Ramesh Patel Born 1953
Ramesh Patel had played a record 122 hockey tests for New Zealand when he retired in 1986, but choosing a highlight was not difficult. “That was July 30, 1976, when we beat Australia in the Olympic final at Montreal and won the gold medal,” he said.
There was only one problem for Patel. “That gold medal came quite early in my career, and I just assumed we’d do it again. Some of the Canterbury boys, like the Maister brothers and John Christensen, had been in the New Zealand team for years and they knew how special it was. They were euphoric.”
Patel played for New Zealand at three World Cups and three Olympics – it would have been four, but for the boycott of the 1980 Moscow games – but never experienced such heights again.
“I realised as I got older that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and I feel very fortunate to have been part of that team. Before the tournament I suppose I thought that if we could make the top four that would be a great plus.”
The final shaped as a disaster for Patel. He took a penalty stroke early in the match and put it over the top of the net. Some encouraging comments from his team-mates, a rousing half-time talk from coach Ross Gillespie, and Tony Ineson’s winning goal, helped to turn what could have been a black day for him into a magic occasion.
Patel had already had a memorable tournament. He scored the vital goal in the third period of extra time in the play-off against Spain to put New Zealand into the semi-finals against Holland.
In the semi-final, New Zealand came from a goal down to win 2-1 in what Patel judged to be the best performance by the test team during his career.
Patel was an equally talented junior cricketer and hockey player, making Auckland representative age teams in both sports. In 1971 he was chosen for the New Zealand Brabin Cup under-21 cricket team, along with future internationals Gary Troup, Brian McKechnie and Paul McEwan, but hockey won through - there was a tremendous family background in the sport.
He broke into the Auckland hockey team when he was just 17 and was soon promoted to the test side, as a left wing, just in time for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Until his retirement at the end of 1986, Patel was generally a guaranteed selection.
He might have become captain in 1982, but for an untimely knee injury, and instead he was vice-captain for several years. Patel was the first New Zealand hockey player – and possibly the first New Zealander in any sport - to play a century of tests.
He also played 201 games for Auckland, many with Ivan Armstrong as coach and in the company of fellow New Zealand representatives Arthur Parkin and Jeff Archibald. He captained Auckland for the last four years of his career, in each of which they won the national title.
Patel was a skilful player, and an especially strong dribbler. He had uncanny touch and ability to read a game.
Through the 1980s he did a good deal of coaching at junior level. He was a mathematics teacher at Auckland Grammar School and coached the hockey team there for nine years, during which they build an enviable record. He also had a spell working with the Auckland youth squad.
In 1988 he left teaching to become the New Zealand Hockey Federation’s development officer - he was one of the architects of the national hockey academy in the late 1980s. In 1989 he was appointed chief executive of New Zealand Hockey. He stayed with the organisation until 2010, when he was replaced by Hilary Poole, and had a final few months as a director.
Patel’s era in charge of national hockey was a pivotal time in the sport. The men’s and women’s national bodies had recently amalgamated, a process that required careful organisation. In addition, neither the men’s nor the women’s test teams were doing themselves justice and one of Patel’s goals was to ensure that they improved their world rankings.
He helped to put in place a comprehensive national coaching structure and the results followed.
One of Patel’s strengths has been that as a former player he has understood the need for administrators to communicate with players. He has become among New Zealand sport’s longest-serving administrators. Under Patel’s guidance, hockey has become a well-administered sport.
The 1976 Olympic hockey team was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.