- A one-club man, he only ever played for his beloved Sikh Union Hockey Club, Nairobi, in an illustrious career that begun in 1957 and ended in 1980.
- Comfortable at either centre-half or full-back, his astonishing 23 years of playing top class hockey, brought with it numerous accolades, that cannot possibly be done justice to in this brief article.
The hockey fraternity is mourning following the death of Kenyan hockey legend Surjeet Singh Panesar in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Known affectionately and popularly as ‘Junior’ or ‘Sindhi’, his passing on, has brought down the curtain on a true sporting colossus; not just Kenyan but a global figure.
A one-club man, he only ever played for his beloved Sikh Union Hockey Club, Nairobi, in an illustrious career that begun in 1957 and ended in 1980.
Comfortable at either centre-half or full-back, his astonishing 23 years of playing top class hockey, brought with it numerous accolades, that cannot possibly be done justice to in this brief article.
Together with Avtar Singh Sohal ‘Tari’ and the late Alu Mendonca, they represented Kenya in a combined 473 international matches, all documented.
Of these, Panesar’s tally was 165.
So who exactly was Panesar and why do I refer to him as a global hockey colossus?
Panesar was born in Nairobi on June 24, 1936 and took up the game of hockey during his early schooling days at the Duke of Gloucester, School, in Nairobi. His parents, Balwant Singh Lalton and mother Tar Kaur, had emigrated to Nairobi in 1918.
Upon graduating from the Duke of Glocester School, Nairobi, Junior returned to India, for his high school and University education. He graduated from Patiala University, in Architecture, specializing in interior architecture.
He thereafter returned to Nairobi in 1957 and put in an illustrious 23 year playing shift for his beloved Sikh Union Nairobi, hockey club.
He played over 1000 matches for Sikh Union Club, Nairobi, both locally and on overseas tours. His tours took him to among other nations, Tanzania, Uganda, Pakistan, Zambia , the United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Canada, USA and Zimbabwe.
At club level, he won every club competition of the time and was also honoured severally by his club. Cups won, were among others the D’Souza Gold Cup, the Kenya Cup, Ujjager Singh Rai Cup, Kesar Singh Cup, Aggarwal Cup and the prestigious Siri Guru Gobind Singh Cup.
Other than the national team, Junior also represented other select teams. These were notably Nairobi XI and Asian Sports Association. On the former team he played against England in Nairobi on September 19, 1958.
Panesar first represented Kenya on September 20, 1959 in their 4-0 win against Rhodesia in Nairobi. He scored a goal on his debut. The last time he donned the Kenya shirt was on September 7, 1972. This was in a match against Argentina at the 19772 Munich Olympics. Kenya also won that macth 2-1 and fittingly, his long time teammate, Avtar Singh Sohal ‘Tari’, scored Kenya’s winning goal.
This match was to later acquire historical significance and lend credence to my earlier remarks here, that he was a truly global hockey figure.
Upon returning home, Sindhi then played competitively for a further eight years for Sikh, eventually calling it a day in 1980.
Internationally, Junior’s playing highlights, would almost certainly have been the following. Becoming a four-time Olympian for Kenya and taking Kenya to fourth place in the world at the inaugural Hockey World Cup, in Barcelona.
Panesar represented Kenya at four consecutive Olympics. These were at Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Mexico 1968 and Munich 1972.