Hockey is still his life

Sarjit (second from right) putting his national junior players through the pace on the first day of training. — filepic

He easily qualifies as one of Malaysia’s hockey heroes, having served as captain at the junior and senior levels as well as coaching both the junior and senior national teams in his career.

Now 54, some might say Sarjit Singh’s mission is over. In fact, the opposite might be true.

Sarjit is one of the rare few to do national duty as both player and coach.

Since taking up the coaching position with Terengganu in 2014, he has turned around the east coast side’s fortunes in the national league.

Sarjit had led Terengganu to win the Malaysian Hockey League Premier Division from 2014 to last year.

“Hockey is my life and I’m quite happy with it,” Sarjit said when met.

“I brought in five South Korean players and that changed our game,” he recalled the key decision he made after becoming coach.

Terengganu captain Faizal Saari (in black) lifting the TNB Cup trophy his team won in May last year. Sarjit (left) looks on with runners-up Police skipper Baljit Singh (second from right) and coach Gurmit Singh. — filepic
Terengganu captain Faizal Saari (in black) lifting the TNB Cup trophy his team won in May last year. Sarjit (left) looks on with runners-up Police skipper Baljit Singh (second from right) and coach Gurmit Singh. — filepic

This plus seven Malaysian internationals, the presence of consultant Paul Lissek and strong financial backing from the state government helped Terengganu’s cause immeasurably, he added.

Terengganu won the league and beat Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club 2-1 on penalties to wrest the TNB Cup achieving the double after joining the league in 2013. They repeated the feat in 2015 and last year.

“Most important is that the players believe in me and I believe in them.

“I cannot ask for more from them as they have played well as a team,” he said of the state team.

Recalling his earlier days, Sarjit said he used to train a lot, so much so that many people called him mad.

Anyone who knows him well would concur that he is still crazy about hockey.

A photo of Sarjit taken in the 1990s. — filepic
A photo of Sarjit taken in the 1990s. — filepic

Of course, as in any sportsman’s career, there have been ups and downs, said Sarjit, citing missing out on a World Cup appearance twice.

“ I played in two qualifiers - Barcelona in 1985 and Poland - but did not make it.”

Those misses would seem like minor blots in a distinguished playing career that saw him feature in the Junior World Cup, Olympics, Asian Games and a host of international tournaments.

“I played for Malaysia more than 200 times in 12 years, seven as captain,” he recalled.

Sarjit’s international career started as a 19-year-old in January 1982, playing for the national team in the Asia Cup.

Seven months later he led Malaysia to a fourth place finish in the Junior World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

As a 22-year-old he remembers making his debut in his first Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984.

“I missed a penalty stroke in the first match when the score was tied 0-0”.

That match saw Australia run riot with a 5-0 win. Malaysia beat Canada 1-0 in the 9-12 classification match before edging USA 4-3 for 11th place.

In Barcelona eight years later, Malaysia improved, finishing ninth under the guiding hand of then national coach Terry Walsh of Australia.

That finish remains Malaysia’s best standing in the Olympics so far.

“We could have done better, at least sixth place if K. Embaraj had not got injured at the last minute,” said Sarjit.

A high point came in 1986-87 when he was selected to join the Asian All-Stars, featuring the best players in Asia.

Sarjit retired in 1993 at 31 and thereafter played and coached in Singapore until 2003.

In 2002, he was selected by the Malaysian Hockey Federation together with Tai Beng Hai, Arul Selvaraj and others to attend a seven-month coaching course under consultant and later national coach Paul Lissek.

Sajit served as national junior coach from 2003-2006 before taking over the reins of the national team in 2007.

Some of his coaching highlights included taking the team to third place in the Asia Cup and steering Malaysia to its first appearance in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh where they lost 1-3 to Australia.

Sarjit moved on to Hong Kong for four years from 2010 to 2014 where he coached the national team for one year and a club side for three years.

He took Hong Kong to ninth place in the Asian Games, their best finish thus far.

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