Harjeet Singh Tuli captained India in the Men’s Hockey Junior World Cup (HJWC) 2016 in Lucknow and ended the nation’s 20-year drought in the junior championships by lifting the coveted trophy. This single picture defines what passion is and how much it means to a player. When you dream each day and finally succeed in getting what you want, you dare not leave it!
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) December 19, 2016
The seeds of this success story
Harjeet has come up the ranks from modest upbringings. He has seen life’s struggles, especially in India where sports as a career has its own set of obstacles, be it from parents or others around you.
His family hails from the outskirts of the Mohali district, Punjab, in a little-known town of Kurali. He is the son of Rampal Singh, a truck driver, and passionately took up hockey as a career in 2004 at the age of 11. He studied at the Chakwal Senior Secondary School and initially trained at the Gopal Hockey Academy for a few months.
However, with financial problems, it was not plain sailing, to begin with, for this young talent. There was even a moment when his family gave him an ultimatum to quit the sport. It took a lot of convincing for them to ultimately overcome their initial reluctance and support his decision. This was mostly made possible by his stellar performances in the local league.
The young stalwart soon joined the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar where he honed his skills. It should be noted that this academy has groomed a lot of other famous names including the likes of Jugraj Singh and Akashdeep Singh from the men’s senior national team.
The fact that 10 out of the 18-member Indian HJWC squad including Harmanpreet Singh, Vikramjit Singh, Gurinder Singh, Harjeet Singh, Parwinder Singh, Hardik Singh, Mandeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Krishan B Pathak and Varun Kumar were from SHA speaks volumes of the facilities and skills that it offers.
Harjeet thanked his coach Amrutpal Singh and in particular Patwari Sohan Singh Lal for all the moral and financial backing he received. For a man who didn’t even own a good pair of shoes or his own cycle to reach the training ground, this has been a gargantuan effort and his determination is one that should inspire us all!
Living the big dream
Harjeet was selected by the Delhi Waveriders to play in the Hockey India League (HIL) in the year 2015. His performances were steady throughout the tournament and he also bagged the ‘Jugraj Singh Upcoming Player of the Year’ award. What helped, apart from the motivation he got, was a Rs 10 lakh cash reward that helped his family partially offset the financial hardships they were facing.
“I know that more success in the game will bring more money, and to me that’s really important as I have seen the worst financial days of my life, for it was quite difficult for me to continue to pursue my passion.
“But I know a podium finish at this World Cup will make a big difference to everyone in the team, and I believe that playing as a strong unit would help us achieve our goal.” ~ Harjeet on how money plays a role especially during crunch situations in life.
He garnered valuable experience by filling the shoes of Sardar Singh, who was dodging personal controversies around that time and was rested for the FIH Champions Trophy 2015 in London. He then featured in the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament 2016 which helped him polish his hockey skills and rub shoulders with the more experienced players in the team.
Soon after, he was named the captain of the Indian men’s junior hockey squad. Singh led India to victory against reigning world junior champions Germany in the final of the Four Nations Invitational Tournament in Valencia, Spain, which was a precursor event to the HJWC 2016.
“Captaincy isn’t pressure for me as I know my job well and everybody is a leader of his own in the team. We have separate plans for different teams, but currently we are focussing on our training and not thinking of anything else.” ~ on captaincy and its pressure.
Glued to the TV sets to watch the entire HJWC final, Harjeet’s mother Balwinder Kaur was excited and proud to receive her son’s phone call soon after the victory. Such was her enthusiasm that she wanted to celebrate his return by trumpeting dhols (drums) along with the happy villagers.
However, his father was unaware of what extraordinary feat his son and his teammates had achieved for the country! He was away on an assignment in Kolkata for the last month of the HJWC.
From real to reel life!
The inspirational story of India's HJWC 2016 winning captain Harjeet Singh is all set to be made into a biopic! The film stars popular Punjabi singer and actor Ammy Virk in the lead role and is scheduled to release by the end of March 2018. Virk proposed the idea to Harjeet at a dinner party celebrating the W’Cup victory and also managed to get his parents’ approval.
So proud to be part of this project ! pic.twitter.com/YJakOGbAV7
— Ammy Virk (@AmmyVirk) April 18, 2017
“I never thought someday there will be a film based on my life. At times, I wonder if it’s a dream. I don’t know much about the casting. That’s for the production team to decide. I have never seen a film shoot before, so I am actually looking forward to it. After returning home, I do plan to visit the set,” says Singh with his beaming smile.
It should be noted that this is not the first time that a film on a hockey player is being depicted on the silver screen. The Indian film industry’s hockey obsession started with ‘Chak De! India’, a cult classic among every movie buff in the year 2007.
King of Bollywood i.e. Shah Rukh Khan essayed the life of former India goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi in this film. Another film based on the life of three-time Olympic medalist and celebrated hockey player Prithipal Singh called ‘Prithipal Singh, A story’ was released in 2015 with Vikas Kumar in the lead role.
Moreover, Khiladi Kumar and 2016 national award winner, Akshay Kumar is all set to play the role of three-time Olympic gold medalist, the legendary Balbir Singh Sr. in a movie titled Gold which is still in the pipeline. Incidentally, the record for the highest number of goals in an Olympic men’s final is still held by Balbir Singh Sr.
What sets Harjeet apart from the rest is the fact that he is still playing, unlike the others who had retired by the time the movie was envisioned and brought to life! He will perhaps have interactive sessions in the future with the actors so that they can actually get to know his life up-close.
Will Harjeet be able to step into the shoes of the ageing star Indian midfielder Sardar Singh? Only time will tell. Going forward, he will need to show more composure and maturity to perhaps even lead the Indian side in the near future. Until then, let’s not rush things and instead relish watching him play on the field. After all, it has been quite a struggle to reach where he has and it is time that he enjoys the attention and fame that he truly deserves!
In his words, “‘Lambi soch’ (long term vision) is important. Keeping an eye on the bigger prize; not to get affected by small things.”