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How Indian hockey cast a spell to win the 1928 Olympics gold

The gold medal at the 1928 Amsterdam Games was the first of the Indian hockey team’s record six-consecutive Olympic triumphs.
By Utathya Nag

As the Indian hockey team set sail for Amsterdam from the Bombay port to participate in the 1928 Olympic Games, only three people – the then Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) president, vice-president and a solitary journalist – came to see them off.

When the hockey team returned from the Netherlands, though, thousands, including eminent dignitaries, thronged Mole Station (adjoining railway station of the old Bombay pier) to greet the triumphant heroes.

After all, India won its first Olympic gold medal in hockey at Amsterdam on their debut appearance. The victory was a significant milestone for Indian hockey for several reasons.

The win kickstarted an unprecedented domination over the sport which saw the Indian field hockey team win six consecutive Olympic gold medals – Amsterdam 1928, Los Angeles 1932, Berlin 1936, London 1948, Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956.

Here’s a look back at how India won their first Olympic hockey gold in Amsterdam.

Prologue

Before 1928, hockey was a part of the Olympic programme at the 1908 and 1920 Games but India was a part of neither. Though India did send a contingent to the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, there was no representation in hockey.

Still under the rule of Great Britain then, India lacked an official hockey governing body.

The IHF was established in 1925 and later became a part of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in 1927. That changed the landscape. India were set to mark their hockey debut at the Games in 1928.

The Olympic team’s preparations in India, however, was muted with the team losing 3-2 to Bombay during a practice match. Few expected a medal from Amsterdam but the team was confident of ‘avoiding any disgrace’ in the tournament.

The lack of expectations, perhaps, resulted in the low-key sending off of the team from Bombay.

Indian hockey team for the 1928 Amsterdam Games

The IFH initially named a 16-member squad, featuring nine Anglo-Indians and seven Indians, including Dhyan Chand. Thirteen would sail to Amsterdam from Bombay.

Three – Jaipal Singh, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi or Nawab of Pataudi Senior (father of Indian cricket legend Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and grandfather of Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan) and SM Yusuf – were set to join the team in England during a layover. Pataudi eventually dropped out of the team.

Shortly before setting off, a shortage of funds meant two players - Shaukat Ali and Rex A Norris - had to be axed from the travelling entourage. A last-minute intervention by patrons in Bengal, though, ensured the two had their bunks on Kaiser-i-Hind – the ship transporting the players from Bombay.

Captain Jaipal Singh’s sacrifice

Jaipal Singh was the designated captain. A Munda tribal, Jaipal was sent to London by missionaries to study in Oxford and had earned his name as a hockey player in England, including a spread on the prestigious World Hockey magazine.

At the time, Jaipal was studying for the Indian Civil Services (ICS) in Britain and wasn’t granted leave to participate in the 1928 Olympics. He, however, paid no heed to warnings and travelled to Amsterdam with the squad.

Upon his return, Jaipal cleared his ICS finals but was penalised and asked to repeat the year. Jaipal resigned and came back to India.

He would later become a prominent campaigner for tribal rights in India and came to be known as marang gomke (great leader) of the adivasi population inhabiting the Chhota Nagpur plateau of the erstwhile undivided Bihar.

The build-up

During a 20-day layover in London, the Indian team, led by Jaipal Singh, played several practice matches and caught the attention of the European media.

Their victories in London featured a 4-0 drubbing of the England national hockey team in an exhibition match at the Folkestone festival. England had won gold medals at both the 1908 and 1920 Olympic hockey events.

Interestingly, England withdrew their team from the Olympics after the defeat to India.

Though there was no official reasoning for the pullout, it was believed that the British Raj was unwilling to accept a defeat by one of its colonies on the international stage.

The English team re-emerged at the 1948 Olympics – a year after India’s independence.

“I reiterate that this is mere hearsay (that England dropped out of the Amsterdam Games fearing the Indians), although we fondly hoped that at least in future Olympics we would have the honour of meeting Great Britain and showing them how good or bad we were. It is my regret that this hope was never realised so long as I participated in Olympic events,” Dhyan Chand had noted in his biography years later.

India also played matches in Germany and Belgium before arriving in Holland for the main event.

How India won its first Olympic hockey gold in Amsterdam

A total of nine teams participated in the 1928 Olympics hockey event.

India, with Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Austria were drawn in Division A while hosts the Netherlands, with Germany, France and Spain were in Division B.

The topper of each group faced each other for the gold medal, while the second-placed teams played for the bronze.

India’s debut match saw Dhyan Chand emerge as an unstoppable force in world hockey.

Wizard Dhyan Chand weaves his magic

Dhyan Chand already had a reputation preceding himself after his brilliant showing in the Indian hockey team’s maiden foreign tour to New Zealand and his performances in practice matches. But it was the first time his wizardry with the stick found its rightful stage on the biggest sporting event on the planet.

Dhyan Chand scored four against Austria in India’s opening match to help his team to a 6-0 win. George Marthins and Shaukat Ali netted the other two goals.

Belgium tried to mark Dhyan Chand to curb his threat but the ploy backfired as it set the rest of the Indian team free to run havoc in front of the opposition goal. Despite being hounded by markers, Dhyan Chand himself scored one and helped set up several of the remaining eight.

Feroze Khan top-scored with five as India ran away as 9-0 winners against the Belgians.

Dhyan Chand scored back-to-back hat-tricks in the next two matches as India thrashed Denmark 5-0 and Switzerland 6-0.

After the match against Denmark, Jaipal Singh left the squad due to personal issues with Broome Eric Pinninger taking over the reins for the final two matches of the campaign including the final. That didn’t halt India’s momentum, though.

Having topped their division with a 100 per cent record, India set up a final against the the Netherlands, who had won the other division.

Heading into the big match on May 26, 1928, India faced a few odds. Feroze Khan was ruled out due to a broken collarbone he suffered in the match against Denmark while Shaukat Ali and Dhyan Chand were down with fever.

The wizard, though, still turned up with a brace as India beat the host nation 3-0 in front of 50,000 Dutch fans, half watching from inside and the rest waiting outside the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam.

I was ill, and running a high temperature which persisted all throughout the game. That day, our manager A. B. Rosser coined a slogan for us - Do or Die. I was a soldier by profession, and when the country's honour was at stake, there was no alternative but to march boldly into the battlefield,” Dhyan Chand recalled during a later interview.

Dhyan Chand finished as the top-scorer in the tournament, scoring 14 of India’s 29 goals.

India goalkeeper Richard Allen had to do very little and ended the tournament without conceding a single goal - a record only matched by the Indian team which won gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

It was also the first Olympic gold medal won by Asia in the modern Olympics.

1928 Olympics Indian hockey team: Jaipal Singh Munda (captain), Broome Eric Pinniger (vice-captain), Richard J Allen, Dhyan Chand, Michael A. Gateley, Leslie Charles Hammond, Feroze Khan, George Eric Marthins, Rex A. Norris, Michael E. Rocque, Frederick S. Seaman, Shaukat Ali, Kehar Singh, Sayed Mohamed Yusuf, Iftikhar Ali Khan, William James Goodsir-Cullen.