Why Balbir Singh Sr. loved the ‘unlucky’ number 13

The hockey legend was fascinated by the number and would ensure that all his number plates would add up to 13.

By Rahul Venkat

The number 13 is believed by many to bring ill luck but Indian hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr., who passed away on Monday, had a special connection with the figure.

In his 1977 autobiography, the Golden Hat-Trick, the former Indian hockey captain narrated an incident that occurred before the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, an event where he wore the number 13 on his jersey.

Before the Indian hockey team arrived in Finland, they had flown to nearby Copenhagen, Denmark to get used to the climate and simulate playing conditions.

During this tour, a young girl pointed out to Balbir Singh Sr. that the number 13 was unlucky and that he should consider changing it. However, it meant a lot to him.

“Thirteen in north Indian languages is pronounced as tera, which is also a form of addressing God, I told her. For me, this is a lucky number. I dedicate my performances to the One Above,” Balbir Singh Sr. wrote.

Moreover, the number plate of the van that ferried the Indian hockey team to their first match during the 1952 Olympics also added up to 13.

Incidentally, they ended up scoring 13 goals during their gold-winning run, of which Balbir Singh Sr. scored nine.

The Indian hockey legend felt a divine connect with the number 13. Photo: Balbir Singh Sr./Twitter

But his love story with the number did not end there. Balbir Singh Sr. incorporated the number in many aspects of his post-hockey life, including during his days working with the sports department of Punjab.

“My house no. 1534, my office no. 562, my private car no. 3163 and my office car no. 2902, all add up individually to make 13,” read his autobiography. And Balbir Singh Sr. ended the anecdote with typical tongue-in-cheek humour.

“To round it all, I had a court case going regarding my seniority in the Sports department. The record files sent to the court were 13 in number. And I won the case.

“Who says number 13 is unlucky!” he concluded.