| Singapore | 27 May 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Standing six feet tall and overlooking the turf pitches at Hockey Village in Boon Lay, it is quite impossible to miss this towering ﬁgure that was once lauded as the pillar of Singapore’s hockey team. Mr Vear Singh Gill, who is currently a Director of Hockey One Pte Ltd, spends most of his time supervising the operations of the facility that houses several football and hockey turf pitches.
The venue, famously known as the Hockey Village, is a popular training ground for school hockey teams across Singapore. In the afternoons, it is usually bustling with secondary school children training intensely with their coaches, leaving the late evenings for friendly football matches among white-collar workers. The Hockey Village is also home to a leased unit, where a Thai martial arts instructor runs a Muay Thai gymnasium.
One can often ﬁnd Vear engaged in a hearty conversation with regular patrons at the Hockey Village, exchanging life stories and talking about sports-related events held in Singapore. It is a reﬂection of the warm and welcoming personality that he carries around. Dressed in a casual blue t-shirt, white Bermuda shorts and a hip silver goatee, the 70-year old offered a strong handshake and a soft drink before sitting down all eager to answer questions about his professional hockey career for Singapore, which spanned 18 years.
Vear was born in Singapore in 1945 but spent the ﬁrst 14 years of his life in Punjab in India. In 1959, just as Singapore gained self-governance, he returned with his family to Singapore not knowing how to speak a word of English. Many would ﬁnd the language barrier a handicap in assimilating with school mates but that did not deter Vear from being social. He played football extremely well and learnt the local lingo through the many football games played at his village in Dorset Road and at Christ Church Secondary School, where he studied.
It was not too long before Vear could converse not just in English but also a little of each of Singapore’s ethnic languages. Surprisingly, his favourite sport was football. He often played it back in Punjab during his childhood. He had a strong passion for the game and, being extremely fast and skillful, was quickly favoured among the Dorset soccer boys. However, his stint in football did not last long.
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It was still during the colonial rule, and after completing his GCE ‘O’ Levels, Vear was persuaded by his uncle to play hockey for the Army Depot Police (ADP). He was a complete natural at running. He had the stamina of a horse, lightning speed and incredibly quick twisting hands, the hallmark of what was to become hockey elite. Vear, then only 16 years old, young blooded and full of drive, trained intensely and passionately with the ADP for the next ﬁve years.
It was here at the ADP that Vear started to train professionally with the national squad. He began travelling overseas, playing against international teams and fully living and breathing hockey. It was during this time that he was given his ﬁrst permanent position to play on the ﬁeld and that was of a ‘right wing’. He explained that this spot was chosen for him by Singapore’s hockey pioneer, Mr Kartar Singh, who was 10 years his senior. “We used to play in gurdwara (Sikh temple) tournaments and he saw my speed.” Kartar was impressed with his extremely nimble feet and impeccable skills.
Vear progressed to taste his ﬁrst international competition with the ADP in 1965. He ﬂourished as a right winger and quickly gained a reputation as an artful hockey aﬁcionado. He attributes his footwork and endless stamina to his strong background in playing football.
Vear joined his ﬁrst local hockey club when he began playing for Ceylon Sports Club’s Under-23 team. Thereafter, as he grew older, he went on to play in the local hockey league with the Singapore Khalsa Association and ﬁnally Singapore Indian Association. While representing Singapore, he recalls with enthusiasm the international tournaments in which he took part.
Those tournaments were namely the Tun Razak Cup organised by the Malaysian Hockey Federation, Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games and the most prominent of all, the Pre-Olympic Games in Lahore in Pakistan. Vear was noticeably proud to discuss his experience in the Pre-Olympics Games in Lahore. After all, it was this tournament that gained international recognition for the tiny island.
The Singapore team entered the tournament facing tough opponents in their ﬁrst round – Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Malaysia and Pakistan. The Singapore team however did not waiver and went on to beat Ceylon and Malaysia and drew with heavyweights, Pakistan. He described all the games as “shock results”. The team gained ﬁve out of a maximum six points and stood at the top of the table – a feat never achieved before. Pakistani sports journalists covering the event had the headlines “Small Island leads the world” splashed on the front page of the local newspaper. It was a very surreal and proud moment for Vear. Never did he think that he would be part of a team to put Singapore on the map. As he states: “It was a hell of a write-up.” However, their run did not last long. However, despite stubborn resistance, the team was knocked out of the competition. Although the Singapore team failed to make it to the Olympics Games in 1968, it achieved a feat that made Singaporeans back home proud and made the world take notice of Singapore.
Upon its return to Singapore, the team started preparing for several other international competitions, namely the SEAP Games and the Tun Razak Cup. He recollects the moment he was chosen to play ‘right half’ on the ﬁeld. However, he did not baulk at being given the toughest job on the ﬁeld – it required incredible stamina which meant running from one semi-circle to the other (or D to D) and it involved attacking as well defending. With Vear’s seniority, impeccable accuracy in passing the ball across the ﬁeld, his colossal stamina and electric speed, he was certainly the right man for the job. He held that inﬂuential position till he retired.
“I came to know Vear sometime in the mid-1960s. As a schoolboy with the passion for hockey, I had immense pleasure watching him play at the Balestier Plains. He struck immediately as a skillful and naturally-talented player. It was no surprise that he went on to don the national colours. He even captained the national team and the icing on the cake was winning the SEAP Games gold medal. This feat is unmatched till today.
Vear’s selfless devotion to the game, discipline, determination and commitment are qualities that any sportsman would like to possess. He was one of the finest hockey players I have seen and played with”
– Mr M Neethianathan Former Chairman of Board of Games Singapore Indian Association
Vear’s greatest accomplishment would perhaps come in 1973 when he captained the Singapore national team to win the gold medal in the SEAP Games, the one and only time the Republic would do so.
When asked which tournament the national squad found the most challenging, Vear promptly replied that it was the Razak Cup. He had captained the team on numerous occasions in this tournament. He explained: “The state teams were really strong, with Selangor being the toughest opponent. It was the most afﬂuent urban city in the country and attracted the top hockey players from across Malaysia. Singapore would always ﬁnd a way to edge out the rest of the state teams to reach the ﬁnal.” While the matches against Selangor were tough, he was quick to admit that “they were stronger than us”. The runner-up position was still a momentous feat for the captain and his team.
Vear retired from international hockey in 1979. Looking back at his colorful professional career he said: “I played with full passion. Hockey took me places. I am happy my team and I were able to make our country proud whenever we could”, his eyes lighting up as he spoke. Vear did not hang up his hockey stick as yet. He continued to play as a veteran in friendly matches against younger opponents. He retired completely in 2006, just as his baby project Hockey One was born. He has been looking after it since.
Vear stated: “Hockey has always been my life. It still is today. It provided me with a meaningful life back then and now my life revolves around this place.” When asked the type of advice he would like to give to youth who want to pursue a career in hockey, he said that they must be disciplined, in his voice deep with conviction.
He added: “They should stay away from vices and focus on their goals. They should work hard and they will surely be part of some incredible experiences.” Vear lived by this motto during his professional stint as an athlete. This is indeed golden advice from a man who put his heart and soul into the game and helped to place Singapore on the global hockey map.
[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]
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