True, it may be known as the hockey capital of India, but almost all among the several hockey players Rourkela has produced have a story behind their success. A story of suffering… a story of hardships and poverty… a story of grit and determination. South Central Railway, Secunderabad, (SCR) defender Sanjeep Xess Neelam’s story is written along such lines.
Born into a family of peasants, Neelam, an aspiring exponent of the drag flick, scored two goals in the final of the 51st edition of the Bombay Gold Cup hockey tournament against Punjab National Bank at the Mumbai Hockey Association Limited-Mahindra Stadium on Wednesday. His effort was instrumental in the Secunderabad side clinching the final 4-2 and subsequently walking home richer with a purse of Rs 3 lakh along with the glittering Bombay Gold Cup trophy.
Hockey is so popular in Rourkela that it is a given for youngsters to pick up a stick at a very young age. Neelam was no different. Of course, he could still afford an occasional game of football, but hockey stuck with him. After learning the nuances of the game, he came in touch with some quality coaches and some seniors like fellow former India defender Birendra Lakra. In 2010, he started taking serious strides and it was not long before he began to get noticed. With the help of those coaches and Lakra, he started developing his game and was picked by the Sports Hostel.
At the Sports Hostel, he found a platform that would pitchfork him in to the national scheme of things. Soon, he got a national call-up to the sub-junior camp. His staunch defending abilities earned him an India cap and before he could realise it, he was handed the reins of the team in a tournament recently held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But despite getting offers from reputed clubs in India, he could not play for them because the Sports Hostel rule doesn’t permit its students to play for outside clubs on a stipend. But because of the possibility of Neelam landing a job with SCR, the officials gave him special permission to play in Mumbai.