Hockey is one of the world’s most ancient games. It is older than even the ancient Olympic Games. The British empire made hockey popular in the Indian sub-continent in the late nineteenth century. The first hockey club was formed in Calcutta in 1885. There were no major national tournaments during that time. In 1895, Beighton Cup in Calcutta and Aga Khan Tournament in Bombay were organized. In the early twentieth century, Hot Weather Tournament of Lahore became popular too.
Although these tournaments got a considerable amount of media coverage and patronage, India did not have any governing body for hockey. On 7th November, 1925 all the hockey associations and clubs congregated in Gwalior. This meeting led to the formation of Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). The Indian players got the international exposure after the formation of IHF.
India’s first international tour was to New Zealand. India played 21 matches, won 18, lost one and drew two matches. They scored 192 goals in those matches and Dhyan Chand’s hockey skills befuddled the opposition in every game.
IHF applied for global affiliation and it got the approval of International Hockey Federation (FIH) in 1927. That meant India could participate at the 1928 Summer Olympic Games. Hockey returned at the Olympics after 1920 Antwerp Games – after a hiatus of eight years.
Jaipal Singh, a boy from Ranchi who was studying at Balliol, Oxford was made India’s captain in the Games. SM Yusuf and Nawab of Pataudi (Sr), who were in Britain, were the other two Indians selected. An Indian team of 15 men was selected to represent India and they were all set out to practice and leave the country in a few weeks. But there was a problem at the last minute. Two of the players – Shaukat Ali and Rex A Norris had to be dropped from the team due to non-availability of funds. But as soon as the news broke about, patrons from Bengal arranged the money and ensured that the two players were able to make it to Indian team. Yusuf and Pataudi could not participate in the games.
Before leaving for the games, Indian Olympic team played a practice match against Bombay. The Olympians lost to Bombay by a margin of 2-3. Dhyan Chand scored both the goals for the losing side. After this loss, the people of India were expecting very little from the Olympic team.
On the 10th March, 1928 a full-fledged squad set off for Amsterdam on the ship Kaiser-i-Hind. Only three men – IHF president, IHF vice-president and a journalist came to say goodbye to the team.
Before the games, India played some practice matches in London because the ship took a 20-day halt at London. India thrashed the club sides and forced the teams into submission. There is a rumour that Great Britain dropped out of hockey in order to avoid embarrassment at the hands of India. The British press hailed Jaipal Singh’s team and considered India as the favourites to win the gold medal at the Amsterdam Games.
On 17th May, India began their journey in the tournament with a comfortable 6-0 win against Austria. Dhyan Chand scored a hat-trick before the first half. After the first half, Dhyan Chand again breached Austria’s defence to score his fourth. The Austrian defence was unable to contain the ‘the wizard’ as he would run away with the ball at will. Shaukat Ali, who was dropped from the team due to insufficient funds earlier, scored the fifth goal while Maurice Gately scored the sixth goal to start India’s campaign with a thumping win. The entire country was proud of the team and the Indian newspapers praised them.
India’s next challenge was against Belgium the very next day, yet they faced no problem in beating them. This time, the margin of victory was 9-0. This was quite unusual since Belgium was a good team in Europe. Belgium’s annihilation at the hands of Indians made people in Amsterdam wonder if the Indian team was the best ever that they had seen.
India’s goalkeeper Richard Allen had to do minimum work since the opposition could not even reach India’s half. Belgium marked Dhyan Chand but it did not matter to the team. Dhyan Chand passed the ball either to George Marthins or Feroze Khan. Frederick Seaman scored twice and his stick work made Belgian defence look hapless. Broome Pinninger and captain Jaipal supported the team well.
On the 20th, India locked horns with Denmark. The Denmark goalkeeper saved plenty of shots from Dhyan Chand and created many problems for the Indians. But India scored five goals and again, goalkeeper Allen had a clean sheet. In the semi-final against Switzerland, India had no problems in wrapping up the match by a margin of 6-0.
India had set up a final clash with the home team Holland on the 26th May. The Indian side was without Feroze Khan who was injured and Shaukat Ali, who was ill before the game. Jaipal Singh left the team midway before the semi-final. According to some reports, Jaipal was distraught with the lack of support from the nine Anglo-Indian members within the team. Pinninger led India in Jaipal’s absence. Despite these issues, India won the summit clash by a 3-0 margin with Dhyan Chand scoring yet another hat-trick. The entire nation celebrated the victory. The newspapers all over India gave considerable space to this piece of news. India had won its first Olympic medal, that too a gold!
Dhyan Chand scored 14 goals in the tournament and India did not concede a single goal. The Dutch press talked about Indian dexterity and magical display. Back home in India, Viceroy Lord Irwin congratulated the team. When the team landed in Bombay after their triumph, it was greeted by large number of fans.
Hockey had gripped the entire nation. The sombre mood, courtesy of the freedom struggle transformed into ecstasy and optimism. The protagonists were the 15 men who redefined the way hockey was played.
The 1928 winning team:
Richard Allen, Dhyan Chand, Michael Gately, William Goodsir- Cullen, Leslie Hammond, Feroze Khan, Santosh Manglani, George Marthins, Rex Norris, Broome Pinninger, Michael Rocque, Frederick Seaman , Shaukat Ali, Jaipal Singh, Kher Singh Gill.