Take one match at a time: Hockey legend Eliza Nelson’s advice to Indian Women’s Hockey Team ahead of Olympic Qualifiers

Eliza Nelson, former Captain of the Indian Women’s Hockey Team and recipient of the Padma Shri Award spoke about her journey in the sport and the culture of women’s hockey back in the day in the 51st episode of Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India.

Eliza also wished the Savita-led Indian Women’s Hockey Team the best ahead of the all-important FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Ranchi 2024 and offered her advice to them to take it one game at a time.

The FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Ranchi 2024 will kick off on January 13 and conclude on January 19. It must be noted that the team finishing in the top 3 will qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Also Read: Saga of sacrifices inspires Indian women hockey team for Asiad, Olympics

“Take one match at a time and make your way to the Final. We have to win, as there are no two ways about it,” she said.

India are placed in Pool B along with New Zealand, Italy, and the United States. Meanwhile, Germany, Japan, Chile, and the Czech Republic will battle it out in Pool A.

India will open their campaign against the United States on January 13, followed by a match against New Zealand on January 14. They will go up against Italy in the last Pool B match on January 16.

Eliza’s journey

Eliza was born in a Goan family in Pune, Maharashtra. Speaking about her journey, Eliza recalls, “During the early ‘70s in Pune, a lot of people were playing hockey and I used to live close by where my then coach Mr. Minoo Golakari lived and he used to watch me play in the lane next to my house. My sister and I used to do little knocking of the ball every now and then and he would stand there and watch me. One day he approached me and asked, why don’t you join the Kayani Club? He knew I was good at athletics in school, so he placed me as a right extreme. Back then, we had positions of right extreme, left extreme and centre forward, which are not there today, so that’s how I joined and played for the Maharashtra Junior team. I started with the Junior team with the club and then moved on to the Junior State team and then the Senior State team and so my journey started”.

Interestingly, more than 26 players from Pune have represented India, and seven have captained the Indian Women’s Hockey Team. In a world where barriers persist, sports women have been breaking the glass ceiling by embracing the challenge.

Expressing her thoughts on the same, Eliza said, “Compared to other regions in the country, we live in an entirely different environment in South India, where parents always encourage their kids to go forward and play.”

Eliza was the Captain of the Indian Women’s Hockey Team which clinched the historic Gold medal at the 1982 Asian Games, held in New Delhi at jam-packed Shivaji Stadium. She was also part of the Indian Team which finished fourth in the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, the first-ever ever appearance at the quadrennial extravaganza.

Eliza got her first call-up to play for the Indian Women’s Hockey Team at the Begum Rasool International Tournament in Chennai.

Going down memory lane, she said, “We were in Patiala at the time. I remember we all ran when the team selection news came out. We all ran to the post office as there was no phone or landline. We had to send telegrams. We all rushed to the telegraph office where we sent messages to our families, and loved ones saying that we have been selected for the team. I also remember, we had to pay Rs 500 for our blazer then, which my club paid for me.”

During the early ’70s, when Eliza was bursting onto the scene, the Indian Men’s Hockey Team was in the limelight, winning laurels and accolades for the country.

Voicing her opinion on whether the Women’s Team was being overshadowed by the Men’s Team, she opined, “It wasn’t that the Men’s Team was overshadowing us. But yes, after 1975, there were no tournaments for us for the next two years. It was only in 1978 that we went to the World Cup in Spain. So back then, we didn’t have much exposure or camps. In 1978, we saw astroturf for the first time in Madrid, and we didn’t have a proper kit. We were given studs from the Eastern Company, which we checked after our first match and found out they were not suitable studs. We couldn’t play the matches properly. We were skating on the ground, as you need proper footwear to play on astroturf. It was only in 1982 that we got a good kit.”

The Indian Women’s Hockey Team which clinched the historic Gold medal at the 1982 Asian Games was trained by none other than legendary coach Balkrishan Singh, who was the only player in India to have won the Gold medal both as a player and as a coach. He was a member of the Gold medal-winning team in the 1956 Olympics and was Chief Coach of the team that won the gold in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Recalling about the time when the Women’s Team was under his guidance, Eliza said, “That was the first year he had come to train us. In fact, we were told he knew that the Men’s Hockey Team was not going to win in the Asian Games, so he came on our side. Now, I don’t know how much of this is true, but we were glad that he was with us. Balkrishan sir used to inspire us with his words and always encouraged us to play well. He would influence and improve your game by just talking to you.”

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