|Seraphino Antao pips Alu at the tape in 100 yards at Railway Goan Institute|
|RGI with first the first three MR de Souza gold cup wins in 1958. Alu is seated centre in front of the trophy|
The world’s greatest hockey left winger
By Norman Da Costa*
There isn’t a greater sight in field hockey than seeing a player thunder down at full speed and cannon the ball to the back of the net with awesome power.
With the constant roar of the crowd chanting “Alu, Alu, Alu” the great Aloysius Mendonca would ignite City Park Stadium with his exhilarating pace on the left wing. The exclamation point was the ball finding the top of the net past bewildered goalkeepers. Just ask the best goalkeepers at the time - India’s Deshmathu and Abdul Rashid of Pakistan - and the others who faced him when he played for the Railway Goan Institute and in Kenya’s colours.
This star, who was known to the fans only by his first name -- just like those Brazilian soccer maestros Pele, Tostao, Rivelino, Ronaldo and Neymar -- passed away peacefully at the Nairobi Hospital on Friday, March 10, 2017 at the age of 85. Alu’s death comes two years after the dashing centre forward and his international teammate Egbert Fernandes died in Canberra in November 2014. He leaves behind his brother Pius, sisters Anne (D’Sa) and Teresa (Mandriks), a former Kenya international, children Derek (Rosalynn), Erika (Mendonca-DeSilva) and Cora Lisa (Barretto) and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Alba.
Alu was one of a kind. I was fortunate enough to line up with this multi-talented star for the Railway Goan Institute for several years and many a time stood still in awe watching this phenomenon perform his magic on a star-studded team that included Silu Fernandes, Hilary Fernandes, Leo Fernandes and Reynolds de Souza. In 1976, Alu and I were together again when I managed the Kenya national team for the Rene Frank International tournament in Madras. I got an insight of his coaching methods as he was the national coach and was ably assisted by the late Hardev Singh Kular. Under Alu’s guidance the young team posted a creditable fifth-place finish. Apart from his national duties Alu also enjoyed success coaching the RGI women, one of Nairobi’s top women’s teams.
Mendonca was born in Anjuna, Goa, in January 1933 and on arriving in Kenya with his family he joined Dr. Ribeiro’s Goan School, the famed school in Nairobi that was a conveyer belt for producing world-class hockey players under the tutorship of coach-extraordinaire Anthony de Souza.
It was here that the talent of this exceptional athlete was recognized and he was picked to represent the Schools Combined XI against touring All India in 1948-1949. This was the match that launched the illustrious career of the greatest left winger of his era as he went on to represent his country at four Olympic Games. His first appearance came in 1956 when the country made its Olympics debut in Melbourne and it was a proud moment for all Goans as Mendonca’s teammate, the late Anthony Vaz, was given the unique honour of being the flag bearer.
Four years later in 1960 Mendonca captained his country in Rome and he ended his career following the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964 where the squad posted its best-ever showing and earned an Olympic certificate.
Mendonca was later appointed national coach and that meant two more Olympic visits to Munich in 1972 and Montreal four years later. His six Olympic appearances were a rare feat matched only by his close friend and international teammate left back Avtar Singh Sohal. Avtar, like Mendonca, was also only the second Kenyan to be named the best player at their respective position by their peers and the world media.
Alu’s flair wasn’t only confined to hockey. He also happened to be a first-class sprinter and opened the bowling for the Railway Goan Institute cricket team. He will be remembered for giving the great Kenyan sprinter Seraphino Antao a scare after he had just returned from Perth with his two sprinting gold medals in 1962. Seraphino pipped the hard-charging Alu at the tape.
One of the many tributes that poured in after Alu’s death came from Avtar Singh who echoed the thoughts of every player associated with Alu.
“Alu was my colleague, my captain, my coach and my great friend,’’ said Avtar. “He was humble, down to earth and always smiling. You rarely get a personality like Alu in your lifetime.
“I was very fortunate to play with the world’s greatest left winger at three Olympics. Hats off to a great hockey player and a great man,’’ added Avtar.
At the club level Alu played for the Railway Goan Institute, one of East Africa’s premier clubs, and captained the team to the club’s first of three M.R. de Souza Gold Cup victories in 1958. He was an integral member of the team in the other two victories in 1967 and in 1969.
So what made Alu the greatest left winger of his time? It was his pace, power and incredible technique to score goals on the turn.
“He was the greatest left winger ever, period,’’ said Silu Fernandes, that uncompromising left back, who played in three Olympics and a RGI teammate. “I played internationally so many times and never saw one winger as good as Alu. It was that ability to turn and hit on the run at full speed.
“We shared a room on every one of our numerous tours and he was one of the finest roommates you could have. My greatest memory of Alu was him depositing the ball past India’s Deshmathu in a Test match in Nairobi. He never saw the ball.”
Kenya’s wizard of dribble Hilary Fernandes, another three-time Olympian, was also Alu’s teammate at school and on the three RGI-winning teams. Although a world-class right inner in his own right, Hilary always looked up to Alu for inspiration. “He motivated us all and was a classy gentleman. Alu was a gifted athlete and his ability to hit the ball at speed separated him from all of the other wingers.“My most enduring moment was setting up a pass for him after beating two defenders against Pakistan in 1960 and he found the net with an unstoppable shot in our 3-1 win.’’ This was Pakistan’s heaviest defeat and Kenya’s greatest win against the world power. The goals came from Alu, Avtar Singh and centre-half Surjeet Jnr. The forward line consisting of Gurcharan Singh, Hilary Fernandes, Egbert Fernandes, Hardev Singh and Alu was generally considered by far the most potent line-up the country fielded.
Amar Singh, another Sikh Union ace and Olympic teammate, also had fond memories of Alu. “Alu was a natural left winger and I never saw any player dart down the wing at such speed and let go such a hard shot,’’ said Amar who played on the right wing.
“He was always smiling and the beauty of our Kenya team was that we were all so fit and very, very close despite playing on different teams at the club level. Alu was one of a kind.’’
Norman Da Costa represented RGI on one Gold Cup winning squad in 1969 and managed Kenya’s national team to India in 1976. Da Costa was formerly sports editor of the Daily Nation before emigrating to Canada in 1976. He was the chief soccer writer for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper, for 27 years before retiring in 2010.
|Alu and his trademark goal against Pakistan|