Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - HTSPORTSMAX - (Thee writer is a ho­hock­eyy his­to­rian)

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


Beat Ar­gentina

League: Beat Spain


Beat Nether­lands

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.

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