Heavens are waiting for you at Kalam

My travelogue in ‘The News’ (Pakistan’s second largest English-language newspaper) published on 29 July 2001

Visit Kalam in Swat which is comparable to the scenic spots in Switzerland or the South of France, writes Ijaz Chaudhry 

Swat is a large beautiful mountainous area in the Malakand division of NWFP which has a number of spots/places worth visiting.

One of them is Kalam. It takes about nine to ten hours from Rawalpindi by car to reach this picturesque place. Public transport, mostly wagons from Pirvidahi Bus Stand, Rawalpindi, take a couple of hours less. From Rawalpindi, one reaches Nowshera via the Peshawar road and turns right for Kalam. The road is excellent and quite wide throughout. The landscape alters gradually. From the brown barren hills of the Potohar area, the hills gradually become green. The number of trees also increases in direct proportion. The temperature, on the other hand, decreases. In Kalam, the weather is ideal from May to August.

However, it should be mentioned that if some people do not want to subject themselves to a long car journey (though quite comfortable) or want to save time, there is the option of air travel. There are daily flights from Islamabad to Saidu Sharif (subject to the weather of course). And from Saidu Sharif, public transport for Kalam is easily available.

On reaching Kalam, one comes across a plethora of hotels. These hotels cater for all income groups but even the rates of the most ‘expensive’ ones are also reasonable.  Unlike many other such places in Pakistan, these hotels are well-kept.

One of the most striking features of the area is the River Swat running through the whole valley in a majestic style. There is also the eye-catching sight where River Shu and River Utroor join the river Swat itself. Most of the hotels are on the river front and a few of them are even built on the river. Here, sometimes one gets the feeling as if the hotel is floating on the river.

All around are hills covered with lush green plantations.  This greenery has a wide variety thus preventing the scene being monotonous.  At some places there are rows of pine trees, while at other points the greenery comprises of smaller plants. The air is very clean and the whole ambience is mesmerizing. This feeling is not peculiar to Kalam only.

There are quite a few other places to explore, nearby. The closest is Ushu, hardly 30 minutes drive from the central Kalam where there is a rather narrow stretch of the River Swat − a spot worth spending a few hours. Many small restaurants are located on either bank of river.

Further up from this place is Mahoodand Lake. The route to Mahoodand Lake is very rough and hilly, and one can only travel there by jeep which can be easily hired from Kalam and even from Mutiltan near Ushu. From the latter, jeeps can be rented for less. From Kalam, the rent of a jeep varies from Rs. 800 to 1,200, depending upon the number of visitors and the resultant demand at that particular time of the season. It takes about three hours to reach Mahoodand from Kalam. En route, there are a couple of mesmerizing spots. One of them is a waterfall cascading down in almost a straight line. Kiosks have been established in these tiny locations offering cold drinks, biscuits, etc.

On arriving at Mahoodand, an extremely clean and large lake welcomes you. The sprawling green lakeside area adds to the beauty of the site. A couple of small restaurants even offer tents for those interested in camping. Some people bring their own tents. Boating facilities are also available in the lake.

Yet another place, commonly frequented is Utroor, also a couple of hours drive from Kalam. On the way is a restaurant-cum-park-cum-zoo. Utroor on its own does not have much to offer but there is an extremely captivating lake not far from it. The lake is only accessible on foot and the trek is difficult and steep.

So much for the sightseeing. There are culinary attractions as well. Trout is a delicacy of Kalam not be missed and is available in most hotels, big and small. Some hotels even have their own fish farms, from where the fish is picked up and readily cooked.

What if one wants to do some shopping, especially ladies, and bring home some mementoes or gifts for near and dear ones. Kalam caters for this as well. It has quite a sizeable bazaar. Apart from the items of daily utility, the shops also sell Swat caps and beautiful dresses with famous Swati embroidery.

However, what is the most pleasant (and surprising) about the bazaar is the attitude of the shopkeepers. Unlike several other tourist destinations in the country, the Swatis are not bent on fleecing the visitors. Almost all the prices are reasonable.

Another place which can be and should be seen during this trip is Malaam Jabba, which is very much a resort in its own right. It can be visited en route to Kalaam or on returning from Kalaam. After a two and a half hour drive from Kalam, a left turn near Khazakhela leads to Malaam Jabba, located at a height of more than 7000 feet. It has a wonderful PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) hotel and a chairlift. People throng this place mostly during winters because it has been developed into a very good ski resort.

So do visit Kalam which is comparable to the scenic spots of Switzerland or the South of France. And we are fortunate enough to have it in our own motherland.

Sean Kerly: The Living Legend of the British Hockey talks about Beijing Olympics

My interview of Olympic gold medallist Sean Kerly published in Kentish Gazette of the Kent Messenger Group on 31 July 2008

This is the Olympic year and both the GB hockey teams, men and women, have qualified for Beijing.

In this country, for almost every sports follower in general and a hockey lover in particular, the mere mention of ‘GB hockey and Olympics’ always evokes memories of the Seoul Olympics of 1988—the finest hour of the GB hockey- when they won the gold. And name of one member of that golden side became synonymous with hockey, Sean Kerly.

Someone rightly said, “Sean Kerly was the first hockey player to achieve household notoriety in this country”.  In fact, until today, he is also the last.

Kerly achieved many individual distinctions: he not only scored a hat trick in GB’s 3-2 victory against the hot favourite Australians in the semi final but also netted once in the 3-1 win over the Germans in the final.  In his international career lasting from 1981-92, he retired as the Great Britain’s all time leading goal-scorer with 64 goals while for England he scored 45 goals. Sean Kerly, who has been called the ‘Gary Lineker’ of hockey, was awarded the MBE in 1993. Apart from his ’88 heroics, he is also remembered for his exploits at the 1984 Olympics. At Los Angeles, where GB hockey ended the medal draught at the Olympics for this particular sport after 32 years, Sean scored the winning goal in 2-1 win in the bronze medal play-off against Australia.

Other than the Olympic medals, Kerly also has a World Cup silver (1986) as well as a silver and a bronze from the European Nations Championships.

Kerly was a complete centre forward. He had speed, strength and a fierce shot. Possessed that striker instinct to be aware of his position vis-à-vis goal and defenders– to be in the right position at the right time. But he was not merely a poacher, and was also blessed with sublime stick work and great acceleration.

An out and out Kent Man: Sean Robin Kerly was born January 29, 1960 in Whitstable, educated at Chatham House Grammar School, played for Canterbury as have all his three daughters, and presently lives in Herne Bay, running a graphic art and marketing agency.

This talk is primarily focused on Olympics: ’88 and ’84 successes, and Britain’s prospects at the Beijing.

-What were the main factors which contributed towards that great era, especially the 1988 success?

Team was experienced, we believed in each other and blended well. Then we were continually on the up: bronze in the ‘84 Olympics, silver (as England) in the World Cup ‘86 as well as at the European Nations Championships ‘87. So, you might say that we had just peaked at the time of the ‘88 Olympics. We were not the best set of individuals but were really good as a team. Individually, players from Germany, Holland and Pakistan were more skilful.

The ‘84 bronze was really important. It was a fairy tale as we had not qualified and were the reserve country. Without the ‘84 success, the ‘88 gold might not have materialised.

– England had finished last in the 1988 Champions Trophy in Lahore. Did it have any effect on the morale of the team before the OG?

No, though Champions trophy is an important hockey event but it is held every year and is not a title tournament. Teams often take it as a preparation for the Olympics and the World Cup especially if the Champions Trophy precedes either of the events, the same year. Then in 1988, many of our regular players including myself were absent from the Champions Trophy for one reason or the other.

– How you describe the role of Roger Self (manager) and David Whitaker (coach) in those successes?

David mainly worked with us on the training ground with drills, organising defence, attacking patterns, etc. But in my opinion, Roger was the key person. He was determined to build us mentally strong and supplied the ‘hockey intelligence’. He used to make and break us, again and again. It was not much fun but we realised afterwards, how important it was.

– Did you quit your job to prepare for the games?

Yes, I left my job three months before the Olympics to concentrate fully on the training. After the games, I was mainly engaged in part time jobs and got full time employment after one year.

-But it is also said that the gold medal success not only made you a celebrity but also rich financially. I read somewhere that Kerly was at the centre of it in 1988 as hockey’s most marketable man. These were the days when the centre-forward could pick up a few grand for just walking on to a panto with a hockey stick in hand.

Ha! ha! Well, I did make a few bucks but definitely not good money. I did public speaking, TV work, etc. after the Olympic success but what I earned was not much different from my average monthly income from the previous job. After six months, it was back to normal.

– After the 88 success, the team got a lot of Media as well as Public attention. Tell something about it?

As soon as we landed at Heathrow, we were taken into a small room for an interview for breakfast television. That was just the beginning. We went to Buckingham Palace as well as 10 Downing Street to see the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. At the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Show in 1988, the hockey team won the team award for the second time, having won it in 1984. Moreover, I was nominated for the individual award. There was a galaxy of sporting stars around us and we felt exalted in such a great company.

It was surreal. For around three months, it was a fantastic fun for us. I wasn’t out of a dinner suit. Almost all the other boys had gone back to work. I was without a job and did all kinds of celebrity things like Sporting Triangles on the TV . There were numerous other TV appearances and The Sun even ran a story on “20 things you never knew about Olympic hero Sean Kerly.”

-What were the reasons of the immediate decline after 1988? We never reached even the semi final of Olympics/World Cup.

As an organisation, we didn’t plan properly for further success. The focus was only on 1988. Matters were also not helped by the GB squad breaking into the home countries immediately after the Olympics. Everyone takes his own path. Moreover, many players as well as the coach immediately retired from the international game. There was a complete new management and there was no interaction between new and old teams. It will not be wrong to compare it with the victorious English soccer team of the 1966 World Cup or, more recently, the rugby team which won the 2003 World Cup.

However, I must stress that if comparable success is achieved today then we should be able to build on it, as nowadays we have a professional sports administration working full time.

-What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current GB squad?

I have not seen them closely during the last four months. On the basis of what I saw at the Euros and in the Olympic qualifiers (on TV), they look quick especially on the counter attacks. The deep defence including the goal keeper is solid. The forwards are scoring goals. The poor conversion of penalty corners is a grey area.  The boys appear to have started believing in themselves. More importantly, they have that lean and hungry look so essential for success.

-How you rate Great Britain’s chances at Beijing?

As compared to the Athens’ this time the team is better settled. Apart from the Euro 2007, they have done well in major tournaments in recent times—good show at the World Cup qualifier and a commendable 5th position at the World Cup itself. More importantly, their show at the Olympic qualifier makes me optimistic. In fact, not qualifying early has been good for them as they’ve experienced the pressure of what it’s going to be like. Unlike the sides ranked above them, almost all of whom are regarded as the favourites, the team GB will be under no such pressure. They should be aiming for the semi final spot, at least. For this it is important, that they earn the full points against the three weaker sides in their pool, Pakistan, South Africa and Canada.  And hope for the best against Holland and Australia.

-The records tell something different. Britain has won just five in 43 against Australia and five in 40 matches against Germany. So isn’t it a case of false optimism?

My answer is what my team mate Dodds said after the victory against Germany in the ’88 Olympics final. When asked if he realised this was Britain’s first defeat of Germany in 20 years. “They can keep them all,” he responded. “We have what we came for.”

-Who are the key players?

The midfielder Barry Middleton should play an important role. Richard Mantell’s distribution at back is good though not very quick. Goal minder Alistair McGregor is also a source of strength.

-Which countries you consider as the favourites for the Olympic title?

Holland, especially after their show at the Euros; Germany, they are still the no.1 ranked team. I regard them as a wounded tiger for they had to go through the Olympic qualifiers after the Euro disappointment. Australia is a very strong side and they are also the defending champions. Spain is fully capable of spoiling the party of any of the above three.

-Hockey has been transformed into a glamour sport in Holland.  There is soccer like atmosphere in the Dutch league with thousands of people in every game. Players enjoy great fan following and get good money. Why not in Britain?

There are quite a few factors. Holland has been a top team for last 10 years winning all the major titles. Had we been performing as well then hockey would have got the similar attention in GB as well. Look at cycling and rowing. They are getting good profile these days because of the success in the international arena.

Barring soccer, hockey does not have any competition in Holland. On the other hand, apart from soccer, we also have other sports such as rugby, cricket and even horse racing, which are very much professional and enjoy keen following.

Then the club structure in Holland is better established. Their clubs are specific hockey clubs with membership running into thousands. Hockey’s status in Holland can be compared with that of rugby in England.

– You have also been commentating on hockey. Are you still involved with it?

Yes, I am. I did that for the BBC at European Nations Championships last August at Manchester and I will also be going to the Olympics in Beijing.

Will we see the fairy tale of 1988 or even that of 1984 repeated in 2008? Like Kerly, every hockey fan of the land yearns for that.  If yes, then we may at last also see the next hockey celebrity after Kerly himself.

Pakistan: The Present Democratic Setup Has Brought No Relief

My article published in the October, 2010 issue of ‘Asian World’, a monthly newspaper in the West Midlands, UK

When elections were held in Pakistan in 2008, there was optimism that with the true democracy restored, things would get better.

The PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) emerged as the leading party with 97 out of the total 270 seats of the National Assembly. The sympathy vote resulting from Benazir Bhutto’s assassination also contributed towards it. However, Peoples Party was also the only party with solid representation in all the provinces

PPP made the government in the centre with the help of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) i.e. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which had emerged as the second biggest party, plus regional parties, MQM and ANP, and the religious party JUI.

The chair persons of the two major parties, late Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif had already signed a Charter of democracy in 2006 pledging restoration of democracy and the constitution in letter and spirit. The COD’s 36 points had been framed under four headings: Constitutional Amendments, Code of Conduct, Free and Fair Elections and Civil-Military Relations.

The new democratic set up assumed power in the country in 2008 with Zardari, the widower of late Benazir Bhutto, as the president and his party’s Yousaf Raza Gillani as the prime minister.

But the country’s problems have increased many folds over the last two years.

Economy is in shambles with inflation rate at all-time high. Even the basic food necessities are getting out of common man’s reach. The prices of petrol/diesel are raised frequently. Poverty and unemployment are spiraling upwards. People are committing suicides sometimes collectively with their families.

The minister of electricity had promised that load shedding would finish by the end of 2009 but instead it has increased. The power outages not only make the common man’s life miserable but have also affected the commercial sector very badly.

The law and order has deteriorated alarmingly. Karachi, country’s commercial hub, which has not seen peace for more than two decades, has a new menace in the shape of target killing. The power game between the two main ethnic parties, MQM and ANP, representative of Muhajirs and Pathans respectively has also contributed to the worsening of the situation.

During the former president Musharraf, s regime, the elderly Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed through a military action in 2006. This infuriated Balochis, and the settlers from other provinces in Baluchistan especially Punjabis have been targeted. A number of Punjabis from all sections of society have been killed in the province. Apart from ethnicity, sectarianism has also divided the society.

The general law and order situation all over the country has never been worse.

The wave of terror attacks blamed on religious extremists mainly Taliban groups have made the population feel insecure, and the country has become a pariah state. Pakistan is ranked among the most dangerous countries in the world. After the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, in March 2009, almost no sports team from abroad is willing to visit Pakistan. More importantly, it has affected investment, from both inside and outside of the country, again harming the economy.

American drone attacks against the suspected terrorist dens in the tribal areas adjoining the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have also made the people bitter, especially the local populace.

Corruption, favouritism and cronyism are rampant in all forms and in all the tiers of the administration including the highest offices. Recently the prime minister appointed a completely unqualified and inexperienced person as the chairman OGDCL (Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd) but had to revoke the order after Supreme Court’s suo motu notice against his appointment.

If man made problems were not enough, vast areas of the country in all the provinces were inundated this year with the heaviest floods in Pakistan’s history. Around 10% of the total population was affected. The loss has been colossus in terms of human life, property and crops.

Gen (retd) Musharraf promulgated the NRO (National Reconciliation Order) after striking a deal with the PPP leader Benazir Bhutto in order to grant amnesty to all those against whom ‘politically-motivated cases’ were registered between Jan 1, 1986, and Oct 12, 1999. It was an executive order which removed all the civil cases against political parties; an act for which he recently apologized to the Pakistani nation.

Although there were only 34 politicians out of a total of 8041 beneficiaries but the list included some prominent names such as president Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, and Senator Jehangir Badar, all of PPP; almost all the hierarchy of MQM including their chief Altaf Hussain, parliamentary leader Dr Farooq Sattar, the federal Minister for Ports and Shipping, Babar Ghouri, Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad, among others.

On the 16th of December, 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled the NRO illegal. But the government defied the orders and so far no major political personality has been charged. Though very recently, after more than nine months of the Supreme Court’s verdict, the federal government is giving indications for selective implementation, removing the NRO beneficiaries from the government.

Apart from judiciary, the media, especially the electronic media, has played an important role in keeping tabs on the wrong doings of the government.

On the political front itself, the scenario is very disturbing.

Differences between the two major coalition partners in the government emerged early. The PML (N) withdrew from the federal cabinet though in the Punjab, the biggest province, both sit in the cabinet. According to the charter of democracy, the president’s powers as per the article 58(B) of the constitution had to be curtailed. It took a long time, and ultimately the 18th amendment was passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan on 8 April, 2010, removing the power of the President of Pakistan to dissolve the Parliament unilaterally, turning Pakistan from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic.

Up to 160 elected officials have been accused of faking their degrees in order to meet a requirement for contesting the last elections. This has further tarnished the image of legislators.

Some factions of Pakistan Muslim League like PML (Q), PML (F) and PML (Z) have merged though the biggest Muslim League, PML (N) is very much reluctant. Then the former president Pervez Musharraf has recently launched his own faction of Muslim League and has shown intentions to return to Pakistan.

Does all this indicate an imminent change in Pakistan’s political scenario?

No; all these faces are old and tested. Some people pin their hopes on Imran Khan, the cricketing legend and presently the president of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf). He might be an honest person but in the country’s deep rooted social and political milieu it seems difficult for his party to attain something meaningful in future elections.

The freedom of judiciary and media has brought some hope. But the country needs complete independence and authority of at least some other important institutions as well, especially the Election Tribunal, NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and CBR (Central Board of Revenue).

The overall picture in world’s sixth biggest country is extremely gloomy with apparently no light at the end of the tunnel.

Denmark’s Fairytale in the Euro 1992

My article published in the June 2008 issue of ‘Football’, the only print magazine on soccer in Pakistan (for this article, I contacted the Danish FA as well as the national team’s fans association)

All sports have their fairy tales. In cricket, India’s sojourn in 1983 was one such example. In the first two World Cups of 1975 and 1979, India had just won one match against East Africa (a team which was formed only for that first World Cup to make the numbers and never appeared in the World Cup again).But in 1983, India astonished the cricket world by lifting the third edition of the World Cup. In their victorious march, India twice beat the then invincible West Indies (once in the final), who had never lost a World Cup match in their two victorious campaigns of 1975 and 1979.

In hockey, in 1980 Olympics, the newly independent Zimbabwe’s women team was not one of the original teams. However, quite a few countries withdrew in protest over the host country, the former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. Zimbabwe was one of the replacements. The Zimbabwean girls saw Astroturf for the first time in their life upon their arrival in Moscow but that surprise was nothing compared to what they actually did on that turf. Zimbabwe eventually became the first winners of women’s Olympic hockey. Moreover, it was Zimbabwe’s first ever Olympic medal of any hue.

Before the 1980 winter Olympics, the Soviets had won every Winter Olympics ice hockey tournament since the 1960 Winter Olympics. They were well-seasoned and had been playing together for many years. In contrast, the Americans were a collection of college students. In February that year, the two teams met for an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden in order to practice for the upcoming competition. The Soviet Union won handily, 10–3. No one gave USA any chance against USSR in the Olympics.  The USA vs USSR game, called the “Miracle on Ice” in the United States, is the best-remembered international ice hockey game in the Olympics.  It was USA’s penultimate game of the tournament’s round-robin medal round. That day, USA won 4-3 and then won their last game against Finland coming from behind to win the gold medal (they never won the ice hockey gold again).

But the Cinderella story of Denmark at 1992 European Nations Soccer Tournament surpasses all the fairy tales.

Euro Nations is arguably the toughest soccer tournament in the world. There are hardly any no hopers. This year, England which has such a strong soccer pedigree could not even qualify. Many experts regard it as even tougher than the World Cup.

In the World Cup, because of the quota system, there are always weaker teams. For instance, no African team has ever reached the semis and just once an Asian side made it to the semis, the hosts South Korea in 2002. In Euro, one-sided games are rare. In viewer ship, it ranks behind only the Olympics and the Soccer World Cup.

In the last edition, in 2004, Greece which in its only previous appearance, in 1980, had not won a single game went on to lift the cup.

But all this pales before Denmark’s remarkable odyssey in 1992. The Danes initially failed to qualify, as they trailed Yugoslavia in their qualifying group. However, due to international sanctions, resulting from the Yugoslavia wars, the country was barred from the tournament, and Denmark entered as the second-placed team in its group. They had just two weeks to prepare. Some of the players were not even in the country at that time. A few of them were holidaying on the Mediterranean beaches and their captain, Lars Olsen drove straight from Turkey (where he was playing for the Turkish club Trabzonspor) to Denmark once he received the news of his country’s reinstatement.

In the modern era, the preparations for such a mega team event encompass a lot of details. It is not merely to be physically fit. It also entails mental readiness and cohesion as well as deep insight into the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses through video analysis, etc. Two weeks was no time for this.

Then there were other problems. The coach, Richard Moller-Nielson, who succeeded the German, Sepp Piontek in 1990, had a tough act to follow. Though, he didn’t bag any trophies but Piontek’s ‘Dynamite’ team was generally regarded as the best in the country’s history. Denmark reached the semi finals of the Euro 84 and in their first ever appearance in the World Cup in 1986 they reached the second round. Pointek’s strategy was offensive based. By contrast, Nielson adopted safety first and was more defence oriented. This didn’t go well with some players especially the legendary Laudrup brothers, Michael and Brian. Things got to such a stage that both refused selection during the qualification campaign. Whereas Brian chose to return in the spring of 1992, Michael (who in 2003 was declared as the most outstanding player of Denmark in the last 50 years) stuck to his guns. So the team was without its most potent attacking weapon.

The Danish public were naturally pleased to see their side in the big event. However some people were not happy the way their country ‘managed’ to qualify and were of the opinion that Sports and Politics should be kept apart. The boring defensive style adopted by the national side under Nielson also didn’t enthuse people and generally the mood was not very optimistic.

It was against this backdrop of uncertainty that Denmark entered the UEFA Euro 2008. The matters were not helped by a really tough group. In the very first game, they encountered England, the semi-finalists of the last World Cup. Their spirits rose after a very creditable draw.

The reaction back home, “O.K., not so bad”.

Next, they encountered fellow Scandinavians, Sweden. The hosts of a big show always come with great hopes and preparation, and Sweden were no exception. They were an attacking side for whom Tomas Brolin, Martin Dahlin and Kennet Andersson were averaging almost a goal a game (in the early part of their career). The Danes acquitted themselves well but eventually lost by 0-1.

The Danish public regarded it as a “Respectable Performance”.

Hence the stage was set for the final group game against France. The equation for Denmark was simple: Win or go home. France were no longer the same force as that of their glory days of 1980s when they not only won the Euro 1984 but also reached the semis of both the 1982 and the 1986 World Cups. Still, they needed only a draw to progress so the Danes started as the underdogs. They showed good team work and took an early lead as their captain Olsen finished a well carved out move. Surprisingly, the French began to panic and rough play followed. All this led to as many as five yellow cards (three to French and two to the Danes) in the first half alone. Then at the hour mark, the French equalised with a goal coming out of the blue. Seeing their big chance slip away might have unnerved ordinary mortals but this Danish team was something special.  They kept their cool and with just 12 minutes to go, substitute Elstrup put in a cross from the right. France were out and for the Danes the unexpected adventure continued.

Now, for the first time, the people back home realised ‘We can do anything’. In fact, they went hysterical. Everything changed overnight. Special arrangements were made, big screens at main centres of the towns and barbeque parties outside bars.   

In their last two previous semi appearances in the Euro, 1964 and1984, the Danes had failed to progress further so the incentive this time could not have been higher. Their opponents were mighty Holland, the defending champions. The Dutch were still smarting from their failure in the last World Cup where despite being one of the favourites they could not progress beyond the group stages. It was also the last time when their golden trio of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten appeared together at some big stage. Hence a titanic battle was expected and that is how it turned out to be. Denmark again started in a stormy fashion and scored in the 5th minute when Brian Laudrup’s pinpoint cross had been headed in at close range by Henrik Larsen. The lead didn’t last long as Dutch regrouped and in the 23rd minute, that great predator Dennis Bergkamp chipped in a delicate shot in the bottom corner after being set up by Rijkaard. Instead of lying down, the Danes were back in front within ten minutes as Larson shot his second goal of the game. Thereafter, the Danes mostly controlled the game almost until the end and it seemed that eventually they would break the hoodoo and reach a major final for the first time in their history. But there was another twist in the story. With just four minutes to go, Rijkaard scored from close in following Ruud Gullit’s back-header to take the game into the extra time. Needless to say, the Danes were shell-shocked to see their greatest chance slipping away. However they displayed remarkable character to hold out in the extra half an hour with Schemichael denying Bryan Roy from close range with a superb save and the match went into the penalty shoot-out. Ironically, Van Basten, the top scorer of the previous Euro saw his low spot kick brilliantly saved by Peter Schemeichel. And his was the only miss as Danes won the shoot-out 5-4 to reach their first ever final.

  Now the frenzy cut across all the Danes and people attired in the Danish colours of red and white flocked the streets waving the national flag. The jubilant fans were even allowed to ride the police vans.

The opponents in the final were the World Champions, Germany, the big neighbours of tiny Denmark. Germany began as if they meant to steamroller the surprise tournament finalists, forcing Peter Schmeichel to save from Karl-Heinz Riedle, Stefan Reuter and Guido Buchwald before Denmark emerged from behind the barricades to score their shock first goal in the 18th minute.

Kim Vilfort won a tussle with Andreas Brehme to send Flemming Povlsen clear with a back-heel, and the ball was laid back for John Jensen to smash it high into the net from the edge of the area. Remarkably, it was only the second goal Jensen had scored in his first 48 internationals (it later took him 98 matches to score his first for Arsenal FC). Denmark’s name was clearly on the Henri Delaunay Cup. Germans continued with their quest but Scmichel had the game of his life time. Shmeichel might have won a pack load of titles with Manchester United but Euro 1992 was his finest hour. Especially in the final the Germans had more chances but the 6 foot 4 inch Giant Dane, who was named world’s goalkeeper of the year in 1992 as well as 1993, proved to be a solid rock.

To make the issue beyond doubt, in the 78th minute, Vilfort brought the ball under control before shooting low past Bodo Illgner’s left hand to double the lead. To complete the fairy tale, Vilfort had missed the semi-final as he had gone to Denmark to visit his seriously ill daughter, who was suffering from leukaemia.

Denmark had shocked the continent and startled the soccer followers of the world.

Immediately after the final, the city centre of Copenhagen was crowded with people making it impossible even to walk through for a few miles. As soon as the plane carrying the newly crowned European Champions entered the Danish air space, two   F-16 fighters of the Denmark Air Force painted in red and white positioned themselves on the right and left sides of it and led it to the Copenhagen airport. At the airport, the players were boarded on an open- top bus. Crowd of tens of thousands on the way meant that the bus took several hours to travel from the airport to the city centre. There they were received by the city mayor, and treated with the traditional ‘rådhuspandekager’ – translated in to ‘city hall pancakes’, which is a very traditional meal given to persons who, amongst other, have achieved a big result in sports.

It was indeed the finest hour of the Danish Sports.

Perhaps even a fiction writer could not have come up with such a script.

Hayer’s hat-trick gets promoted Khalsa off to fine Midlands Premier start

My report of Khalsa Hockey Club’s first game of 2008-9 as published in Leamington Courier on 26/9/08

Khalsa: 4                     Northampton Saints: 2

Promoted Khalsa got their Midlands Premier Division campaign off to a flying start at St Nicholas’ Park on Saturday against the side that came up with them.

The hosts, Midlands One Champions last term and Warwick District Sports Awards team of the year winners, were three goals up at the break and only conceded in the closing stages. Mickey Hayer, last season’s top scorer, opened the account with a hat-trick.

Hayer scored his side’s first goal, converting a penalty stroke after set-piece specialist Aaron Nagra saw his penalty corner hit a defender’s body.

The unmarked Hayer doubled the lead on 15 minutes after good work by skipper Jay Nagra and Guri Ghuttara, beating the goalkeeper with a diving lunge.

Northampton had their chances, but a combination of solid defending and weak finishing kept them out. Neither did they have much joy in midfield, where the dominant Jay Nagra skilfully set up Hayer for Khalsa’s third goal before the break.

If Northampton had any ideas getting back into the game they were dispelled within four minutes as Ghuttara collected a fine Davinder pass and beat the keeper.  He might have had another almost at once, but his excellent reverse diving strike was stopped.

Saints never gave up, prompting Khalsa to slow the game down. They re-jigged things, giving youngster Savhan Lall his first taste of Midlands Premier hockey.

The hosts started to wind down in the closing stages and were twice caught out by Ben Scott goals, the second from the penalty stroke right at the end.

Late slips aside, this was an encouraging performance from a side whose ultimate ambition remains National League hockey.

Magellan launching UK operation in Birmingham

My business article published in Birmingham Post on Feb 24 2009

Magellan, Australia’s leading designer of high technology power electronics and renewable energy equipment has chosen Birmingham to launch its first UK operation.

The company is planning to open a centre in the city as a base for manufacturing and marketing in UK, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Starting in 1992, Magellan is now a multi-million dollar business with expertise in the manufacturing and supplying of advanced, high reliability AC and DC power systems for sensitive radar installations, switchgear, emergency lighting, hospital theatre lighting, oil and gas equipment and mining equipment. The company has also supplied several thousand high quality power conversion units to major projects in Australia and overseas.

Managing director Masoud Abshar said: “We have been researching the markets in the UK and Europe. Despite the generally gloomy economic climate, we are confident that there is potentially a very large market for us.”
Abshar said he was excited at the prospect of returning to Birmingham where he lived for several years before moving to Australia, 20 years ago.

Abshar added: “I’ve long harboured an ambition to put something back into the community that put me on the road to success. I owe Birmingham so much – it is where I studied after leaving Iran as a teenager, it is where I gained my degree and where I met my wife. I still have many relatives in the city. I know it will be an excellent location for the new business.”

Starting with a workforce of ten skilled persons, the company intends to triple this number within three years. Abshar hinted that the company intends to recruit local qualified people who would be provided with the necessary training.

South Asia’s Own King of the Channel

My article published in the May 2009 issue of the Swimming Times (the official journal of the Amateur Swimming Association and the Institute of Swimming, Great Britain)

Fifty-one years after his first channel swim, Brojen Das remains South Asia’s greatest-ever swimmer and Bangladesh’s greatest sporting hero. Ijaz Chaudhry reports

South Asia’s Own King of the Channel

As we move towards the Great Channel Swim in August, it is appropriate to look back at one of the kings of the Channel. Brojen Das is South Asia’s greatest-ever swimmer and last year was the golden jubilee of the Bangladeshi’s first channel crossing. He remains his country’s greatest sporting hero and its only sportsperson of international recognition ­­­­­­; a small man (he was only 5ft 5in tall) from a country which has never come close to winning a swimming medal at even Asian level.

Brojen Das who died in 1998, was the first Asian to swim the Channel and the first person to cross it four times. In 1961, he also set a record for the fastest swim from France to England. He was easily the finest swimmer to come out of South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal ­­­­, a region home to more than a fifth of the world’s population.

Born on December 9, 1927, in the Kuchiamora village of Bikrampur, Munshiganj, in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), Brojen was an adept swimmer from his boyhood. The turbulent waters of the River Ganga (Buriganga) were his first training ground. He first distinguished himself as a short-course swimmer. In the East Pakistan competition in 1953, he made a clean sweep of the freestyle events, winning the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1500m. In 1955, Brojen became Pakistan’s national champion in the 100 and 200m freestyle. He even made Pakistan’s swimming squad for the 1956 Olympics before an arm injury suffered in an accident ruled him out.

Brojen’s transition to long-distance sea-swimming earned him immortality in the annals of the sport. He trained in the most turbulent part of the lower Megna river and his career took an upward turn when he got the opportunity to take part in the English Channel Competition in 1958. Seeing it as the chance of a lifetime, Brojen intensified his training. His confidence soared after he swam the 46 miles from Narayanganj to Chandpur. He also completed a 48-hour non-stop swim, covering about 60 miles in the Dhaka pool, and the Capri to Naples swim in the Mediterranean.

Brojen arrived in England in June 1958 for the Billy Butlin Channel event as the only contestant from South Asia. The swim began at midnight of August 18 and ended the following afternoon. Twenty-one of the 30 swimmers dropped out, mostly due to exhaustion, but Brojen continued undaunted to not only to secure the first position in the race but also became the first Asian ever to cross the channel.

He swam again the following year, bettering his time, and then crossed in the opposite direction. In 1960, he conquered the Channel for the third year running, though certain detractors, especially the press of his own country, termed it a ‘failure’ due to the slower timing of 14 hours 44 minutes compared with his best times of 13:26 (England to France) and 13:53 (France to England).

‘So I was under great pressure,’ said ‘Brojenda’, as he was popularly known. ‘The press in Pakistan had even started predicting that the Brojen era was about to end.’

The criticism served only to strengthen his resolve. He pledged that in 1961 he would not only better his own time but break the Channel record.

‘All these thoughts were with me when I jumped into the Channel on September 8 for the fifth time to try for a world record, ‘he recalled. ‘I had a good sea to begin with but encountered very rough sea towards the end, which robbed me of any chance of the record. I was very tired after swimming for 11 hours 48 minutes. It was my best-ever time yet I regarded it as a failure since my goal was the record. I decided to try again at the next neap tide. On September 21, within 12 days of my fifth swim, a record in itself, I plunged again. Nearly whole of Cap Griz Nez village turned out to wish me luck and see me enter the water for the sixth time.’

Before his first crossing in 1958, Brojen had told the Pakistan High Commissioner in London that if he was not successful, he would have to ‘drag a dead Brojen Das from the ‘Channel’. This same determination and single-mindedness was again evident in 1961 as Brojen completed his swim in 10 hours 35 minutes, breaking the 11-year-old record by 15 minutes. In fact, the swim produced two entries in the Guinness Book of Records, as a sixth swim was a record in itself.

Having achieved every possible distinction, Brojen Das bid the competitive arena adieu in 1961. Thereafter he coached and trained swimmers at home and abroad, including aspiring Channel swimmers. He also served as general secretary of the Bangladesh Swimming Federation and in 1976 received the national award from his government for his valuable contribution to sport. Other accolades included life membership of the Channel Swimming Association (1958) and King of the Channel title (1986); induction into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (1965); and vice-president of the World Long Distance Swimming Association (1964). Perhaps the greatest compliment came from Mohammad Ali. They met at the South Asian Games in 1985 and the boxing legend said: ‘You are the King of Channel and I am the King of Ring. But I think your achievement is even greater than mine.’

His death from cancer aged 71 sent shock waves through his country with president and prime minister sending condolences. His story is still taught in Bangladeshi schools.