'There's nothing like victory,' 70 years later, Balbir Singh Senior remembers independent India's first Olympic gold


Balbir Singh Senior sits in his languid stupor, permitting his thoughts to race backwards. Between sporadic recollections, he stares blankly on the glass window in entrance of him, as if piecing collectively vignettes from his illustrious profession right into a cohesive story of triumphs and tears. The wax in his left ear is troubling him, the reminiscence is considerably sketchy, however as soon as the grand previous man of Indian hockey is nudged, he’s exhausting to cease.

It’s 70 years to that day, and Balbir remembers 12 August, 1948 in all its glory. Why wouldn’t he, for he was the throbbing coronary heart of a pulsating ahead line, and the very best scorer for his crew regardless of taking part in solely two matches.

Balbir Singh Senior scores India’s first objective within the last of 1948 Olympics in opposition to Nice Britain in London. Picture Courtesy: Balbir Singh Senior

“Nicely, 1948. What do I say? What a day! It’s very tough to clarify what I felt. All the world was at our disposal. Impartial India, first Olympics, first gold. It was unbelievable. After all, beating England, our former masters, on their turf within the last made it all of the extra particular,” he says, glistening with pleasure.

“I bear in mind the smooth strains of our nationwide anthem as our tri-colour slowly went up. I appeared on the flag, and I felt that with it, I used to be additionally rising from the bottom. It’s unreal, however that’s how I felt.”

For a nation that had not too long ago been witness to probably the most bloodied mass migration in human historical past, for its individuals who have been torn between celebrating their new-found freedom and grieving their useless, for an financial system that wanted to be constructed from the very starting, for the dying and destitute, the defeated and dreamless, the hungry and homeless, the significance and affect of a gold disc measuring 51.Four mm in diameter can’t be acknowledged sufficient. Sports activities are an integral a part of nation-building, and on that heady Thursday, a stuttering nation discovered its first sense of hope and perception.

Professor Dr Sudesh Kumar Gupta, sports activities historian and sociologist and an in depth good friend of Balbir, places that achievement in perspective.

“We have been dominated by British for 200 years. Our social settings and attitudes change loads in 15 years; think about being dominated for 200 years. 1948 was the primary time when our flag went up, and the actual socio-cultural significance of that gold was the Queen and your entire paraphernalia standing as much as salute us, barely 10 months after we grew to become an impartial nation,” he says.

Balbir Singh Senior scores India's second goal in the final of 1948 Olympics. Image Courtesy: Balbir Singh Senior

Balbir Singh Senior scores India’s second objective within the last of 1948 Olympics. Picture Courtesy: Balbir Singh Senior

Dr Gupta would know. Due to his historic analysis and wealthy tales from his late father – Dr BL Gupta, the founder-head of Division of Bodily Training, Punjab College who additionally served because the secretary-general of Indian Hockey Federation – Sudesh is aware about the deepest secrets and techniques of Indian hockey.

“Not many individuals know, however there have been subdued discussions of fielding a joint India-Pakistan crew for the London Olympics, primarily as a result of the sturdy crew of undivided India ceased to exist after Partition. Nevertheless, the proposal didn’t come by way of, and we had separate India and Pakistan groups,” he informs.

Issues have been totally different a 12 months earlier than the Olympics, when in June-July, a full-strength Punjab crew gained their second successive Nationwide Championships in Bombay, beating hosts within the last. Months later, India and Pakistan endured the horrors of Partition, and Balbir, a policeman, witnessed the carnage from shut quarters.

“It was ghastly; blood and our bodies in all places. We labored around the clock to quell riots, but it surely was simply an excessive amount of. I actually noticed rivers of blood,” he says.

The problem, when it comes to hockey although, was to cope with the exodus of proficient gamers to Pakistan. Maqbool Hashmat, Aziz, Shahrukh, Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara and Khurram had opted to remain within the new nation, leaving India with the enviable activity of constructing a brand new crew. Dara, in actual fact, was a part of the crew that gained gold on the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

Balbir Singh Senior ended the 1948 Olympics as India's leading scorer.

Balbir Singh Senior ended the 1948 Olympics as India’s main scorer.

“Maqbool (Hashmat) was my senior and my proper wing. A superb participant, and an excellent higher human being. He taught me to look left and move proper. Aziz was my left wing. These have been very high-quality gamers, perhaps higher than me,” Balbir had advised Firstpost in an earlier interaction.

Nevertheless, in Sant Prakash Singh and Ashwini Kumar, Punjab discovered two law enforcement officials who have been equally enthusiastic about hockey. Sant was impartial Punjab’s first Inspector-Normal, whereas Ashwini was Superintendent of Police. A brand new Punjab Hockey Affiliation was shaped in Ambala, and Sant and Ashwini organised a number of camps throughout the state to create and determine recent expertise pool.

Earlier than the Olympics, a preparatory camp was held in Bombay, and Balbir, regardless of taking part in a key position in Punjab profitable their final two Nationals and being part of the crew that toured Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)  the earlier season, was curiously not invited.

He was known as two weeks later, after an Anglo-Indian participant raised the problem and the press started to put in writing about it. Balbir sensed one thing amiss when he was not allowed to play as a centre-forward – “not even for a day,” he insists – and as a substitute was requested to play on the unfamiliar inside-right place.

He ultimately made it to the 20-member squad that flew to London. The 79-member, all-men Indian contingent have been to participate in 39 occasions throughout 10 sports activities.

Upon touchdown on the Heathrow Airport, the crew was greeted by Balbir’s former boss at Punjab Police, Sir John Bennett.

“In India, he wouldn’t have talked to me, however there as a bunch, he got here with a garland. I used to be shocked. He additionally gave me a vital tip. He mentioned, ‘Inform your teammates, Indian grounds are exhausting and the ball involves you quick. However right here, the grounds are smooth and soggy, so the ball generally slows down earlier than it reaches you. So don’t look ahead to the ball. Run for the ball.’ It was my first go to to London, town of our former masters. As rulers, the British have been very strict, however as hosts, they have been glorious. Individuals invited us to their houses for tea and dinner.”

Balbir met his now-Pakistani pals on the opening ceremony in Wembley Stadium, and was bowled over by their lack of heat.

“Niaz Khan, Dara, Shahrukh, Mehmood and Aziz noticed us, however I used to be shocked to note that our previous pals have been intentionally attempting to maintain a distance from us. The openness was lacking; our emotions have been blended,” Balbir writes in his autobiography The Golden Hat Trick.

India have been led by Kishan Lal, and KD Singh ‘Babu’ as captain and vice-captain respectively, whereas AC Chatterjee and Pankaj Gupta have been joint managers of the hockey crew. These have been the occasions when managers and senior gamers doubled up as coaches, and phrases akin to analysts, think-tanks and strategists have been extraordinary.

Balbir was not performed within the first match in opposition to Austria, that India gained 8-Zero with Patrick Jensen sounding the board 4 occasions. He lastly acquired his likelihood within the subsequent recreation, in opposition to Argentina. Enjoying in his desired place because the centre-forward, 24-year-old Balbir pumped in six targets as India routed the South American nation 9-1. It stays the document of most targets by a participant on Olympic debut.

Balbir’s daughter Sushbir, who performed hockey on the College and state-level, explains her father’s recreation. “Dad’s taking part in type was unusual. By unusual I imply he made all the pieces look really easy.”

“He all the time appeared so positive of scoring. His opposition would all the time have 2-Three gamers marking him, simply to ensure he doesn’t get the ball close to the ‘D’. They knew if he will get the ball, he’ll rating. He was a whole participant.”

India subsequent performed Spain, and Balbir, regardless of being listed within the preliminary taking part in XI, was dropped. Grahanandan ‘Nandi’ Singh was fielded as Balbir’s substitute, however the former did not make an affect in India’s hard-fought 2-Zero win.

The story repeated itself within the semi-final in opposition to Holland, the place after trailing 0-1, India scrapped to a 2-1 win. Balbir, in actual fact, was pulled out as he was about to bully-off with the opposing ahead.

“We had hopped on to the sector and the match was about to begin when our captain Kishan Lal tugged my shirt and mentioned, ‘Bhaiya aap aj nai khel rahe.’ I nonetheless bear in mind these phrases. Fir bhaiyya kya karta? I walked again. Think about a jam-packed stadium, the gang ready for the beginning, your identify is on the crew sheet, you have got created an Olympic document in your earlier recreation, after which this drama. Dukh to hota hai, and thoda gussa bhi aata hai, however to regulate your anger can also be a part of a sportsperson’s job,” he says.

Whereas Balbir refrains from occurring document in regards to the motives behind this doubtful name, Dr SK Gupta gives an evidence.

“In these days, the rule was that if a crew finishes on the rostrum, solely these members of the squad who had performed a match used to get the medal, not your entire squad. So as a substitute of fielding the very best XI, right here we have been, attempting to make sure everyone will get a medal, if we win one,” he says.

Balbir’s substitute, Gerald Glacken, may convert solely one of many many possibilities that got here his means. The opposite objective was scored by KD Singh.

India’s insipid efficiency and a near-loss to Holland created a stir within the Indian neighborhood and the press in London. A delegation of Indian college students and followers took the matter to India’s Excessive Commissioner in the UK, VK Krishna Menon, and it was solely after his intervention that Balbir may get a spot within the taking part in XI for the ultimate.

The ultimate was performed in opposition to hosts England, who had avoided taking part in India all these years, partly as a result of the British thought it undignified to play their colony, and largely, as Dr Gupta believes, from saving themselves the ignominy of dropping to India, who had bagged Olympic gold in every of their earlier appearances on the Game (1928, 1932, 1936).

Earlier than the ultimate, the crew speak revolved extra on infusing ‘josh’ within the squad than debating methods and formations.

“We needed the tiranga to fly excessive in Nice Britain. Our managers, Mr Chatterjee and Mr Gupta requested us to offer our greatest. They mentioned, simply do it for India, do it for our individuals. Such easy, however sturdy phrases. We have been so stuffed with josh.”

The ultimate was performed proper after the third-place playoff between Pakistan and Holland, which meant the bottom was not in the very best of form.

“I remembered Sir Bennett’s recommendation: Run for the ball. The stadium was brimming with individuals, and everybody was chanting for the house crew, however after I scored within the seventh minute, they began shouting, ‘Come on, Balbir!’ I need to respect their sportsmanship,” he remembers.

Balbir scored once more within the 15th minute, each his targets coming from the highest of ‘D’ through passes from Kishan Lal and KD Singh ‘Babu’ respectively. Drizzle arrived twice through the match, making the bottom heavier, and the Indians shunned their pure short-passing recreation and went for lengthy, pinpoint passes. The English public was handled to a spell-binding show of aerial passing, and shortly Kishan Lal and Babu started to play barefoot, a lot to the spectators’ amusement.

“The Englishmen couldn’t consider what they noticed. We merely ran away with the sport. And the English crowd, properly, they began cheering for us. They shouted our names. It was so overwhelming.”

India led 2-Zero on the half-time, and Balbir believes he may have scored extra had he not been requested to go simple.

“After I scored the 2 targets, all of a sudden everybody from the crew began shouting ‘defend karo’, so I needed to decelerate. In any other case, I’d have scored a number of extra,” he chuckles.

India stored up the strain within the second half, and shortly sufficient, two extra targets arrived. Trilochan Singh scored by way of penalty nook, and Pat Jensen, India’s second highest scorer within the event after Balbir, rounded off India’s unimaginable marketing campaign with one other area objective.

4-0, the scoreline learn, however what it doesn’t spell is {that a} nation that was but to finish a 12 months of its independence had overwhelmed its erstwhile grasp who had dominated them with impunity for near 200 years. It was not an upset; as a substitute, all of the years of struggling and servility, of being enslaved at your individual house, of being systematically divided and dominated, of being brutally robbed of dignity and function, all of the blood, sweat and gore of freedom battle, the throes of the delivery of a nation and partition had come alive in that singular second.

“That win advised the world that India can do it, that we’re ok on the highest stage,” says Dr Gupta.

The scenes at Wembley, Balbir remembers, have been “unbelievable”, and the crew celebrated like “unhealthy boys.” A victory lap and a standing ovation adopted.

“We have been surrounded by followers. All of them needed to the touch us, see us. After the match, our Excessive Commissioner VK Krishna Menon got here to the bottom. We have been thrilled to fulfill him. He held a grand reception for us at India Home,” says Balbir.

Again then, the idea of prize cash didn’t exist, however the Olympic champions have been despatched to a goodwill tour of mainland Europe. They explored the wonders of France, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland for a fortnight, earlier than returning to Liverpool, from the place they took a ship for a 26-day voyage to Bombay.

“Events, in all places events! We danced and sang and partied on the journey. I feel it was low tide within the Arabian Sea once we returned, and the ship couldn’t come near the harbour, so we waited within the sea for few extra days.”

The crew set foot in India to a rapturous, red-carpet welcome. Indian Hockey Federation chief Naval Tata greeted the crew on arrival, and a big crowd turned as much as catch a glimpse of their heroes.

Balbir’s spouse Sushil was anticipating their first youngster when he had left for London, and by the point he returned, he was the daddy of Sushbir.

“I acquired two rewards that 12 months. One was the Olympic gold, the opposite was my daughter,” he tells us.

Balbir Singh Senior being felicitated by then Governor-General of India, C Rajagopalachari.

Balbir Singh Senior being felicitated by then Governor-Normal of India, C Rajagopalachari.

The crew then flew to New Delhi, the place then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, after which Governor-Normal C Rajagoplachari hosted one other reception. They performed an exhibition match in capital’s Nationwide Stadium, with the Prime Minister and a full home of 70,000 in attendance. Fittingly, Balbir scored the one objective in that match.

“Wherever we went, we have been accorded nice welcome. It was humbling. There’s nothing like victory, actually,” he says. Fairly a departure from 1936 Olympics, when solely two members of Punjab Police had turned as much as ship the crew off to Berlin, from the place they returned with one other gold medal.

“Time by no means stops. 70 saal ho gaye, wakai. It’s exhausting to consider. As soon as upon a time, our common age was 35-40. Think about! It feels good to be a part of historical past,” Balbir, one of many two surviving members from that crew (the opposite is Keshav Dutt, who resides in Kolkata), remarks.

For a change, he breaks his stare from the glass window and appears at me.

“Are you aware what’s my most expensive trophy?” he asks. And earlier than ready to your correspondent to take an informed guess, factors loosely in the direction of a tiny Cup positioned on the penultimate row of one in every of his many overflowing trophy cupboards.

“Sure, that one,” he exclaims, as I maintain it delicately, attempting to review what makes it so particular.

“I gained it for my faculty, Dayanand Memorial College, in Moga. My first.”

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