For last many years, La Liga matches have been televised live in Pakistan on weekends. FC Barcelona’s Messi is perhaps the most popular soccer star in Pakistan. Many in Pakistan know Spain because of FC Barcelona more than any other thing.
On the outskirts of Barcelona, there is a town which breathes hockey, Pakistan’s national game. Terrassa is 23 kilometre from Barcelona, with a population of less than 250,000 and hockey is easily the most popular sport here.
There is one Olympian among every 2000 players, making it perhaps the most ‘Olympic Town’ in the world.
The World XI which recently played two high-profile matches in Pakistan included three Terrassa players: Santi Freixa, Roc Oliva and David Alegre.
There are five hockey clubs of which the big three, Atletic Terrassa, Club Egara and Club Deportiu Terrassa, commonly called CD Terrassa, stand out because of the history, number of international stars produced, facilities, number of members, fan following and achievements.
How did it all start? Terrassa is adjacent to Barcelona. Hockey resulted from the cultural exchange between the English and Catalan families. The English spent time in Catalonia for business purposes. Some Catalan families sent their sons to England for adopting new textile skills and some of them returned with hockey sticks, a sport popular with the bourgeois class in England of the time. Hockey got roots in Catalonia.
RC Polo club in Barcelona has always remained in the top echelons of Spanish hockey. However, hockey emerged as the number one sport in the small town of Terrassa and it has stayed as such; not affected by the glamour of soccer in the neighbouring Barcelona and the rest of the country.
Hockey players are revered like soccer stars here. The local buses have images of hockey players permanently painted on them.
Many factors have contributed. Once the hockey culture developed, the town had its heroes and the kids their role models. Many in the families played hockey and some went on to get Spanish colours. There are famous hockey families who have given a number of greats such as Amats, Malgosas and Escudes. All this has had a cascading effect.
A smaller environment brings more safety and control to the children; short distances from school to the club by bus and after training going home with parents. Teachers are close to hockey people. Trainers and coaches are well known to families. Everything is linked and related. Social recognition plays its part. To be selected for the local age group teams is an honour.
Next are the clubs. Atletic Terrassa, Club Egara and Club Deportiu Terrassa have proud history. Atletic Terrassa Hockey Club founded in 1952 have won the top Spanish league title, División de Honor de Hockey Hierba a record 21 times, and have also been the Champions of Europe twice.
Only a few days back, the European Hockey Federation announced Atletic Terrassa as the 2017 EHF Club of the Year. The award is not about the club that wins the most titles. It is about those clubs who grow and promote hockey in their community, and at the same time develop their players, volunteers, coaches, umpires and facilities.
Atletic Terrassa’s main local rivals Club Egara founded in 1935 have won 13 Spanish league titles.
Club Deportiu Terrassa, also called CD Terrassa, have roots in the oldest hockey club in Spain. In 1910, a group of young people from the Ateneo Calasanz created the first hockey club with the name Lawn Hoquei Club Calassanç. The name changed twice before getting the present title in 1939.
As in all team sports, the derby matches involving any two of the big three of Terrassa hockey create a special fervor in the town. The stadiums are packed with the supporters of both teams. The atmosphere is charged up like a La Liga fixture. Fans also travel outside Terrassa to support their team at away games, not only in Spain but also other countries for the European Hockey League fixtures.
The local print media gives good coverage. Hockey is a big game in Terrassa but not big in Spain. So TV only shows highlights over the weekends. It is only during the Olympics that the whole country watches hockey. Though, now through live streaming, Terrassa fans are able to watch their teams’ matches live.
Like most of the European hockey clubs, the membership fees are the major source of income. Each of Terrassa’s big three has thousands of club members. The club restaurant also contributes. There is sponsorship as well.
Foreign players, including Pakistan’s Waseem Feroze and Tariq Sheikh, have appeared for other Spanish clubs. But the abundance of local talent means very few foreigners have figured for the Terrassa clubs. To ensure a continuous quality supply chain, the clubs have their age-group performance programmes for under 16s, under 18s, etc.
Interestingly, Pakistan hockey has some fond memories of Terrassa. In the first World Cup in 1971, the pool matches and the final were played in Barcelona. But Terrassa hosted both the semi-finals. Pakistan were lucky to make it to the last four. In the semi-final, they encountered the traditional rivals India who went ahead first. Pakistan equalised and then Munawwaur-uz-Zaman scored the winner to enable Pakistan to win a memorable match in Terrassa. Later, Pakistan won the final in Barcelona.
Pakistan’s last Olympic medal, a bronze, came at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics. All the matches of hockey event were staged in Terrassa.
With its relatively small hockey population, Spain’s national hockey team has achieved a lot: three silvers and one bronze at the Olympics, two silvers and one bronze at the World Cup and two golds, two silvers and one bronze at the Euro Hockey Nations Championships.
Terrassa has always been the main contributor. At times, players from the little town formed more than half the national side.
It would not be wrong to call Terrassa the World’s Finest Hockey Nursery, considering the number of international players it has produced, continuity in terms of players in the national side, quality of players and contribution to Spain’s achievements.
Ijaz Chaudhry (Media Manager – PHF)