Blown away by the popularity of cricket people have almost forgotten that hockey is the National game of India. They probably don’t even remember that hockey was the game through which India won her 1st ever gold medal in the Olympics way back in 1928 at Amsterdam. People across the globe started recognizing Indian players and gave importance to them only because of the way we played the game of hockey. India has won a total of 11 medals at the Olympics in hockey with 8 gold,1 silver and 2 bronze and a world cup victory in1975. The Indian players were wizards with their hockey sticks.
Hockey was introduced in India by British Army regiments and the game soon found favour among the native Indians. The first hockey club in India came up in Calcutta in 1885-86 and soon Bombay and Punjab followed and the first clubs formed there in Calcutta in 1885. The Beighton Cup and the Aga Khan tournament had commenced within ten years. It was mainly restricted to the armed forces, and it was the army teams which toured foreign lands as early as 1900`s. India`s first representation in Olympics was pioneered by hockey, and it was done in great style.
The period from 1928 to 1956 was the golden era of Indian hockey. During this period India won six consecutive gold medals on the trot at the Olympics. Across these six Olympics Indian players won all the 24 matches they played. They scored a total of 178 goals at an average of 7.43 goals per match and conceded only 7. For over 20 years there were 2 triple Olympics gold medallists. One was a man named Dhyan Chand. For all my readers this man in your terms was the Don Bradman of Hockey and the other player was the goalkeeper Richard James Allen who didn’t concede a single goal at the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928.
The Amsterdam games became the first stage of wizardry of the great Dhyan Chand . The wizardry was not only meant for the spectators but also for the opponents. At times the opposition players became spectators with sticks and jerseys and they could only watch Dhyan Chand’s magic and could do nothing about it. Richard Allen James, the goalkeeper didn’t concede a single goal during the 1928 Olympics and he conceded only a total of 3 goals in all the 3 Olympics he played.
The 1932 Los Angeles Olympics witnessed world records created by India. India defeated USA 24 goals to 1 in one match and in this particular match Roop Singh scored 10 goals which is the highest number of goals scored by a player in one single match till date. India then marched onto Berlin where they didn’t receive an altogether a pleasant welcome. India went on to reach the final without conceding a single goal. In the final India were up against the host nation Germany and playing in front of a 40,000 strong crowd. It was the biggest crowd till then to watch an Olympic hockey match. Amongst the audience was Adolf Hitler who left midway through, disgusted at Germany’s plight. The Germans decided to play rough and went after Dhyan Chand and resulted in broken teeth for the Indian captain but he quickly took first aid and came back on to the ground. As the stunned crowd watched India continuously took the ball up to the opponent’s circle and back passed to mystify them. India ultimately vanquished Germany 8-1.
Then, came the London Olympics in 1948 which occurred soon after the Independence in 1947. India defeated Great Britain in the final by 4-0 and thus won its 4th consecutive gold medal. This medal is extremely special for India as it is the 1st medal won by India under its tricolour.
India again were crowned champions when they won at the Helsinki Olympics of 1952.They defeated Holland(now the Netherlands) 6-1 and won their 5th gold. In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics 12 teams were divided into 3 groups. India won all her group matches. They beat Afghanistan 14-0, USA 16-0 and Singapore 6-0 and stormed into the semi-finals with 36 goals in 3 matches.
India scraped past Germany 1-0 to move into the final. For the first time ever India were playing against arch rivals Pakistan in an Olympic final and India won. Thus they won their 6th consecutive gold. At this Olympics Udham Singh scored 15 goals which was the highest by an Indian at an Olympics till date. At the Rome Olympics of 1960 Pakistan had defeated India to end India’s amazing run at the Olympics.
Next came the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 which was the first Olympics to be held on Asian grounds. India went on to win Gold at this one to and collected her 7th gold medal at the Olympics and finally India won their 8th gold at the Moscow Olympics of 1980. However 28 years have passed India hasn’t won a single medal till now. Since the 1970’s the Netherlands, Germany and Australia have dominated the game of Hockey. India’s worst ever performance took place preparing for the Olympics of Beijing 2008 where they didn’t even qualify for the games . They lost out to England in the final qualifying match. At present qualifying for the all prestigious Olympics looks a distant memory.
The present situation looks pretty grim. There have been instances where India in the late 1990’s under the captaincy of the mercurial Dhanraj Pillay rose to 3rd , 4th positions in the International Hockey Federation(FIH) rankings by winning prestigious tournaments like the Sultan Azlan Shah cup and better performances in champions trophy. Presently India are ranked 9th in the world. But India has been inefficient to maintain the consistency of the past. There have been many serious reasons behind these drastic changes in Indian hockey. Lack of proper infrastructure is one of the major causes of underdevelopment of hockey in India. In modern day, hockey is being played on Astroturf which is a form of green carpet which has considerably increased the speed of playing but in India there is still a number of stadiums where players are used to playing on grassy fields. This has probably been one significant reason which has dented Indian players from competing equally with players from European countries and from Australia and New Zealand. Even the Koreans, Japanese and Chinese have started playing hard against us with the proper development of the game in their respective states. Because of proper importance given to the fitness levels of the players from the countries mentioned above they have better stamina and greater running speeds.
Though with the induction of foreign coaches the Indian hockey board have tried to raise the level of hockey to match international standards but still we lack behind. Recently under new coach Michael Nobbs India won the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy with a blend of young players in the Indian squad. This was one important boost Indian hockey needed badly.
The present scenario of Indian hockey is not as sweet as it used to be. However, the pride of the past is still very much present in the hearts of every single Indian. It is a major satisfaction that players of all teams still consider India to be the pilgrim of hockey. Hockey was extremely popular in the earlier days. There were numerous supporters who used to flood to the stadiums to see the greats of the game play. It is still said that those greats were more artists than players. Every single movement had something special which made the ticket price of every single supporter worth.
The players were the main reason for making hockey such a popular game. It can also be said, that the glorious hockey history of India is the major reason for making the game so very popular all over the world. The hockey history of India is an extremely glorious one. There was a time, when people in India used to go mad about the game. The main reason for this was the presence of some great legends of the game in Indian colours. The historical base of India in terms of hockey is a very strong one, and it has not only made the hockey sector proud, but the entire country proud in several different ways.
Forget the past and aim towards the future – is an inspirational line no doubt, but with such glorious history, a pathetic present and a future which seems to go nowhere, it is advised to see glimpses from a memorable past, a past that has been etched in the annals of eternity, which is sure to inspire not one, but several generations of hockey players, for amongst them, and not among critics, lies the ray of hope for Indian hockey.
If the entire world history is a book, then these pages are missing – for they are written not in the books of time bound history, but in the heart of time less eternity