Friday 29 August 2014


Carrying on his duty as a 'Naik' in the Indian army, Dhyan Chand participated in the tournaments such as Beighton Cup and Lakshmibilas Cup, which were held annually. Representing Jhansi Heroes, a club which he founded along with his other 'hockey' enthusiasts was a regular in winning these prestigious trophies at that time.

In December 1934, IHF (Indian Hockey Federation) had decided to send the Indian team for a tour of New Zealand for the upcoming year. Naturally, Dhyan Chand was selected and he was thrilled by this prospect as it brought back fond memories of his 1926 tour. A team composed mostly of youngsters were selected with Behram Doctor and Pankaj Gupta entrusted with the job of being the managers.

The team assembled in Madras on April 13, 1935 where the first match of the tour was played. Then the team left for Colombo where they played a further two exhibition matches. Finally on April 17, the Indian team left for Fremantle, Australia on the S.S. Largs Bay of the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line. Indian hockey was still struggling to put together basic funds and hence could not afford travel through air.

While the destination was New Zealand; the prospects of Indian hockey team visiting Australia, many of their state hockey associations requested over wire whether they could play few matches in major Australian cities. The same was informed to the New Zealand authorities and they gave the green signal for the Indian team to play in Australia before arriving in New Zealand.

On April 27, the Indian team landed in Perth, Western Australia. A hockey match and followed by a reception from the local authorities were soon to be the norm for these players. After Perth, it was time to visit the land of Sir Donald Bradman, Adelaide.

In Adelaide, the mayor of the city gave a reception to the Indian team. During that occasion, Pankaj Gupta requested if he could arrange for the team to meet Don Bradman, who was then in the city. Whose fortune was it? Dhyan Chand meeting Don Bradman or the other way around? Bradman visited the Indian team at the City Hall and posed for a photograph too! The same evening, Bradman witnessed his first ever hockey match which saw Indians score a thumping win against a South Australia XI 10-1.I bet he would have enjoyed for sure; as the goal scoring spree matched Bradman's knack of scoring runs.

Next stop was Melbourne and then Sydney before the team left for Wellington on May 13. During that tour the Indian team were welcomed by the Maoris at Kaiti. After giving a traditional haka welcome, Maoris enquired if a friendly match with All-Maori XI was a possibility. A match with Maoris was scheduled at the end of the tour. On that occasion, Maoris presented the Indian team with a carved shield - which became the trophy for the Inter-Provincial Championship in India until partition and then it went to Pakistan and never returned. The proprietors of The Hindu and Sport & Pastime, presented a new trophy - the Rangaswami Memorial Cup during the 1951 championship in Chennai.

The tour to down under was rounded off with a hurried match against the Australian team which the Indians won comfortably 12-0. Three more matches in Ceylon, two more in Chennai and the 1935 tour finally culminated on September 10.

A total of 48 matches were played on that tour with India scoring 584 goals and conceding only 40 goals. Dhyan Chand scored 201 goals from 43 matches he played. Not surprisingly, India won all its 48 matches on that grand tour.

To defend the Olympic gold medal, the IHF did not hesitate much in deciding to send a team for the 1936 Olympics. The same norm like the previous two editions were followed and Bengal was the automatic choice for hosting the Inter-Provincial championships - which also served as a platform for selecting the Olympic team. Dhyan Chand once again did not take part as the army and IHF felt he had done enough to be in the team. This fact bothered Dhyan Chand and he could not do anything about it.

Thirteen teams took part in the championships. After a series of matches, the final showdown was between Bengal and Manavadar. Bengal won the close game 1-0 and took the Maori shield - which now served as the official trophy for the winners. Immediately after the tournament, the selection panel from IHF chose 18 players. IHF President Sir Jagadish Prasad (Member, Viceroy's Commission) threw in his hat and chose Dhyan Chand as the captain. He was to be ably supported by Jagannath as the manager and Pankaj Gupta as the assistant manager. And after having been a pivot in the previous two editions, Dhyan Chand finally got his due - a simple man with humble background was now given the task to lead the Indian team at the Olympics. His dream is no longer a dream!

The grand tour began with a match against Delhi on June 16, a game which the Olympic team lost by 4 goals to one. Was this the right team? or was it just one-off day similar to the match which was played against Bombay prior to the team's departure to Amsterdam?

More so for Dhyan Chand, who did not take this defeat easily and pondered whether India would lose under his captaincy at the Olympics. The team then won their matches at Jhansi, Bhopal, Chennai, Bangalore and in Mumbai before setting foot on the P&O line Ranpura on June 27.   

As the ship sailed on the Arabian sea, it was tough on some of the new players who were not used to the roughness of the sea and plus it was the monsoon season. The journey was to Marseilles with a stopover at Malta. From Marseilles, the team had to take a train to Paris, where the squad spent a day visiting some of the marvels Paris is well-known for.

A night train to Berlin from Paris on a non-sleeping third class seats was the way the Olympic gold medallists and the defending champions reached the capital city of Germany. From then on, the hospitality of the organising committee ensured the Indian players were well looked after. Unlike the temporary structures used at LA, the Olympic village at this edition was a pure steel and brick affair.

It was 1936 and Adolf Hitler was just a few years away from unleashing his dark side. He used Olympics to demonstrate to the world the progress Germany had made and showcase its power of the military regime. People with military attire were everywhere; be it Hermann Goering or Dr. Goebbel or the German athletes - majority of them participating came from the army.

On July 17 the Indian team faced a German international side as a part of their practice match. A shock defeat at the hands of the host, a result which came as a surprise. How well have the German side had made great strides in hockey. Dhyan Chand and the two managers sat and discussed the line-up and seeing the poor form of India's inside-right, an SOS was sent to IHF to draft in a replacement player in place of Masood. Dara was sent and he only reached Berlin on the day of their penultimate match. This replacement was a contingency plan to tackle the German side should they meet India in the finals. Indian team played another seven matches before taking the Olympic field and won these games without any hiccups.

First match against Hungary - result 4-0. Next up USA and this time the defence of the American team was far better than the previous edition as they lost the match 0-7. Two matches and two wins - surely it was not making headlines. Indians were expected to win every match they played; the only question remained by how many goals!

Japan fought hard and kept the score 0-0 for the first twenty minutes. Then the goals came in a spree and the final score went in India's favour 9-0. Next up was France, a calk walk if you may call it! 10-0 and India into the finals and this time against Germany.

The finals of the clash between the best two hockey teams was postponed as a result of rain. With a bad pitch and scars from the earlier defeat to the German side, the Indian team wasted no time in requesting for the finals to be played next day. Last day of the Olympics, these two teams clashed on the morning of 15 August, a date which is forever associated with India and back then it was just another day.

In front of the 40,000 people and against a confident and well-matched German side, the battle was on. Germany adopted India's tactics of short passes which helped them to keep the score down to 0-1 at half-time. The last half saw Indians unleash an all-out attack on the Germans and score 7 goals. Germans pulled one back - the only goal they managed to score in the finals and it also was the only goal conceded by the Indian team in the tournament. Dhyan Chand scored yet another hatrick and this time he led India for a third successive Olympic gold medal.

A special correspondent from the Hindu summed had to say this - "The game was played at a fast pace and was packed with thrilling incidents. The Germans undercut and lifted the ball, but the Indian team countered with brilliant half-volleying and amazing long shots. Dhyan Chand discarded his spiked shoes and stockings and played with bare legs and rubber soles and became speedier in the second half." 
                                                         Indian team for the 1936 Olympics                                    Image Courtesy - The Hindu 

Growing up this story was a thing of a legend. I am not sure if there is any substance to it. The story goes this way that Hitler amazed by Dhyan Chand's play offered him a big post in his army if he accepted to play for Germany. Now I wonder, why on earth will Hitler do such a thing? But again, its Hitler!

As far I can track or what I have read from Dhyan Chand's autobiography, there is no mention of this story. Perhaps, he might have given this offer in private and the matter remained that way. Hitler was present at the victory ceremony and at the grand banquet which was held in the Deustche Hall right after the closing ceremony. Dhyan Chand along with his comrades left the banquet early as they had to board the train to commence their post-Olympic tour of the Continent.

The last of the tour match was played in Zürich on a gravel ground lit by floodlights. On September 17, the team on board the P&O steamer Strathmore sailing to Mumbai. The heroes were on their way home and what kind of reception would they get this time around? In the railway stations of Germany there were many enthusiasts gathered to greet the Indian players who had to be cordoned by volunteers. Imagine what would be the state in India. The Ballard Pier unlike the first time had just two representatives - Behram Doctor from Bombay Hockey Association and Mukherjee from Bombay Olympic Association. And the heroes went on with their schedule and played out their remaining matches. In total, the 1936 tour comprised out of 39 matches. 37 wins and just two defeats (Delhi XI and German XI ).

Dhyan Chand continued playing hockey and his promotions within the army came frequently. Right after the Olympics, he was made an 'Other Rank' and in 1938 as a Jamadar. WW II curtailed his international hockey career and more so the Olympics. He became a Lieutenant in 1943 and a Captain, a year after India got its independence. He played his final match in April 1949 at the age of 44 and many claim he still was in top form that day. In 1956, at the age of 51, he finally retired from the army with the rank of Major. Indian hockey team in 1956 had won its sixth gold medal - six in a row from Amsterdam till Melbourne. In present day India, Dhyan Chand's birthday (29 August) is celebrated as National Sports Day.

Dhyan Chand taught hockey post retirement at several places and on 3 December 1979 he was gone. A few months later, the Indian hockey team won its last gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. And since then the team has never finished above fifth.

Internal politics, power struggles, I vs. the team, narrow mindedness and the list goes on. I believe it is an insult that so far Indian hockey has not been able to adapt to the modern requirements. There was a time when all the teams in the world turned to India and even copied its style to play better.

And now, where have we headed for and whom should we turn to?  

Thursday 28 August 2014


The selection to host the tenth Olympic Games was taken at the 23rd IOC session at Rome in 1923, a good nine years before the event. Los Angeles in United States was given the honour as no other cities made a bid to host the Games. From India's perspective, travelling to Los Angeles would involve twice the cost than it did to travel to Amsterdam.
A lot of critics pointed out since a lot of teams were not taking part at the Olympics, was there any point in sending a hockey team all the way to LA, spending a lot of money? The IHF under the new administration of M. Hayman and Pankaj Gupta were firm in sending a team to LA and to defend the Olympic title.

A selection trail to select the team bound for LA was organised in Kolkata. Unlike the previous time, Dhyan Chand was not given any permission to take part in the selection trial. He was now part of the Punjab Regiment and the Army sports board felt he should be an automatic choice to play for India. Moreover, the army sports board no longer presided over IHF - it was now down to civilians and this matter of Dhyan Chand did not create any fuss. Dhyan Chand felt he was given a royal treatment and had no choice but to accept the orders while his teammates from the winning squad played in the inter-provincial tournaments for a place to play in LA.

One must remember, India was a good decade and a half away from independence. Funds exclusively for sports and for teams touring abroad was uncommon. Back then in 1932, a lot of influential Indians were busy involving themselves in the freedom movement. While IHF was looking for funds, backing from one of these Indians and namely Mahatma Gandhi would spark up the interest and pave the way for receiving funds from banks or donors.

Charles Newham in his capacity as a journalist was asked by IHF to contact Mahatma Gandhi and tell him about the hockey team and their desire to compete at the upcoming Olympics. Mahatma was busy with his political activities and Newham, with great difficulty managed to reach him and explain him the situation from IHF's perspective. All he heard back from Mahatma was - 'What is hockey'?

Mission unsuccessful. a crest-fallen Newham returned back with no success. It was left to Hayman and Pankaj Gupta to convince banks for a loan and they finally managed to get a loan from Punjab National Bank in Kolkata.

With IHF left to themselves in arranging for the money, they came with a lot of ideas to generate funds. One such idea was to play a lot of games at selected centres till they reached LA via Pacific Ocean. For their return, Pankaj Gupta came up with an idea and suggested players that few matches will be arranged post the Olympics in the Europe continent which would generate money to pay back the loan.
All players agreed with the idea of playing in Europe and were prepared to forgo their daily non-playing allowances of £2 per week while on tour in Europe. Instead of a simple return fare ticket, all players had round-the-world tickets. Onward via Pacific and return via Atlantic.

In a repeat of 1928, Bengal was again trusted with the task of creating a financial success out of the 1932 inter-provincial tournament. Ten teams (Bengal, Sindh, Delhi, Gwalior, Mumbai, Rajputana, United Provinces, Bihar & Orissa, Punjab and Railways) as against five in 1928 took part and an exhibition match was held to satisfy the provinces of Bundelkhand and Manavadar which Manavadar won 3-1. Punjab beat Bengal 2-0 in the finals. A further two matches were held and a final decision was made based on these performances. Bengal Hockey Association contributed an amount close to 21,000 INR for the Olympic journey and expenses.

With more teams participating and with Olympic win at stake, each association tried to squeeze in their player. Punjab was represented heavily with seven players while Bengal had just two players with rest coming from either Mumbai, Railways or UP. Along with Dhyan Chand; Richard Allen, Leslie Hammond and Eric Pinniger were the only members who had earlier participated in the 1928 Olympics.

This 15 member squad was headed by Lal Shah Bokhari, a player from Punjab who after partition held an important position in the External Affairs Ministry of Pakistan government and was posted in diplomatic roles in foreign countries. Eric Pinniger who had captained the team at the latter stages in the previous edition was unimpressed with this decision. If not for timely intervention from Charles Newham, Eric Pinniger would not have travelled with the squad.

G.D Sondhi, the then honorary secretary of Indian Olympic Association was chosen as the manager. He alongside his wife travelled separately, stayed separately and left players on their own post Olympics in Europe. Though, Sondhi represented well in social functions, his role as a manager is something I would question, if I were to be present then! Luckily, the team had Pankaj Gupta as their assistant manager. 
       Indian team for the 1932 Olympics, Image Courtesy - Bharatiya Hockey

May 14, 1932 - most of the Olympic bound players assembled in Bhopal. In the next few days, a series of matches were held as a part of fund-raising through gate receipts. Hockey matches were played with the local teams at Bhopal, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kobe, Tokyo where the Indian team registered wins in all their matches.
From Yokohama (June 24th 1932) the players left for the Olympics. A lot of Olympic passengers took the same boat (Tatsuta Maru) and the ship resembled a miniature stadium with practice matches on the top deck had Indians playing hockey. 100m running course, swimming pool gave enough athletes some much needed practice during this journey.
In total, India's Olympic contingent had N.C Malik (swimming); Sutton, Venieux and Mehr Chand (Athletics) and the hockey team represented India out of 400 million population! The contingent disembarked in San Pedro, California and then further 10 miles ride to Los Angeles was arranged by the organising committee.
Olympic village made its appearance for the first time - temporary cottages with each having two rooms with a small toilet. Community dining hall and common bathrooms with a separate provision for women as they were not allowed to enter this Olympic village.

A lot of Americans had never seen field hockey before. Ice-hockey remained the only knowledge of hockey to most Americans. Wherever little hockey was played, it was due to the presence of Englishmen and women; mostly women players from Philadelphia. A local Los Angeles daily wrote:

"All the colour, glamour and pageantry of Rudyard Kipling's India might well have found its incarnation in the personnel of the Indian hockey team, which is to represent the land of Mahatma Gandhi.
So agile are the members of the team that they can run the full length of the hockey field, juggling a small wooden ball with the flat of a hockey stick. One who knows nothing of the rigours of hockey should take a warning here. Don't get in the line of fire on a hockey field, for the hockey ball, driven by a forehand or a backhand, is almost as deadly and as accurate as a cannon ball.
Should one doubt this, just let them watch the Indian players in their daily practice on the turf of the University."

In absence of US President Herbert Hoover, the Games were officially declared open by vice-president Charles Curtis. Indian clothing comprised of brown shoes, white flannel trousers, a light blue blazer coat with Star of India monogram as the crest and Punjabi turban as the headgear got a loud applause from the crowd during the parade of the nations. Lal Shah Bokhari, captain of the hockey team carried the flag for India - a Union Jack flag with the Star of India embossed on it. 

                  At the parade of the nations, Indian contingent at LA 1932 Olympics    Image Courtesy - The Hindu 

On August 4 1932, India played their first match against Japan and won it easily 11-1. Yet, they were disappointed with the fact that, they had conceded a goal - a first for India in the Olympics. Dhyan Chand scored 4 goals.

Next up against USA, a week later and it was a goal feast. Indians won the match 24-1 with Dhyan Chand scoring 8 goals and his brother Roop Singh netting 10 goals. The lone goal by America was from Bodlington.
Three teams took part at the Olympics and India by a huge margin won the gold medal and thereby defended their 1928 title. All fifteen players who were selected took part in these two games and a happy contingent was prepared to leave USA on a high note.

A lot of Indians watched the match and some were generous enough to organise funds to the extent of $200 to meet the deficit of the Olympic fund.

The Indian contingent visited few of the touristic sites in California before they left for New York. During this journey, they relaxed by bathing at some of the famous salt lakes of Salt Lake City, played hockey at Omaha under floodlights and in Philadelphia before stopping at New York. Some more sightseeing before they took the boat 'Mauritania' which carried them to Southampton.

Like I had mentioned before, no interest was taken from the English hockey authorities to field in their team to play India. Instead, German Hockey Association offered generously to meet all the expenses on the Continent. The Indian team had a hectic schedule and played their matches against Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The quality of hockey was much better than the ones played at the Olympics.

While in Prague, the hockey team played a match against a women's team. With Hayman being the umpire, a lot of restrictions were imposed on the Indian team and most notably the Indian team ended up playing left-handed. Dhyan Chand was to excel here as well and a smitten young Czech girl, a hockey enthusiast told him - 'he was an angel' and made many attempts were made by her to kiss him post match. A shy guy that he was refused each time! This incident was also part of the tour report written by Hayman.

From Budapest, the team left for Naples and en route they halted at Vienna, Florence, Rome and finally the team boarded the ship from Naples to Colombo on September 18, 1932.

They played few matches in Colombo before they left for Chennai, then to Mumbai, Delhi and finally to Lahore where they went separate ways on October 16. All these matches were played to repay the expenses of the trip and they still ended up with a deficit of more than 3,000 INR - which was taken care by Hayman.

The team in total played a total of 37 matches in this five-month trip scored 338 goals and conceded just 34 goals. Dhyan Chand alone accounted for 133 goals! It was time for him to go back to this home town, Jhansi where he had series of receptions hosted by his friends and well-wishers.

Hockey was represented poorly at the 1932 Olympics with just three nations taking part. If India would have not done this long journey, would the status of hockey still remained as an Olympic sport or would it have been scrapped by the IOC following a poor turnout?

From Indian point of view, it costed them a lot - but the hockey fraternity internationally benefitted by this tour of India, where they not only saw Indian winning the Olympic gold medal, they also witnessed the demonstration of this skilful sport.

Dhyan Chand was now ranked Naik in the  Indian army and was offered a lucrative civilian job with the railways as Hayman, president of IHF was also a senior member in the railway board. Dhyan Chand was caught in two minds and decided to stick with the army after being assured by the Army General personally that he would be looked after well.

In the next part of the series chronicles the events that Dhyan Chand and the Indian hockey fraternity had to endure in their quest to defend their Olympic title amidst the hoopla of Nazi regime in Berlin. 

Wednesday 27 August 2014


I write this as a memoir to Major Dhyan Chand who remains the best hockey player the sport has ever produced. He was instrumental in India's first three gold medals at field hockey and to capture the hearts of many a fans globally. Be it in New Zealand, or continental Europe, in Americas or in Asia - he played the sport with such talent, it was not surprising India naming hockey as its national sport post independence.

To begin with, hockey was not a straight forward choice he had to make growing up. In fact, if one thing was certain, it was joining Army and that he did. His father was with the army and so too his elder brother. Growing up, hockey to him was merely a sport which he played outdoors with his friends occasionally as he put it in his autobiography - 'for the fun of it'.

By the time he was seventeen years of age, he had enrolled himself as a Sepoy with the First Brahmin regiment in Delhi. That was in 1922 and six years separated him and India's first Olympic gold medal. It was a long shot as Summer Olympics had resumed just two years prior (1920 Antwerp Games) after the World War I and Winter Olympics had not even started. Without any formal education he started his career with the Army as a Sepoy and 34 years later he would retire from the services as a 'Major'. And if not for field hockey, he would have been just another 'jawan' whose story would not have seen the light.

It was by accident Dhyan Chand encountered Bale Tiwari  - who then was a Subdedar-Major in the army and a keen hockey enthusiast. Luck has it, hockey remained the only outdoor sport which was played by the first Brahmin regiment. Bale Tiwari initiated Dhyan Chand into playing this sport and thereby became his first mentor so to speak. There were no restrictions on the play times; they played whenever they found time. An aloof individual who seldom socialised outside the hockey field, Dhyan Chand expressed himself the best with his hockey stick and his play - a trait which remained with him throughout his life. His seniors took good notice of his play and his big break came when he was selected to play for his regiment at the annual military tournament in Delhi.

Dhyan Chand's regiment won and since then his position as a centre-forward never came under threat. Bale Tiwari taught him two important lessons - 'Never to dribble for a long time and keep passing the ball as one has no right to keep the ball to himself' and 'Marksmanship at the goal'. These two advices served him in good stead as he performed remarkably well in the years leading up to 1926 when his first international call came about.

Dhyan Chand had restricted himself in playing hockey in army tournaments and his first trip abroad was to New Zealand representing the Indian Army. The tournament was more seen as an extension of military expedition than a friendly tour. He was an 'Other Rank' by then and had many of his mates from the same cadre who accompanied him on the tour.

They played near to flawless games in the three months they spent in New Zealand travelling to many places and leaving a everlasting impression of the way Indian hockey was played. Dhyan Chand emerged out as a champion and was feted in many a places and parties during the tour. In total, the team played 21 matches winning 18 of them, losing just one with the other two games ending in a draw. A total of 192 goals were scored and a mere 24 goals were conceded!

At the end of the tour, Dhyan Chand was promoted to the rank of Lance-Naik. Around this time in 1926, an association of hockey was formed in India. The IHF (Indian Hockey Federation) took no time to persuade IOC to reinstate the sport of hockey at the Olympics. Hockey was scrapped for the 1924 Olympics edition and there was uncertainty hovering many enthusiasts if hockey would ever be included at the Olympics. But there were other questions which had to be answered. If India were to send a team to the Olympics, will the civilian team include men from the army? Dhyanchand until then had never played for any civilian team and this he feared - should not play against him when the Olympic team was to be considered. Those initial fears were brushed aside as the president of the IHF happened to be Major Burn-Murdoch.

India's request to participate at the Olympics was accepted by the IOC and thus began a grand process of selecting the team bound for Amsterdam. The IHF had these worries - whom to select from the very few provincial teams that were available? and what would be the manner of selection. In the end, IHF decided to hold selection trials in Kolkata - as the crowd always turned in good numbers be it for any sport. And other reason being, the Bengal Hockey Association remains the oldest hockey association in India established in 1908 and many of the provincial hockey associations only came into existence after 1926.

Five teams namely - Punjab, United Provinces (UP), Bengal, Rajputana and Central Provinces took part in this tournament which also served as a selection trial for the selectors. Kolkata hosted the tournament. Dhyan Chand on the basis of his birth was asked to play for UP and he was as nervous as any player could be for many reasons, with one being; he was playing for a civilian club with many unknown faces.

Going into the first match he was visibly nervous as many selectors eyes were on him and wondered whether an army man would fit into a civilian team? Dhyan Chand played the game the way he knew - displaying the skills of irresistible variety which included dribbling, moving past the opponents with ease, giving prudent passes to his teammates and scoring goals whenever opportunities came along. Then came the finals which the UP team won with ease. The Statesman of Kolkata wrote - "The United Provinces were the most impressive side of the five teams which have taken part in the tournament, and they fully deserved their success. UP won the final virtually in the first seven minutes when they scored two goals."
Thus on 16th February 1928, history was created by the United Provinces team as they became the winners of the first national hockey tournament. Few players from the winning team would also be part of the historic team which won the Olympic gold: Dhyan Chand (forward), George Marthins (forward), Frederic Seaman (forward), William Goodsir-Cullen (half-back) and Leslie Hammond (back).

The difference between players who took part in the inter-provincial tournament were small and often negligible. Yet, there were decisions that had to be made to select a team of players who would represent India at the Olympics. A further two matches were held. IHF XI vs. Central Provinces (as they had been knocked out in the first match) on the same day as the finals. The second game was played on the next day between Probables and Possibles.

Very next day, a provisional Olympic team was supposed to be announced, only to be delayed by another match between Probables and Rest of India. The two selectors Major Burn-Murdoch and Colonel G.P.W. Hill had a tough few days and it was decided that only thirteen players would be chosen from the list of players available.

A few hockey players were already in England studying and representing the university in hockey. Jaipal Singh, a full-back player for Oxford University was a natural choice to captain the side and were to join the squad in England. A. B. Rosser, a founding member of IHF and the secretary of Bengal Hockey was a natural choice for the post of the manager. 
                                           The Indian hockey team selected for the 1928 Olympics                      Image Courtesy: The Hindu
Owing to funds shortage, only eleven players were guaranteed to take the boat. Bombay, Madras and Burma all turned a deaf ear when an appeal was made to raise the funds. The entourage needed 15,000 INR and two players namely Shaukat Ali of Bengal and R.A Norris of CP were sidelined as a result of it. Bengal Hockey Association stepped in again and ensured funds were raised and the team of thirteen players were set to make their journey.

Also before embarking on this historic journey, the top governors from IHF had a meeting with the players taking their points of view on continuing the national championship event. Players were encouraged to give their views and this resulted in having a national championship tournament every two years at a different venue. The second edition was decided to be held in Lahore. When compared to today's situation, administrators seldom interact with current hockey players which explains the pathetic state the sport is in at the moment when compared with the golden years of Indian hockey.

The team selected for the Olympics assembled in Mumbai on March 8th 1928. They played a match against Bombay XI - which they lost. Not a good omen for their long journey ahead, however no issues were created. On board the P&O Kaiser-i-Hind, the players were given a quiet send-off. 

Just three persons bid them god-speed at the Ballard Pier which included the IHF President and Vice-President and a journalist S. Bhattacharjee. 

Major Burn-Murdoch, a pioneer who will be remembered for his work to promote hockey in India was responsible for Indian hockey's first overseas tour in 1926, formation of IHF and for sending the team to Amsterdam for the Olympics. Charles. E. Newham, the Vice-President was a journalist by profession and was the President of Punjab Hockey Association. He was also the editor of Military Gazette, Lahore and later edited 'The Pioneer' in Allahabad.

The journey which started from Mumbai had to pass many places en route to London. The voyage passing through Aden, Port Said through the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal. The weather changes from the tropical zone to the temperate zone was foreign to most players. Then came the Bay of Biscay, rounding the Cape of Gibraltar - known for this rough seas affected these players with sea sickness. Dhyan Chand kept a serious watch on his colleagues throughout the journey. On March 30th, 1928 the ship dropped anchor at Tilbury Docks, London.

It was beginning of the spring season in London, so it was still wet and cold - a different kind of weather something which Indian players were unaccustomed to. Barring few representatives from Britain's hockey fraternity there were hardly many members from the press. After all, this was the hockey team from India, how relevant were they?

Indian team played 11 matches in England. The first match was played on a soggy ground as a result of heavy rains and Indian players had no footwear to cope with the English conditions. They lost their first game against Combined Services team 1-2. The next ten matches featured teams which at the best were second best. The British hockey authorities repeatedly refused to field in their international team and by the way Indians started scoring and winning - the refusal to field an international team became firmer. 

At the Folkestone Festival, Indian team played Hockey Association XI (included 9 international players) which they won 4-0 comfortably. In fact, after the Folkestone defeat, many rumours persisted that England was scared of losing to India and hence withdrew from the Olympic event.

And the legend goes, as long as India remained a colony of Britain, they never participated in the Olympic hockey event or played any international hockey match.

Dhyan Chand never had an opportunity to play against the colonial masters, who were responsible to create the culture of hockey in India!

So after losing the first match, the rest of the ten matches yielded in nine victories and one draw. The Indian team and in particular Dhyan Chand was at the receiving end of some praise and kind words from the English press and some even went on to call him the 'Hockey Wizard' and 'human eel'.

Jaipal Singh, S M Yusuf and Nawab of Pataudi. Sr played few games with the Indian team with the former two joining the squad for the Olympics.
Bye bye London and hello Amsterdam. The hockey team landed the shores of Holland on 24th April 1928. The first match was scheduled for 17th May and in between they managed to play four practice games in Netherlands, two in Germany and one in Belgium. The party travelled from Amsterdam to Arnheim and then to Hague winning each of the matches by a margin in excess of seven goals.

Then they travelled to Hannover in Germany and won the game 10-0 and defeated Berlin XI in Berlin 5-1. And while on their way back to Amsterdam, they stopped at Brussels, played a game against a Brussels team and won by a score of 10-2. These games not only provided the team much required match practice - but also provided enough time for all the players to get used to the continental conditions.

The grass on the turf was also not properly trimmed which provided with few set of challenges as the ball slowed to the flick and push play of the Indians as compared to the hit and run technique of their opponents.

Finally, the day had arrived when the entire Indian team could go and realise their dreams of winning the Olympic gold. The first step was to win the round games and then the semi-finals and in the end, the finals.

Who would have give these Indians as favourites except for the teams who watched them play? The first game was against Austria. India winning 6-0 with Dhyan Chand scoring 4 goals. Next up was Belgium, the very next day and quite comfortably Indian won that game 9-0. In the next match against Denmark, the goals continued to flourish from the sticks of the Indian forwards as they won 5-0 and a place in the semi-finals. Switzerland was swept away 6-0 by India and thereby stormed their way into the finals.

The crowd gathered in huge numbers as the hosts were the other finalist. Indians had few players missing, the likes of Feroze Khan, Shaukat Ali and Kher Singh who were sick and Jaipal Singh was removed as the captain for the finals owing to political and with hints of racism. Eric Pinniger, the vice-captain filled the mantle to lead the side.  Yes, the team manager was bullied by ex- Indian Army men in England from the beginning of the tour and they might have had a big role in this sudden ouster of Jaipal Singh.

Dhyan Chand was running with high temperature which persisted throughout the game. But he was an army man, brought up in tougher conditions. He was a soldier and he was playing for his country and the manager had just one simple message - Do or Die.

Indian team victorious by three goals to nil against the hosts thereby winning their first Olympic gold medal. Richard Allen, the goal keeper did not concede a single goal in the entire five matches which saw the Indian team rake up 29 goals out of which Dhyan Chand contributed 14 goals including the hatrick in the finals.

Two days later on 28th May, the team was felicitated with the Olympic gold medals. It was a pity the hockey games were held in May - a good two months prior to the Olympic opening ceremony and other events. Notably, the Olympic atmosphere was missing and India's win provided just the right start for the 1928 edition.

If there were three who waved goodbyes in March, there were sea of heads welcoming their heroes on their return. A triumphant homecoming for the deserving champions given by the Mumbai hockey fraternity which dispelled all the apprehensions team had.

Mayor of Mumbai Dr. G.V Deshmukh and along with representatives of Indian political circles were among the cream guests which received the team. This grand reception was ended by a hockey match against Western Hockey Association XI (which had won just before the departure). This time the scenario was different, the Olympic team was oozing with confidence. They were not just the Indian Olympic team, they were the current Olympic champions. The Indian team won 6-1 and aptly avenged their defeat of March 4th match which was held before they left for Amsterdam.


The win was possible with the help of many people at many junctures in the past few years leading to and during the tournament. One name was highlighted repeatedly for being the glue for binding the rest of the team in winning those games quite comfortably. 

Dhyan Chand would continue his remarkable journey with Indian hockey as he was instrumental once again for India's gold at the next edition in Los Angeles - which is covered in my next article.  

Friday 22 August 2014


Michael Schumacher making his debut in 1991 Belgian GP 
If there is one place I wish to be this weekend, it has to be Spa in Belgium. The Formula One post the summer break commences here and one of my dreams is yet to be fulfilled. Maybe, next year!
My favourite circuit in F1 and my favourite driver had many tales; with each race being a chapter of a romantic book. Every race had something to offer for the fans and there was never a dull moment when Schumacher was driving around Spa.

Growing up this circuit provided some of the outstanding races I had witnessed or read. The one that comes to my mind is the overtaking of Mika Hakkinen over Michael Schumacher with Ricardo Zonta in between. That was a breathtaking manoeuvre!

People who have followed F1 since twenty years will remember a young German making his debut in 1991 with Jordan. To put it simply, he was lucky to have got the drive at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. It was possible due to the untimely arrest of the then Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot - who was taken over by the London police for spraying CS gas after an altercation with the cab driver. This paved the way for Michael Schumacher. He never raced at Spa before and all he managed to do was cycle around the circuit before the qualifying and started the race from seventh! and that said it all.

To manage a seventh place in a circuit which demands skill, concentration and talent, it was clearly evident Michael Schumacher was here to stay. He was not that lucky to complete a lap in the race and had to retire owing to a clutch failure. But he had done enough to secure a seat with Benetton from the very next race. And the rest is...... 

1st of his 91 victories - 1992 Belgian GP 
A year's wait and finally he was on the top step of the podium. The 1992 Belgian GP turned out be his 1st of 91 victories in F1. He came agonisingly close to finish on top in 1993; in 1994 he was disqualified for gaining an illegal aerodynamic advantage after having finished 1st. The post race scrutiny went against and he was stripped off the victory as his Benetton was found to have excessive wear on the car's skid block.

94 Belgian GP - His first place was stripped
A 10mm wooden plank was placed to the underside of every car to reduce ground effect advantages, whilst also forcing an increase in ride height. The wear on the plank up to 1mm was permitted by the end of the race. Quite simply, Michael Schumacher's Benetton had wear in excess of 1 mm. For F1 enthusiasts, it is interesting to note that - this rule is applicable even today.

1995 Belgian GP 

The romance with the circuit would continue as he claimed three more victories in a row from 1995 to 1997.

1996 Belgian GP 
In 1998, he looked set to claim his 5th Belgian GP title. In extreme wet weather conditions, he and David Coulthard had a contact which damaged Michael Schumacher's car and had to retire from the race. He was furious and was made to sit down with DC for close to two hours before they were seen shaking hands in public and for Michael Schumacher to move on.

Post the collision with DC at the 1998 Belgian GP 

And the miss - Michael Schumacher missed the bulk of second half of the 1999 season after he crashed rather nastily at the Becketts Complex corner in Silverstone. And this meant, he did not start the 1999 edition at Spa-Francorchamps. Mika Hakkinen and his McLaren took the first place in 2000 in which Michael Schumacher had to settle for second. 

Stunning overtake by Mika Hakkinen at 2000 Belgian GP

With having his 4th World Championships at the 2001 Hungarian GP, the next race at Belgium was eagerly expected by all to see if he would break Alain Prost's record.

World Record - 2001 Belgian GP

Ferrari was unstoppable in those times and his victory, the 52nd was a world record and by winning those 10 points he also moved past Alain Prost to record most points by an F1 driver (769 at the end of the race). This was Schumacher's fifth win at Spa and he would add one more to the tally in 2002. 

The Belgian Grand Prix was removed from the 2003 season (still cannot understand, how they allowed it to happen!) and finished second at the 2004 season as a result of which he claimed his seventh and his last World Championship.

The 2005 season was a nightmare for Ferrari especially after having dominated the scene for six years in a row. Michael Schumacher ended his race - his last for Ferrari at Spa was a DNF (Did Not Finish) as the Spa-Francorchamps did not feature in 2006.

In the last three races in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with Mercedes, Michael Schumacher only managed to finish 7th, 5th and 7th respectively.

2011 Belgian GP with Eddy Merckx 
Spa as a circuit has a special place in every F1 enthusiast's heart. Ask anyone who has a decent knowledge in F1 about his favourite three circuits, I would be surprised if Spa doesn't get a mention. A public road in the off-season, this 7.004 km circuit (longest in F1 currently) is best known for its corners of varying speeds. Be it the Eau-Rouge, the erstwhile chicane called 'Bus Stop', the fastest corner in F1 Blanchimont, Les Combes, La Source, Stavelot and it goes on. The Ardennes region on the Eastern part of Belgium is also famous for its unpredictable weather conditions which always added its own flavour on the racing Sundays.

Along with the old Nürburgring circuit, Spa Francorchamps has always tested the drivers and is often seen as a ground in which the men are separated from the boys and the race has been part of the calendar since 1950 (barring few races in other circuits and few cancellations). It is no wonder, only a World champion has won this event more than once. And no surprises to see the top two drivers who lead the pack are Michael Schumacher (6) and Ayrton Senna (5).

Someday I will visit the track and relive all those memories that are dear to me and till then........... 

Thursday 21 August 2014


Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24) - this being one of the inspirational quotes which has served as a source of strength through all the challenges in Mary Kom´s career. And what a career it has been so far? 


Born as Mangte Chungneijang on 24th November 1982, her birth name was derived from her grandmother ´Chungthem´- a traditional in their family to name the children after the elders. Chung (high), nei (wealthy) and jang (agile) - little did her family know that she would fullfil all of it in years to come. A landless farmer - Mangte Tonpa Kom (Mary s father) and his wife Anu led a life where every day counted. They led her simplest of lives in a place called ´Kangathei´ - the adopted village in which Mary Kom and her two younger siblings grew up.


With rudimentary education, Tonpa Kom and Anu believed their lack of education was one of the reasons for their situation. Determined their children would get better facilities, both toiled day after day to ensure the kids had good foundation. With costs inflating each year and with additional member in the family, the young Chungneijang started helping her parents early in the morning, taking care of her siblings while at school and finishing up the daily chores at night. There was no time to play unlike her peers - a fact which she was envy of. And whenever she did find little time, she played with her friends. Inspite of many hands doing work, there was just not enough money. They somehow found a way, each day through hard work. At home, after the school the only food available was the left over from the day's lunch and most times not even that. Mary often satisfied her hunger with the seasonal fruits that grew in the village. While the six days each week was strictly work - the family enjoyed a well-deserved break every Sunday. They mostly engaged themselves with the church visits which played an important role in the life of Mary - to overcome the state of penury, deprivation and not to lose faith. Her diminutive stature connected well with the Biblical story of David and Goliath - an inspiration which has been a constant in her life. 


Her childhood interests were playing marbles, hide and seek and watch action packed martial art films. She was a winner when it came to marbles and this competitive spirit was extended when she took part in every sports event at her school´s annual sports meet. Though she did not win any money - the gifts in the form of plates, cups, tiffin boxes and other household items gave delight to her family. Her fascination towards sports was spotted by the principal of her school and he suggested her parents to take her to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur. The financial condition of the family did not allow such expenses to focus on her sports activities and besides Mary s father believed in getting her a good education. Time passed while Mary s fierce passion for sports only strengthened. Mangte Kom looked for ways in which Mary could enhance her sports potential while not disturbing her studies. Her aim was to excel in sports just enough to secure a good government job under sports quota and thereby end her family miseries. At the age of sixteen, she ventured out with her family´s permission to get a seat at SAI. She was unsure what was ahead and worried the extra load on her parents to earn a living in order to sponsor her. Was she being selfish, with her parents having to do all the work including the share she took care of? But then, she was a teenager with hopes and dreams of making it big in sports - at least progress in that path to secure a job for her and her family. 


Anu´s nephew lived in Imphal and he helped Mary to ease herself in a relatively bigger place than her village. Mary was trying her luck without any concrete confirmation from SAI. She was admitted to a government school and from there she would visit SAI twice a day to train with the coaches. This went on for two years before she was able to afford a tiny place to rent near the training centre. In the beginning, she tried her hand in every sport barring boxing. With time, she realised she needed an individual sport to focus and that´s when her attention went towards boxing. Women s boxing was at its nascent stages in India and Mary began to make enquires about boxing and finally landed at the SAI boxing training centre. Oja Ibomcha, the head coach was a strict disciplinarian and conducted two three hours training session (morning and evening) each day but for Sunday. Apart from technical skills, Mary focussed on getting fitter and did a lot of endurance training. Boxing is a sport which tests both your strength and stamina. If you have the stamina, you can go the distance and the vice versa of having great technical skills without stamina will hardly take you far. And so, after few hits and runs, Mary finally found a sport which she could connect to, dedicate and to live for.


Indians and politics cannot be separated. At each layer in every aspect of life one encounters politics of different magnitudes. And it need not involve money. There are mega battles of mind which can stall growth or accelerate depending on where you are and with whom. SAI at Imphal funded by the central Government had good technical coaches to train the boxers. However two other organisations namely: state run - Youth Affairs and Sports (YAS) boxing club and Manipur Amateur Boxing Association (MABA) controlled the boxing at the state level and this included the matters over selection. There was a tension between SAI and these two clubs which resulted in many students dropping out of SAI to further their boxing ambitions. Mary Kom too, threaded the safe path. She quit SAI in order to be eligible for inter-state tournaments and during the off-season she trained at SAI. She was juggling clubs to move forward and at one such club called Konjung-Hazari Youth Development Committee Club, Mary Kom first participated as a boxer. At times it was frustrating for Mary to get involved in matters not concerning sport - yet she carried on and established herself as a boxer in her weight category of 45-48 kg.


It was in 2001, she took part in a major tournament and this was at the 1st National Women´s Boxing Championships at Chennai. She won a gold. Very soon she made her first trip abroad to Bangkok for the inaugural Women´s Asian boxing championships. In spite of losing out before the medal stages, she was confident for the upcoming World championships to be held in USA. She won a silver and she had now arrived at the world stage. The silver medal brought her fame but it was still a long way to go. It was just the beginning. Reminds me of the line - When opportunity knocks your door, make sure you are ready to work twice as hard. 


It was in 2000 at New Delhi, Mary met Onler - a law student at that time. They belonged to the same place and there was instant connection. Mary by now was used to being away from family, missed a connection to her roots. She was after all a human and like all human beings, one needs a friend, a soul-mate or just a person whom you can open up and talk without thinking. Onler provided that support as a friend and with time they became more than just friends. Mary and her family feared marriage would stall her ambitions to grow in the sport - a fact which Onler was concerned too. Onler grew uneasy about the proposals which Mary´s parents repeatedly received for their daughter´s hand. Those feelings of Onler were genuine as he felt in the interests of Mary s boxing career and her personal life - no one understood better than he did. Few awkward moments gave time to introspect to both Onler and Mary. Mary did finally agree to his proposal and all she needed was her father´s approval. Mangte Kom was hesitant and repeatedly declined Onler and his family whenever they approached him with the matter of marriage. A face to face honest conversation with her father made Mangte realise where her daughter's happiness was. All he hoped was for Onler to support her career. By this time she had won gold medals at World championships, an Arjuna award and looked set for more. After months of hesitation and repeated declines, the Manipuri tradition of groom´s family boiling the pot of tea and the bride´s family drinking the same signalled the good times for Mary and Onler. The couple finally had their way and a lovely church wedding was held on 12th March 2005. 


All, who had suspicions about her career coming to an end post marriage had to start worrying about something else. Her wins had earned her a position in the state police force. If anything, she was now assured of constant source of income. In 2005 after the second gold medal at the world championships, she was given the role of a sub-inspector. In 2006, at the 4th International Women s Boxing championships in New Delhi, she won a gold - three times in a row. All this fame was shadowed by the death of her father-in-law who was killed by militants for no reason. Manipur since the beginning of the previous decade was controlled by various militant groups inspite of the presence of an active Government. A very upset Onler threatened to take an eye for an eye and looked set to embrace his dark side. The news of him being pregnant quietened him and he became the Onler, Mary was familiar with. On August 5th 2007, Mary and Onler were proud parents of twin boys. Due to the complications during delivery, she underwent a C-section which casted doubts about furthering her boxing career.


After a gap of two years and a year after her surgery, Mary Kom was ready for action on the boxing ring. She struggled initially to get to her fitness levels required to compete and had to fight for her spot even at the national selection camps. She won a silver medal at the Asian championships in 2008 and followed up with a fourth gold medal at the World championships later that year. She was promoted to the post of inspector. Besides success, she now had new found issues like being away from her kids and Onler - which constantly took her focus away from the ring. It was Onler´s constant assurance which kept Mary going. He sacrificed his career and ambitions just that Mary could keep going in the world of boxing. She did not let him down in that aspect and whenever she was home, she made sure of taking on the domestic responsibilities so that he could catch up on sleep and finish his work. In 2009, she received the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award from Government of India - the highest honour in sports along with Padma Shri - the fourth highest civilian award which she had received in 2006. These awards ensured she received individual sponsorship deals and also an agency to manage her sporting career. Yes, she had come a long way from the village pastures of Kangathei. With all such accolades, she still had a dream which was to be fulfilled - an Olympic gold medal. With the inclusion of Women´s boxing for the 2012 London Olympics, she felt there was still some distance to go. Having won her fifth world gold medal in 2010, all she wanted was that elusive Olympic gold - a feat which only one Indian had managed previously in the individual category.


Mary Kom had few hurdles in the months leading to the Olympics. First she had to increase her weight to ensure she could qualify for the 51 kg category. Asian Games 2010 was her first tryst with her new weight category and she came back with the bronze medal. She later underwent training under the supervision of English coach Charles Atkinson - who trained her from May 2011 up until the time of London Olympics 2012. Around this time, with the backing of Sports Ministry and ably aided by Olympic Gold Quest, she was provided with the facilities with which she could compete at the Olympics and get the gold medal. She was few months shy of turning 30 when she participated at the qualifiers for the Olympics. She lost the semi-final bout to the eventual winner Nicola Adams. Mary Kom qualified for the 51 kg category Olympics as a lucky loser of the semi-finals. Now, the stage was set for Mary Kom to realise her dream. Three rounds and three wins and Mary Kom was two wins away from the Gold Medal. She encountered a bigger and stronger Nicola Adams who had reduced her weight in order to be eligible for the 51-kg category. Her long reach prevented Mary to defend her punches and while Mary did all the attacking, Adams was defending enough to secure a victory. In fighter´s spirit - this was not a match, but as a strategy Adams used her stature perfectly. Mary Kom lost to Adams 6-11. Her dream of winning the gold medal was shattered; however she would not return empty-handed. She won a bronze medal. 


If anything, she has achieved more fame, financial rewards and accolades. She was awarded 75 lakhs from the state Government of Manipur, promoted to the rank of Superintendent of Police (Sports) and was allotted 3 acres of land to run the M.C. Mary Kom Boxing Academy. She was also awarded with Padma Bhushan - third highest civilian award in India and in May 2013 she gave birth to another baby boy. A Bollywood movie starring Priyanka Chopra will be released this September and will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in a few days time. 


I believe personally when a company puts up a slogan such as Nothing is Impossible - it often becomes difficult to connect with. When associated with an athlete or a person, it is much easier to connect to. Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom (M C Mary Kom) is still busy preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Her dreams of winning the Olympic Gold has not faded in spite of her divided attention at home. Two years is a long time and if past is any indicator, I am pretty sure she would be the last person to give up. In the meantime, along with training she also trains kids for free at her academy and teaches self-defence courses for young women. 


I am inspired by the life of Mary Kom. More so touched by reading her own words she used to pen her autobiography which was released in December 2013. Her recent pregnancy provided her with ample time to look back at her struggles, her journey and her tryst with success - Unbreakable, chronicles the lives of her kith and kin, their sacrifices which contributed in becoming the Mary Kom - one of the most successful women boxers the world has witnessed in the recent times and she is not finished yet.