along with Neelam, I shared knowledge with Mumtaz during her stay at the hostel,” said Rashid.

In a lighter vein, he recalled that it was only after he got engaged to Neelam that he came to know that his fiancée too was a hockey player and coach. “We are a natural coach couple and most of our discussions, even at home, are about hockey,” said Rashid. Before being shifted to the SAI centre in Lucknow, Rashid spent 12 years at the CB Gupta Ground, where KD Singh ‘Babu’ Society runs a hockey academy for poor kids.

Coach couple Neelam Siddiqui and Rashid Aziz Khan during a training session in Lucknow.(Deepak Gupta/HT)

In fact, the society, which has held an All-India tournament for sub-junior boys for the last 32 years, has been helping many poor boys reach national and international levels. One of Rashid’s trainees, Shardanand Tewari, came into the limelight at the Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar last December after his goal helped India upstage Belgium and enter the semi-finals.

 

Son of a security guard at the District Magistrate’s bungalow in Lucknow, Shardanand was forced to play hockey by this coaching couple as a punishment. Even they didn’t think Tewari would emerge as a fine player, good enough to represent India.

“We caught Tewari flying a kite at the stadium. As punishment for disturbing the training, we gave him a hockey stick and forced him to play. His running was superb and that compelled us to put him through the paces,” recalled Rashid.

Besides Shardanand, Rashid has trained youngsters such as Vijay Thapa, Siddharth Shanker and Hari Kripal Yadav who have donned the India jersey. The list of his trainees who have played at the national level exceeds 150 — Kamal Thapa, Abhimanyu Valmiki, Prateek Nigam, Vikas Gaur, Arun Sahani, Aamir Ali and Shahrukh Ali, to name a few.

A gold medallist at the sub-junior nationals and a NIS graduate of 1990, Rashid chose hockey over a Class Four job in the Railways. “I could have joined the Railways, but when somebody told me about hockey coaching, I only thought of Pandit Ram Awtar Mishra, who taught me the finer points of the game. He has also trained many top players of the country such as Olympians MP Singh and Jagbir Singh. I immediately decided to follow in his footsteps.”

“I may have trained many players of repute so far, but I am nowhere close to the stature of Panditji, who selflessly kept training many greats for India,” said Rashid, adding, “I got this habit to help the underprivileged from my grandmother Begum Aziz, who use to run an orphanage in Barabanki.”

“I grew up watching her helping them so I, too, chose to spot poor boys to train. Most of the 150-odd boys and girls at the Babu Society Academy come from very humble backgrounds,” said Rashid, whose friends keep helping these kids with hockey sticks and kits.

Both Rashid and Neelam are like “true parents” for Mumtaz, who owes her success to the couple.

“They (Rashid Sir and Neelam Mam) are my true parents, who always helped me grow in all aspects of life. It’s because of them I am here in the world of hockey and I can never forget their support in my continuous success,” an emotional Mumtaz said.

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