INDIA’S ROAD TO GLORY
STORIES FROM THE GOLDEN RUN INDIA’S TWENTY MEMBER SQUAD
England, the undisputed hockey champions of the world by virtue of winning the first two Olympic gold medals at London 1908 and Antwerp 1920, developed cold feet when they learned that India had entered the 1928 Amsterdam Games.
The English had a close look at the silken-skilled Indians at the Folkestone Hockey Festival just prior to the Olympics and the spectre of humiliation at the hands of a colony prompted the inventors of modern hockey to withdraw and thereby preserve their pride.
India went on to win three pre-war Olympic hockey gold medals as the English kept away with pride a huge barrier. But there was no escape when the Olympics came calling in London 1948. They formed the British Hockey Board with four countries to collectively combat India. While their untested rival was pulling all its might, the developing scenario in India was quite opposite — depletion and division. India achieved freedom but it came at a cost — Partition and the exodus of Anglo-indians, the backbone of its hockey legacy.
Most players came from motley clubs like Brothers (Lahore), Spartan (Rawalpindi), Independents (Delhi), Lusitanians (Mumbai), Youngsters ( Lucknow), besides institutions and states. These clubs had players of every creed, region and religion. Partition shook everything up. Hockey players were no exception when a chunk of the population had to abandon property, flee homes and seek new settlements as lives were in disarray.
Undivided Punjab was then the king of Indian hockey. The province held the National Championship, Brothers club, Invitation Cup, Spartan club and Aga Khan Cup. Vast areas of the region had now become Pakistan.
There was a problemm hand. The winner’s troph could not be retrieved for nn year’s competitions! Only t Aga Khan organisers w lucky. The Maori Shiee given to National champioo was stuck with the Lahoo based Punjab Hockey Ass ciation, never returningg India.
Lahore and Lyallp based players like Keshh Dutt and Grahanandd Singh were stranded. Th were touring the counn with the Indian Hockk Federation (IHF) XI a then Sri Lanka midway 1947 when Partition p cipitated.
Their cities in flames, ththeirir famfamilieses advised them not to return. Stars like AIS Dara, who represented India at the 1936 Berlin Games, Abdul Aziz, Jamshed and others cried out of the next event, the East Africa tour, to avoid being part of an Indian team. People were still migrating, blood was being spilled and princely states were playing truant when it came to joining India (Kashmir, Junagarh and Hyderabad in particular).
The refugee influx and settlement were raging issues when hockey was sought to be kept alive by IHF head Naval Tata. All the good work the IHF had done to prepare for the Olympics until then — the Nationals, trials, new tournaments like Pentangular, national team tour of the country and abroad — came to a naught because of the dissipation of talent. They had to start everything anew and the process earnestly began with the Nationals in early 1948.
Parts of Punjab that remained with India (East Punjab) managed to put together a new team to defend the title in Mumbai, the team being a pale shadow of its past. And it told. East Punjab was eliminated in Round 2 itself. Only five players from the holders featured in the competition. Bhopal took Punjab’s place in the Nationals. They beat Bombay for top honours (1-0). Despite roping in stranded stars like Keshav Dutt, domicile changers Amir Kumar (Punjab) and RS Gentle (Delhi), Bombay failed in the final. Bhopal’s left winger Latif-ur-rahman, centre-forward Abdul Shakoor, defender Akhtar Hussain were outstanding and couldn’t be overlooked for a strong Indian team.
When the team for London was finalised it looked like any other team of the past -- players from every walk, hue, creed and religion were present. Despite communal undercurrents and disharmony that was sweeping the subcontinent, the Indian team was not impacted. It comprised Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Anglo-indians and Sikhs. Such a merit-oriented team was destined to make history. And London was the setting.
The problem IHF faced was the lack of funds. The requirement was a princely sum of ~3 lakh. Princes, kings, Nawabs, Diwans, Pramukh and the ruling class contributed substantially in the past to Indian hockey campaigns that ended in glory at three Olympics (1928, 1932, 1936). Having lost their clout and influence in the newly i ndependent nation, funds from them were not forthcoming. IHF, meanwhile, decided to send the team by air to circumvent the problem of losing ‘all the gains made in the first ever three-week Mumbai camp in the 20-day travel by ship’.
Costs escalated. Gates, grants and fee from provincial hockey associations, private donations, the Cooperage Ball and other endeavours helped the cause. Every hardship the IHF had, every pain the players endured paid dividends. The combined might of four countries broke Pakistan (in the semis) but fell before India.
Amid full stands at the Wembley Stadium, 70 years ago on this day, it became clear — Indian hockey was class apart, they were true masters of the game they nurtured and modernised.
Three days later, the team celebrated the first anniversary of India’s independence with unbounded joy lined by Olymppic gold. League: Beat Austria
League: Beat Spain
Final: Beat Great Britain Known as the ‘flying queen’, Ray Salway was Tata Air’s chief air hostess & a popular figure in Bombay hockey circle. She travelled in the flight that carried the team to London where the players jostled to get close to her. The gossip was that she wanted to travel with the players. The Indian Olympic contingent was housed in Richmond Park on arrival. Later, they shifted to a school premises. The move was resented by Indian Olympic Association officials. Some players felt it was because of the wrestling contingent, which was ‘dirtying the toilets’. Abdul Shakoor was a great forward. He scored the only goal that decided the National Championships crown in 1948. But he was not selected for London. His province (Bhopal) argued and got the nod to send him. He went but never got to play. Dejected, he moved to Pakistan. Manager AC Chatterjee was strict about everything during the two-month long tour. The liberal Anglo-indian and Goan players in the team hated him. When they returned by ship, one of them went into Chatterjee’s room, stole all valuables and threw them into the sea, reducing him to tears. Unlike nowadays, only those who played at least a match used to get an Olympic medal then. A player, who didn’t play any match, had an idea. He stole the jersey of another and played a game, making himself eligible for the elusive Games medal.
Balbir Singh scored two of India’s four goals in the 1948 final. In ndia forward Balbir Singh (2R) attempts a to score a goal during the London L Olympics final vs Great Britain B at Wembley Stadium.
HT’S front page on August 13, 1948, reporting India’s victory. Spain goalkeeper Rafael Ruiz attempts to thwart India’s Grahanandan Singh during a group game. India won 20.