A true hockey enthusiast

April 11, 2021

Col Zafari served the game of hockey for more than 60 years, as player, manager, coach, selector and administrator.

Lt Col Zafar Ali Zafari

Hockey stalwart Lt Col (rtd) Zafar Ali Zafari, who passed away on April 2, figured in the Pakistan team which won the country`s first ever Olympic medal in any discipline, a silver in 1956.

Four years later, Pakistan hockey grabbed what the whole country had been waiting for since its creation, the Olympic gold. And Zafari was a proud member of the squad. Later, he had the distinction of being the manager of Pakistan`s victorious team at the inaugural World Cup in 1971.

He remained associated with the game in a number of other roles as well. This included the all-important office of secretary PHF.

Born in 1930, in Chakwal, Zafari`s precocious talent led to his selection in the first ever national hockey camp of the newly created Pakistan, for the 1948 Olympics. He was named among the standby players.

Zafari mostly played at the inside left position, occasionally centre forward, and was known for his dribbling skills as well as scoring prowess.

Potohar region is known for providing manpower to the army. Zafari joined Pakistan Military Academy in 1950. Here too, he impressed everyone and gained selection for the army team while still at the academy. The Army was the most powerful outfit on the domestic scene.

In 1952, Zafari was again called for the Olympics camp, and was widely tipped for the final selection. But going to Helsinki meant losing six months of seniority in the army, and he returned to the academy.

The Army remained the strongest side on the national circuit throughout the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. During this period, the soldiers won the national title four times, more than any other side.

In 1962, the final was played between Army Reds and Army Whites - such was the depth of talent. Zafari`s contribution was immense in these successes. He shone among the galaxy of stars in those army teams including such illustrious names as Brig Hameedi, Brig Atif, goalkeeper Zakir Hussain, and Major Khurshid Zaman.

In those days of limited international hockey activity, Pakistan`s first assignment after the 1952 Olympics was the 1954 home series against West Germany. And finally, Zafari debuted for Pakistan. Next, he toured with the national team to Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

At the 1956 Olympics, Pakistan managed to reach the final, having perished in the semifinal at the two previous appearances. They had to settle for the silver, losing to India 0-1 in the final.

For the 1958 Asian Games, again, the professional commitments made him unavailable. Zafari was attending the staff course in the USA.

However, he was very much a part of the Pakistan team which created history by winning the country`s first ever Olympic gold in 1960. Zafari possessed excellent close control, which enabled him to find his way through the most packed of defences and was a goal scorer to boot.

He could have been a first choice inside left in any other national team of his time. But during his international career, Zafari mostly sat on the bench. Pakistan`s first choice left in was none other than legendary Naseer Bunda, the mighty mouse.

Only a few years after his playing days, Zafari was appointed the secretary of Pakistan Hockey Federation, in 1964. He held this important office till 1967.

Then he was entrusted with another big responsibility, manager of Pakistan team for the inaugural World Cup in 1971. Pakistan, the reigning Olympic as well as the Asian champions, barely managed to make it to the semifinal. But they did well in the knockout phase to win the title and thus complete the grand slam.

Zafari retired from the army in 1980. Another challenging job awaited him. In 1983, he was appointed the General Manager Sports in the Pakistan Steel Mill. He remained in charge of sports of Pakistan`s largest industrial mega-corporation till 2000 and raised PSM`s teams in a number of disciplines, including hockey, cricket and soccer. A hockey synthetic turf was also laid, one of the very few such facilities in the country those days. Many players of the Pakistan Steel Mill`s hockey teams graduated to play for Pakistan`s national and age group teams. His son Aamer Zafar represented Pakistan from 1987-89 which included appearance at the 1988 Olympics.

Zafari, who was part of the national selection committee a number of times and was chief selector a couple of times, again had managerial stints with the national teams. The longest was with the Pakistan Juniors from 1983-1984, ending with the 3rd Junior World Cup where Pakistan finished third. He was also called to manage the Pakistan team at the 1986 Champions Trophy in which Pakistan stood third.

His last assignment as the manager was in 2002: Commonwealth Games (3rd Position), Champions Trophy (3rd) and Asian Games (4th). His last hockey assignment was as member of the PHF Executive Board in 2010.

All of those who played with him or under him recall Zafari as a very soft spoken person who was polite to a fault.

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A true hockey enthusiast