Kids Corner

All photos of the young Sardars: by the very - justifiably! - proud mother, Manpreet Kaur Singh.


Footy in a Patka Down Under



Autumn is here and one can feel the winter setting in already!

That can only mean one thing for Aussie sports lovers - its footy season again.

The Australian obsession with sport is known the world over, but some things defy logic. Cricket, the other national obsession is a summer sport, in which players are fully kitted out in pants, full sleeved shirts, gloves and even jumpers ... a little overkill for summertime, one would think!

And then there is Australian Rules Football, the great winter sport, known simply as footy - where the players dress in the shortest possible shorts and sleeveless tops, braving the winter chill and the rain, kicking around a biconcave ball through tall free-standing poles at either end of a stadium!

The fashion police may raise an eyebrow or two at the incongruity of the dress code, but since when did fashion follow the weather pattern! But there is a definite method in this madness too - it gives young players the chance to try their hand at each of the two sports without a clash, and it gives their parents a clear guideline: it's cricket in summer, footy in winter.

My sons are like average Aussie kids as far as cricket goes: they want to bat like Adam Gilchrist, bowl like Brett Lee and dream of donning the baggy green one day - the ultimate honour of representing Australia in international cricket.

But when it comes to footy, they have an edge over the others. Not only do they have a footy team to barrack for (it's sacrilege not to belong to a team), they wear their team colours whenever possible and to top it all - they wear a matching patka with it, something the other Aussie kids can't do!

As I often explain to people who ask, that since we are Sikh by religion, the menfolk wrap elaborate turbans on their heads and boys wear a smaller version of it called the patka. They don't have to be of any specific colour and my boys specially enjoy making it an additional fashion accessory by wearing the exact colour of patka to match their clothes.

In fact my boys have patkas of every imaginable colour to complement whatever they have in their wardrobe. Over the last few years, the patka fashion has really taken off and we have been able to buy multi-coloured, tie-dyed, polka-dotted, chequered, printed and many designer patkas from Punjab, which the boys proudly wear to school everyday. The latest one to draw the most compliments at school was a bright pink patka printed with little white khandas.

But I digress - back to my sons and their unique edge with their footy gear.

The crowning glory came when they had a free dress day at school on Footy Grand Final Day and the kids had to dress up in their footy team colours.

Barracking for the Richmond Football Club (the Tigers), my boys not only wore black shorts and yellow t-shirts, but also a black-and-yellow patka to top it off!

Since that day, it has become the Richmond Tigers' patka. We've also started naming all the other patkas according to the footy team colours they represent!

So we have a maroon-and-blue Brisbane Lions patka, a black-and-white Magpies patka, a red-and-black Bombers patka, and so on. And no, we don't have a brown-and-yellow Hawks patka or a combination blue Carlton patka, because they are just losers - those Hawks and Carlton players!

Go Tigers!

But isn't it amazing how sports can bring people together and provide opportunities to break down barriers, both real and perceived. What is even more amazing is the simple logic with which children can merge their ethnic identity with that of their adopted country - in our case, the footy patkas make my sons proudly Sikh and quintessentially Australian too!

Perhaps if we were a little more childlike in our thinking, many of the world's problems would dissipate just as easily.

But moving on from the theme of footy patkas for a moment, there is, however, another link between Sikhs and the Australian Football League (AFL).

The first ever footy player of Indian origin to be drafted by any AFL team in Australia is ... you guessed it ... was a Sikh!

Twenty-eight-year-old Balraj Singh earned that unique distinction in 1999, when the Adelaide Crows signed him on and Balraj remained contracted with them for three years. Born in Waikerie, South Australia, the strapping 6'2" tall Singh was a natural at footy, which he started playing at the age of eight. Initially playing for his local club, he soon found his way to the district and state games, going on to earn a contract with the Crows as a teenager. Although he never actually got to play a footy match in Australia (he was in the reserves), but he did get to represent AFL in an international match in London, which he recalls as "an awesome experience."

Although no other youngster has followed Singh in his footsteps and no one of sub-continental origin has been drafted by an AFL team ever since, Singh thinks it's only a matter of time before we see more Sikh-Aussie youth attracted to the sport.

"It's a pity that no one else has made it to the elite level at footy yet, but I'm sure we won't have to wait for too long for that to happen. After all, footy is the national sport of Australia," he said.

So, here's hoping that another Sikh-Australian can follow in Balraj's footsteps and make it to any of the major AFL teams.

Secretly, I do hope that this time round, it's a dashing young lad wearing a brightly coloured footy patka too!


April 12, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Manjyot Kaur (New York City, U.S.A.), April 12, 2009, 4:53 PM.

Thanks for a fun article. When explaining the wearing of turbans by Sikhs to people who ask you about this practice, you might want to add that females also may choose to do so, as well as the menfolk. I hope your handsome sons always feel blessed and proud to sport their patkas, and, in the not-so-far-off future, their vividly colored turbans, too!

2: Mahinder Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), April 13, 2009, 3:13 AM.

Proud to be Sikh. The Patka rocks with the boys. Keep it up, boys. Sikhi is all about believing in yourself and the guidance of our Gurus and having fun along the way. Make way, Aus, the Sikhs are marching in, the good and fun way. Raaj Karega Khalsa ... the Sikhs will excel! A Happy Vaisakhi to all!

3: Simran Bhan  (Dubai, India ), April 14, 2009, 12:49 AM.

Wonderful seeing Avi and Ronnie in this article, with beautiful patkas on. It is a really good article. And great photos. B-o-o-a!

4: Gurveen Singh (Melbourne, Australia), April 14, 2009, 7:00 AM.

They're my brothers. And my Mum wrote this article. :)

5: Len Kenna & Crystal (Bundoora, Australia), April 17, 2009, 12:11 AM.

Footy was invented by cricketers who wanted to keep fit in the winter months. The out of shape ball is hard to pick up and you have to keep your eye on the ball because of its unpredictable bounce. This helps with batting and fielding. A number of test cricketers played professional football; they include Merv Hughes - national selector, fast bowler Max Walker and allrounder Keith Miller to name three. Shane Warne was a very good footballer but was not good enough to play professional football, so he played cricket. PS: We loved the photos.

6: Iqbal Singh Bhan (Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.), April 25, 2009, 11:23 PM.

What a wonderful article you wrote. Very well written and one gets the theme point because of the beautiful photos of the kids. They are really grown and look very handsome. We all must keep up with our traditions and strengths of Sikhism.

7: Tajinder Pal Singh (India), February 02, 2010, 6:22 AM.

It signifies and is a befitting reply to those who use living in the western World as an excuse to cut their kesh. The two Sikh boys show that they can do whatever they want as complete Khalsas.

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