Mark Patterson was Indian hockey's best goalkeeper before he migrated to Australia at the peak of his career after being inexplicably left out of the national team for the Barcelona Olympics. mid-day caught up with the ex-Mumbai player and discovered that though he has forgiven those who wronged him, he has not forgotten the hurt even after 23 years
Perth: Twenty-one is not an age to quit sport. Unfortunately, one of India's best hockey goalkeepers, Mark Patterson was forced to do that after he was unceremoniously left out of the Indian team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics trials when at the peak of his career, thanks to some inexplicable politics that prevailed in the national sport back then.
Former India hockey goalkeeper Mark Patterson at his office in central Perth yesterday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
Over two decades later, Patterson is still a tad sad, but not bitter as mid-day caught up with him at his workplace here at St George's Terrace for an interview.
What were your early hockey days like?
I began in the lanes of Kalina. My dad (Terence) was an India player having played three matches against Pakistan in the late 1960s as goalkeeper. So that connect got me into goalkeeping too. And before I knew it, I rose through the ranks quickly. At the age of 11, I was playing senior men's tournaments and at 15, I was playing the Mumbai Super League, which was one of the most competitive leagues in the country then. Here, I rubbed shoulders with established players like Joaquim Carvalho, Merwyn Fernandes, MM Somaya among others and they were all great mentors. I played under Jaswant Singh for Khalsa College and then Mahindra Tractors picked me.
When did national recognition beckon?
I played a tournament for Mahindra Tractors in Rourkela and in the final we faced ASC Jallandar who had a brilliant penalty corner specialist. He was scoring six-seven goals in every match, so I decided that I'd do something different to stop him. So, in the final, I slept on the floor and countered his fierce hits. At that time there wasn't enough padding for us 'keepers and I remember I was battered and bruised all over. We lost but I didn't let him score. Then in 1986, I was picked into the senior Mahindra team, where we played ASC again in the Aga Khan final. Again I was all over the floor and even cracked my helmet, but didn't let him score and we won 1-0. I played for Mumbai the next year and in 1988, I got my India break. We first played the Sultan Azlan Shah in Ipoh (Malaysia) followed by a tournament in Nairobi (Kenya), where I excelled and made national headlines after saving all five penalty strokes in the tie-breaker in the final against Pakistan.
Those heady days: A young Mark Patterson
What was the 1988 Seoul Olympics like?
To play the Olympics was a dream come true. But just before that, there was a six-match Indo-Pak bilateral series that we drew 1-1 and in the last match I had not done so well. So, in the Olympics, Rajinder Singh Rawat was picked as first goalie while I was second. Sadly, we lost the first match to Russia (0-1) which we should have won by a big score. Then, in our last league match, we lost 0-3 to England and failed to make the semis. Now in the classification match, we played Argentina first and the full time score read 6-6. That's when coach MP Ganesh turned to me and said: 'It's the tie-breaker, you go in.' I did, and made a couple of saves and we won 4-3. The next match was against Pakistan and here, I played out of my skin and though we lost (1-2), we finished 6th and qualified for the Champions Trophy. I became a hero. I still have a press clipping outside my bedroom with a headline that referred to me as the 'Custodian of India's Olympic honour.'
So, how did things spiral downwards?
I was home one day and got a call to come to play the Junior World Cup Qualifiers. There were rumours that I could be captain because I was India's No 1 goalie then. Shockingly, I was told just before the game that I wasn't playing. I did not play in the full tournament. I was shattered and went off to Australia for a four-month holiday just to get away from this mess. But I was missing home, and missing my hockey. So, when I heard that the nationals were coming up, I returned to play for Bombay. We made history under coach Cedric D'Souza and captain Marcellus Gomes by winning the 53rd National Hockey Championships after 45 years, beating Punjab 4-1 via tie-breaker in Gwalior. We had a team of brilliant youngsters like Dhanraj Pillay, Edgar Mascarenhas, John Fernandes, Floyd D'Souza, among others. My teammates hoisted me on their shoulders after the final. I conceded only one goal in that tournament.
Then why did you leave India?
The next big tournament was the World Cup in 1990 and sadly we got a shellacking in Lahore. We didn't play well and finished 10th. The team management kept alternating between Ashish Ballal and me in goal, but we just didn't click as a team. Then in 1991 we had a good European tour of Germany, Spain, France and Holland, and did well there too but somehow being India's No 1 goalkeeper, I was unhappy at being rested now and then. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the team management was wrong, but no one spoke to me about it. There was no man management or player management system in Indian hockey. No one cared. I felt that to continue being the best, I had to play more. I was upset and decided to leave India for Australia because I felt the team didn't need me. Pargat Singh was captain then and he wasn't too happy to see me go because we shared a great rapport. Now here's the final straw. India came to tour Australia and I got a call from Pargat telling me that I should come back to play for the India team. He said that coach Balkishen Singh also felt the same. Hockey was in my blood, so the sucker in me brought me back to India and the time coincided with the trials for the Bombay team for the nationals. Here, shockingly I was not picked. I don't know why, but some of the Mumbai hockey administrators didn't want me in the team. Now, I knew that if I couldn't make it to the Bombay team, there was no way I could make it to the India team, but I still went to Delhi for trials and performed well there. I knew captain Pargat and coach Balkishen wanted me in the team.
In fact, coach Balkishen actually told me 'I don't know what's going on. We want you in but there are certain things...'
At 21, and in the peak of my career, I was not picked for India. I deserved to go to Barcelona but my dream was over. I returned to Australia and got stuck into life here. I pursued an IT course at University and here I am doing really well for myself as head of my company's Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania Operations. And I'm grateful to Indian hockey for that.
Why are you grateful to Indian hockey for succeeding in Australia?
Look, in Australia you cannot live a half-life, with your mind being in India and only body being here. I wouldn't have achieved anything if I did that. But being dropped for the Seoul team gave me the closure that I needed to leave hockey and India for good and start afresh. Rebecca, my wife with whom I was in love with in Mumbai for so many years, is here with me and so are my parents. I have a son, Liam (12) and daughter Hanna (9). I'm extremely happy. I'm at peace with myself.
Do you follow Indian hockey?
I've started following Indian hockey a bit now and I think the Hockey India League is a great initiative. Indian hockey is aiming for a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and I strongly believe that this is possible because, unlike our times, there is far more international exposure and expertise provided to the players now. I only hope the hockey system's man management (player management) skills have improved.