The rags to riches story of a hockey player who took up the sport only after he was rejected at football trials
The autobiography of India`s former hockey captain and coach Dr. M.P. Ganesh titled `My Autobiography: Living the Dream` (publication date June 24, 2021) is stranger than fiction.He comes from a humble background. He was born in district Kodagun in Karnataka, called the cradle of Indian hockey. Yet, he played soccer; hockey he only watched. Not interested in studies, he joined the army without telling his parents. With just 25 rupees in pocket, Ganesh reported at the army`s signal corps centre in Jabalpur 1600 km from home.
The recruit sepoy gladly appeared in the football trials at the centre but was rejected; he was considered too small. Dejected, he had to appear in the hockey trials compulsorily; all Kodavas must appear. Reluctantly holding a hockey stick for the first time, Ganesh took it like a duck to water.
Selection for the centre team was followed by a meteoric rise. The speedy right winger played in the inter-services tournament, scoring a goal in every match.
Then his corps of Signals won most of the all-India tournaments. In 1969 came the first selection for India and next year the Asian Games.
From 1970 to 1974, he appeared in five title tournaments: two World Cups, one Olympics and two Asian Games - they won a medal each time. He was also selected for the World XI and the Asian XI.
All these events are covered well in his book with the related tales: the most exciting story is that of the 1973 World Cup where he captained India.
In the final against hosts Holland, Govinda, his fellow Kodava, misfired a penalty stroke during the sudden death period - had it been scored, Ganesh would have been a demigod in his country for winning their first world cup. Eventually, India lost in the shootout.
There were cultural differences between players from North and South but they gelled well in the Indian team. Once, after an international tournament, he didn't return to India and went exploring Europe for a few days. The army declared him an absconder. He was reprimanded on his return.
Those days, hockey was way ahead of cricket in terms of fan following. Even the domestic matches were attended by tens of thousands.
He left the army to play for the Tatas, sponsored by India`s biggest multinational conglomerate, and moved to Mumbai. But he didn`t enjoy the experience as he missed the disciplined army life. Soon, he was lured by a cash-laden Italian club to play for them in the Italian hockey League as well as the European league. He was among the first hockey players from Asia to play professionally in Europe.
His marriage was attended by the rich owners of the Italian club. And the commitments with the Italian club meant he didn`t join the Indian camp for the 1975 World Cup camp, which ended his international career.
Interesting tales abound of stay in Italy and other European countries.
On a visit back home, he suffered a severe injury while playing soccer after a long time. That effectively ended his playing career.
After some time, he ran out of money and turned to coaching and sports administration.
Starting from an army corps team, Ganesh again made rapid strides. From 1980-90, he coached India`s national team in various events including World Cups & Olympics. He was assistant coach of the 1980 Olympics gold medal team.
Ganesh, who hated studies in his childhood, did his graduation after his playing days. It was followed by a master's and a doctorate (dissertation topic was hockey).
It was his wife Prema who motivated and supported him throughout this academic journey. He also did a diploma in hockey coaching from the National Institute of Sports.
Then there is the poignant short story of his son Ayyappa. He showed great interest in hockey from his early years but was diagnosed with Myopathy at the age of seven - how the couple tried to get their ailing son schooling and his death at the age of 20.
He had lucky breaks throughout. The Chief Minister of Karnataka spotted him in a sports meet and immediately ordered to give Ganesh a job in the Department of Youth and Sports.
He became the most influential and effective sports administrator of the state and established sports centres and facilities throughout the state.
He took revolutionary steps such as the allocation of seats in medical and engineering colleges for outstanding sportspersons of the state, allotment of lands in housing societies for the sportspersons of the state who brought laurels for India.
Post-retirement: his services were acquired not only for hockey but other sports as well.
He was the CEO of the National Hockey Academy, advisor to the state governments for hosting the national games, and the CEO of Karnataka State Cricket Association. He did all this till 2016 when age (70years) finally caught up with him.
In 2020, the sports minister rang to inform him about the Padma Shri award (the fourth-highest civilian award of Republic of India) for him; he had earlier won the Arjuna award in 1973 which was, before the introduction of the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna in 1991-1992, the highest sporting honour of India.
His hockey career had started in the army. The cantonment town of Mhow houses three premier army training institutes. A residential quarter for 3,000 army personnel built there has been recently named `Ganesh Enclave`.
There are more than 30 pictures in the book. Many renowned Indian sportspersons give their opinions about Ganesh, mostly hockey greats but also from other sports including former Test cricketer Brijesh Patel, who is currently the IPL chairman.
A remarkable life story of a sportsman, coach and administrator, the book is an interesting read not only for hockey lovers but for all the sports fans.
The book couldn`t have come out at a better time as India have just won an Olympic medal in hockey in Tokyo after 40 years.
The book is in paperback and is available via Amazon.
Living The Dream
By Dr. M.P.Ganesh with Shrividya Somanna and S.S.Shreekumar
Notion Press, Chennai, India