There is palpable excitement among hockey fans as international hockey returns to Chennai after 16 long years, with the Hero Asian Champions Trophy Chennai 2023 set to begin on August 3rd at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium in Egmore. Adding to the excitement, Hockey India’s Chennai Chronicles Series revisits some of the city’s iconic matches, which have witnessed mega rivalries unfold.
In the fourth episode of the ‘Chennai Chronicles Series’, we took a trip down memory lane with the legendary Vasudevan Baskaran, under whose leadership the Indian team won a Gold Medal in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Expressing his delight about the prestigious Hero Asian Champions Trophy Chennai 2023 being hosted in his hometown, Baskaran said, “I and a lot of veterans in Chennai were all starved of a major international tournament. In fact, that made most of the players start Masters Hockey which usually gets about 5000 spectators. One can imagine the turnout for international matches with stars of Indian hockey.”
Chennai last hosted an international hockey event in 2007 when the prestigious Asia Cup was held and it saw thrilling matches that have left a lasting impact on fans. Nostalgic about India’s successful outing in 2007, Baskaran said, “In 2007, Asia Cup was played here and we beat Korea 7-2 in the final to lift the trophy. As usual, a crowd of around 10,000 fans attended the match in the stadium. It was raining by half-time during the Final but no one left the stadium. I can’t forget those moments.”
The upcoming Hero Asian Champions Trophy has rekindled the passion for hockey in Chennai. Bhaskaran shared his excitement about the event being held at Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium, which he fondly referred to as “Eden Gardens of Chennai” as fans turn out in large numbers in the stadium even to witness even local games.
“In normal league matches, about 5,000 fans are present in the stadium. So that is the interest and fan following in Hockey in Chennai,” Baskaran said.
Hero Asian Champions Trophy Chennai 2023 extends beyond being a mere tournament, as it serves as a testament to Chennai’s devotion to hockey. Baskaran expressed his appreciation for the decision to host the tournament in his hometown, saying, “I think it’s very right on Hockey India to give this event to Chennai. Egmore Stadium is very close to my heart. I used to play here as a 17-year-old and back then it was on gravel and then it was developed in a grass stadium. I must have played about 5000 matches here. Although by the time an Astroturf was laid here, I had quit playing hockey but I have some very fond memories as a Coach.”
The prestigious tournament will also witness remarkable infrastructural improvements at Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium, enhancing the players’ experience and spectators’ enjoyment. Baskaran noted, “New turf is coming up in the stadium and the entire gallery is being spruced up. And the dressing rooms are being upgraded.”
The India-Pakistan league match is a highly anticipated encounter in the upcoming tournament, sure to draw a full house. “I think that’s going to be a very, very vital match. The ground will be full, I know,” Baskaran said.
“I remember, in 1998, when I was a coach, the last match played with India-Pakistan was at the same ground. We could gather a crowd of about 11,000 fans. Two extra galleries were made. An entire Egmore roundabout was blocked for half a day,” he added.
Talking about the importance of the Hero Asian Champions Trophy Chennai 2023, Baskaran said, “The importance of this tournament is very, very high. Also, it will serve as a precursor to the all-important Asian Games to be played in China in September.”