Two Ryan Giggs’

Ross Law­son meets the ever­green Ali Ghaz­an­far – still go­ing strong at the ripe old age of 38

The Hockey Paper - - NEWS -

We catch up with the ever­green Pak­istan cap­tain Ali Ghaz­an­far

AT 38 years young, Dee­side Ram­blers’ Ali Ghaz­an­far has no in­ten­tions to hang up his stick quite yet – af­ter all he is, by his own ad­mis­sion, hockey’s very own Ryan Giggs.

A for­mer Pak­istan in­ter­na­tional, Ghaz­an­far can boast plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence among hockey’s up­per ech­e­lons, no­tably two World Cups to add to an Olympic Games se­lec­tion at Athens 2004.

Add to that a stint as in­ter­na­tional cap­tain and you’ve got the hall­marks of a stel­lar ca­reer – one he doesn’t want to end any time soon.

Turn­ing out for a sev­enth suc­ces­sive Con­fer­ence North cam­paign with the Ram­blers, the old dog has again shown he has the old tricks to boot, sit­ting as the league’s top scorer with ten goals – all com­ing from penalty cor­ners.

Dubbed by many, in­clud­ing his own club, as the “best drag-flicker in the world”, Ghaz­an­far’s ac­tions have for­ever out­weighed his words in do­mes­tic hockey.

His lat­est strike was a 121st in just 73 Dee­side games, not a bad record for a cen­tre-half.

It’s a tally the man him­self ad­mits he can im­prove on – at least be­fore the stick is pried from his hand – with a coach­ing ca­reer wait­ing if and when he fi­nally calls time on a job, sport and hobby he has loved for decades.

“I have a lot of self-pride, and the day I deem I’m not use­ful for the team is the one when my hockey ca­reer ends,” he said.

“I don’t want any­one to tell me I’m not good enough. I’ll know bet­ter than most when the time is right for me.

“It’s some­thing I learned from Ryan Giggs – I’m a mas­sive Manch­ester United fan and the way his ca­reer went on was a mas­sive in­spi­ra­tion.

“It’s al­ways great to be top goalscorer, but from per­sonal opin­ion I need more and to be more self­ish!

“I’ve got a lot of league ex­pe­ri­ence now, but when your team puts you on that pedestal, you feel like you have to cash in on them.”

In­sis­tent his play­ing days still have plenty to of­fer, the Pun­jab- born star is keen to profit on a legacy that has al­ready taken him to FIH level four coach­ing.

And with a drag-flick that few in the mod­ern game could ever hope to repli­cate, it’s lit­tle won­der Ghaz­an­far is look­ing to in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion of hockey stars.

A prodigy of So­hail Ab­bas, the Ram­bler – who turns 39 next week – has been af­forded op­por­tu­ni­ties to feed off the world’s best, with his fel­low for­mer cap­tain boast­ing 348 in­ter­na­tional goals – the most in hockey.

Yet with a com­mod­ity ar­guably as rare as hen’s teeth in his ar­moury, Ghaz­an­far is adamant he can­not let the skill slip off the radar, des­per­ate to keep drag-flicks at the fore­front of fu­ture hockey minds.

He added: “So­hail’s records are sim­ply stag­ger­ing and there hasn’t re­ally been a drag-flicker reach­ing his tal­ents.

“I was very lucky to learn so much, flick­ing takes a lot of work and there’s no­body quite like him. We used to do 500 flicks ev­ery sin­gle day so to get to that level is down to the work you put in.

“It’s not been taken as prop­erly as it could have been in this coun­try – we have spe­cial­ist goal­keeper coaches, men­tal coaches, so maybe it’s a skill that needs to be tapped into more.

“It’s a po­ten­tial game-changer, an op­tion at any time and you need to be giv­ing your­self an op­por­tu­nity.

“I’ve played with some fan­tas­tic drag-flick­ers and I think it would be a waste if that tal­ent wasn’t used as it could, but it comes down to prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice and al­ways time work­ing in the gym.”

The Con­fer­ence North’s top scorer has helped Dee­side to fourth place af­ter ten games this cam­paign, al­ready two spots bet­ter off than last sea­son’s dis­play.

And in Andy Mitchell, for­mer league-win­ning player and coach with Can­nock, the Ch­ester-based club have also added pedi­gree to their back­room staff.

For Ghaz­an­far, it is the trade­mark of a side mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. He hopes his 265 in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ances can be the foun­da­tion for fur­ther Dee­side suc­cess.

“Ev­ery­one wants to fin­ish on top but re­al­is­ti­cally we’re look­ing to the top three so we’re in a solid enough po­si­tion, and with the way we’re play­ing now it’s more than achiev­able.

“We’ve grown so much, we’ve got a new coach in Andy who has a mas­sive back­ground and he’s been a big in­flu­ence in our pro­gres­sion.

“But I ad­mire ev­ery­one at the club, they’re all so nice and it’s a real fam­ily sys­tem to make the club one of the best I’ve ever been with.

“They look af­ter you in any and ev­ery way, from the play­ers up to the chair­man, and that makes a mas­sive dif­fer­ence to how you feel and how you play your hockey.”

I’m a mas­sive Manch­ester United fan and Ryan Giggs’ ca­reer has been a huge in­spi­ra­tion to me

PIC­TURE: PA Im­ages

Go­ing strong: Dee­side’s Ali Ghaz­an­far says he has no in­ten­tion of hang­ing up his stick just yet

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