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Hockey's global ambassador

The diplomatic community in the city finds in competitive sport an avenue to relax amidst its tight work schedule. Read on to know how Susan Edghill of the British Deputy High Commission has managed to pursue her passion for hockey during her frequent postings abroad.

FOR THE diplomatic community in Chennai, competitive sport offers a pleasant distraction, forms an avenue to relax and invigorate amidst the usually tight work schedule, protocol and what not. Quite a few enjoy witnessing sports events in and around, a handful even participate in competitions, or just go out on the field to loosen the limbs to keep fit.

In the early Sixties, the United States Consulate, along with the First National City Bank, now known as Citibank, formed a fairly talented and successful basketball team which figured in major tournaments, attracting a huge following. A rangy (seven foot one inch) U.S. marine, John Yarborough, became the cynosure of all eyes not merely because of his huge frame but also for the remarkable skills he exhibited as a shooter.

This was a time when the knowledgeable crowds fervently discussed the magical displays of Harlem Globe-Trotters, and charmed by the frequent screening of the film, "The Final Game", involving Boston Celtics and Cincinnati Royals, by the United States Information Service at its auditorium on Cathedral Road.

What's more, the U.S. Consulate and the USIS played a leading role in arranging for the visit of seasoned American coaches, Kaufmann and Sam Fox. They did considerable spadework too in scheduling two visits by the famous Springfield College (Massachusetts) team under the leadership of that wonderful theoretician, Dr. Edward Steitz.

Diplomats from the then Soviet Consulate took interest in weight lifting, while sailing had the patronage of a few officials from the British Deputy High Commission. Malcolm Holding, Deputy High Commissioner, was a passionate sailor during weekends.

Rolf Maruhn from the German Consulate took considerable effort to popularise windsurfing and sailing at Muttukadu. Officials of the Sri Lankan High Commission were closely involved with cricket, and the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, has even named the trophy of the best junior school cricketer after the then Deputy High Commissioner, de Alwis.

It may be news to many here that the present staff of the British Deputy High Commission has a full-fledged cricket team enjoying a Saturday morning game. Also, a group of consulate officials enjoy a game of soccer during weekends.

Among the ever-growing sports loving community here is the star hockey player from Britain — Susan Edghill of the British Deputy High Commission.

Relaxing in her fifth floor apartment at Poes Garden, only yards away from the high security zone of the Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, Susan Edghill wandered down the labyrinth of memory of those halcyon days at the School in Wrexham, then with the Century old Hendon Hockey Club in London, and at various parts of the globe wherever she was posted to work. Hockey for Susan is in her bloodline. Her father, John Cranwell, a no mean player himself, was the Chairman of the Great Britain Hockey Board when the team played at the Olympics in 1984 at Los Angeles. He was also a member of the Board when Britain claimed the Olympic Gold in 1988 in Seoul. Susan's grandmother also had wielded the stick. Small wonder, Susan picked up the game early enough to impress many as a left fullback. "I also played occasionally as a left winger," she recalled.

What engulfs the 44-year old Entry Clearance Officer in a mood of nostalgia are the days she spent with the Hendon Hockey Club, playing with a mixed bunch from Goa, Kenya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Caribbean, South Africa and New Zealand. More importantly, it was the interaction with the media as the publicity manager of England Mixed Hockey Association that widened her perception of the sport. When the men and women units merged to form EHA, Susan was elevated as an Honorary Vice-President.

Profiting from the frequent postings abroad, Susan Edghill, pursued her interest in hockey, playing matches in France, Germany, and in the leagues at Belgium. She has carried the hockey stick to far off places like Mauritius, Manila, and now to Chennai.

She is waiting for the day to take time off and hit a few shots on the synthetic pitch at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium. Not only has she been a player but served as an umpire too in the European Club Championships.

Susan Edghill also looks back on the atmosphere she found herself soaking in at the World Championship in 1986 at Willesden (Wembley) where England, led by Richard Dodds and assisted by famous names like Paul Barber, Jon Potter and Norman Hughes, won the silver against the fearsome Aussies featuring stars like Ric Charlesworth, Terry Walsh, Peter Hazelhurst, and Colin Batch. She also recounts the moods and images that stuck on her mind's eye from what she witnessed the Champions Trophy at Berlin in 1989 and in Brisbane in 1999, as a media assistant at the pre-Olympic qualifier in Osaka in 2000, and the happy moments shared with top English players like Sean Kerly, Julian Halls and Kulbir Bhaura. She plans a vacation in Australia this year in such a way as to coincide with the final stages of the Women's World Cup at Perth in November-December.

Describing Indian hockey as "fantastic," Susan believes the best of the game can come only on the synthetic surface. However, she hastens to add that not having played much on natural grass, her preference for synthetic pitches could be biased.

Her passion for hockey is such that she braved a hot afternoon last fortnight to witness a crucial match in the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium.

Married to Carl Edghill, who hails from West Indies, and therefore enjoys his moments with the willow, the couple are interested in Ten-pin bowling, and a round of golf now and then.

Susan also takes time off to learn a bit of Scottish dancing apart from her hectic social life as part of her work.

Adjusting to the hustle and bustle of life in Chennai, Susan has begun to appreciate many good things here. Quite predictably, the traffic is something that unnerves her. But she feels it is better organised than what she had experienced in Manila.

What scares her most are the weaving in and out of the two-wheeler drivers. Probably, she may dribble around two or three defenders easily with a hockey stick, but finds it dreadful to drive past the disconcerting patterns of our two-wheeler masters on the road!

S. THYAGARAJAN

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