Two mighty Trojans of Kenya hockey

Avatar Singh Sohal "Tari"

Alu Mendonca






A hockey warrior mourns his great friend and foe
By Cyprian Fernandes*
BETWEEN 1950 and 1970 two communities dominated hockey in Kenya: the mighty Sikhs and their arch rivals, the Goans. This was a rivalry that has, perhaps, never been duplicated in any other country where two communities have warred for national, Olympic and club hockey domination.
For most of that period each of the factions were led by two fierce warriors: Avtar Singh Sohal “Tari” to every one, who went on to become one of the most decorated hockey players in Kenya and Alu Mendonca, hailed as the greatest Goan player  in Africa.
The rivalry was akin to Gor Mahia playing Maragoli (in its heyday) or Abaluhya when they were at their best. Days when Joe Kadenge was king and challenged by Elijah Lidonde or any one of the great Luo players.  Like the Goans and he Sikhs, their supporters were passionate and dedicated.
While at club level, the brilliant Sikh Union dominated the decade with some of the toughest, defensive hockey ever seen in club hockey, their motto must have been “none shall pass” with Avtar Singh Sohal at the centre of it. There was brilliance up front too with the like of Surjeet Singh Panesar, for me one of the greatest centre-halves ever.
The Railway Goan Institute led by Alu Mendonca and the Goan Institute spearheaded by the late sterling centre forward Egbert Fernandes were no slouches either, especially in the MR De Souza Gold Cup tournament. The City Park stadium thundered in appreciation of the courage and guile on show each year.
Ironically, most of the Sikh and Goan Olympians were best of buddies on the national team and away from their respective clubs socialised as much as occasion would allow. However, the friendship between the two Trojans, Alu and Tari  was special. Make no mistake, they played hard against each, never gave an inch or took it a little easy on each other. However, once the game was over, they were back to being old mates. This was true of most hockey players. They left their differences on the rich murram of City Park or any of the other club grounds.

There was some spite off the field and it was by the Goan clubs taking aim at a Goan traitor, the brilliant strategist Hilary Fernandes who broke ranks and played for the emperors of club hockey: Sikh Union. The venom was poisonous that when Hilary and Elsie wanted to get married none of the Goan clubs would let them use their halls. I know Hilary was hurt because I was his Best Man. 
There was always an after-the-match soft drink at the Goan Institute, the Railway Goan Institute, or the Goan Institute (the Singh’s bar across the road from the GI where Egbert often hosted visiting before and after international matches). At the Sikh Union, on the roof terrace, the soft drink would be asked to be poured two fingers deep (it was actually four fingers) and it was served with some of the greatest curried "roast" chicken by men for men in those politically incorrect times, sexist times.


Sikhs also controlled the powerful Kenya Hockey Union and there were howls of nepotism, bias and corruption every time a new Kenya team was selected. The barbs were aimed at Hardial Singh who was for many, many years the Kenya coach and a mentor to most Sikh players. One such “victim” was the enigmatic Franklyn Pereira from Mombasa who never made an Olympics team. The KHU was accused of being Nairobi-centric. I think that blemish, like indelible ink, never be forgotten by Goans at the coast.


Virtually every one of the Goans admired “Tari” and players like Alu, Hilary Fernandes (who played for the Sikh Union for a while) Silu Fernandes, Egbert Fernandes were also considered Tari’s pals. Surjeet Singh Panesar and others enjoyed similar relations.
With Alu’s passing, memories of the great rivalries also begin to fade with only Tari, Surjeet Panesar, Hilary, Silu, Edgar, Raphael, Edgar, Leo, Reynold D’Souza, and a few others left to carry the torch of days that used to be.
Here is a touching farewell from Tari to Alu: It is sad news. We lost a great man and great personality. I had the honour to play three Olympic Games 1960, 1964 and 1968 with him. He was my assistant coach in 1971 hockey World Cup where Kenya finished 4th in the world. He had great speedy and control on the ball and scored some fantastic goals in his career. He was the greatest felt wing Kenya ever produced. He was humble and down to earth. I had great memories with him and my other friend Egbert Fernandes. Very hard to get these type personalities in your life and it was honour to be their friend. Alu will be remembered for his great work in hockey. Our heartfelt condolences to his children Derek, Erika and Cora-Lisa  and their families. May God rest his soul in eternal peace. God Bless. We all will miss you.”
By the time 1970 arrived, most of the Goan and Sikh players had already migrated to other shores but Alu and Tari preferred to remain dedicated and loyal to Kenya and the game that had given the fame and pleasure. Both men served Kenya with distinction in the coaching area once their playing days were over.

 
Between 1952 and 1983, the kings of East African club hockey, the Sikh Union won an astounding 14 MR De Souza Gold Cup tournaments, more than any other club by a large margin.






The great hockey rivalry
Kenya 1956 Olympic team:
Goans: Reynold D’Souza, Michael Pereira, Alu Mendonca, Anthony Vaz, Rosario Dalgado (5).
Sikhs Gursaran Singh Sehmi, Tejparkash Singh Brar, Joginder Singh Dhillon, Tajinder Singh Rao, Balbir Singh Sidhu, Hardev Singh Khular, Surjeet Singh Deol, Avtar Singh Deol (8).
Kenya 1960
Goans: Alu Mendonca, Anthony Vaz, Edgar Fernandes, Egbert Fernandes, Saude George, Hilary Fernandes, Silvester Fernandes (7)
Sikhs: Avtar Singh Sohal, Gursharan Singh Sehmi,  Hardev Singh Kular, Jagnandan Singh, Kirpal Singh Bhardwaj, Pritam Singh Sandhu, Surjeet Singh Deol, Surjeet Singh Panesar (8)
Kenya 1964
Goans: Saude George, Anthony Vaz, Egbert Fernandes, Edgar Fernandes, Hilary Fernandes, Alu Mendonca, Silvester Fernandes. Reynold D’Souza, Leslie Pinto (9).
Sikhs: Surjeet Singh Jnr, Amar Singh Mangat; Sang Singh, Jagnandan Singh, Hardev Singh, Avtar Singh, Santokh Singh (7)
Kenya 1968
Goans: Reynold Pereira, Egbert Fernandes, Leo Fernandes, Hilary Fernandes, Silu Fernandes, Alu Mendonca (6).
Sikhs: Kirpal Singh Bhardwaj, Harvinder Singh Marwa,Jagmel Singh Rooprai, Jagjit Singh Kular, Davinder Singh Deegan, Santokh Singh Matharu, Amarjeet Singh Marwa, Surjeet Singh Panesar, ch); Avtar Singh Sohal (9)
Kenya 1972
Goans: Leo Fernandes, Reynolds Pereira, Phillips De Souza (3).
Sikhs: Amarjeet Singh Marwa, Avtar Singh Sohal, Brijinder Daved, Davinder Singh Deegan, Harvinder Singh Marwa,  Harvinderpal Singh Sibia,  Jagjit Singh Kular, Jagmel Singh Rooprai, Ranjit Singh Sehmi, Resham Singh Bains, Surjeet Singh Panesar, Surjit Singh Rihal, Tarlochan Singh Chana (13).
*Cyprian Fernandes is a former Chief Reporter of the Nation.