The Magician of hockey

Major Dhyan Chand

Dhyan Chand was born in Allahabad on 29 August 1905 in a Rajput family.He was the elder brother of another hockey player Roop Singh, and the son of Sharadha Singh and Sameshwar Singh.Dhyan Chand’s father was enlisted in the British Indian Army, and he played hockey for the army. Dhyan Chand had two brothers – Mool Singh and Roop Singh. Because of his father’s numerous army transfers, the family had to move to different cities and as such Chand had to terminate his education after only six years of schooling. The family finally settled in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Chand graduated from Victoria College, Gwalior in 1932. Being in the military, his father got a small piece of land for a house.

Young Chand had no serious inclination towards sports though he loved wrestling. He stated that he did not remember whether he played any hockey worth mentioning before he joined the Army, though he said that he occasionally indulged in casual games in Jhansi with his friends.

career start

Major Dhyan Chand (29 August 1905 – 3 December 1979) was an Indian field hockey player widely regarded as one of the greatest in the history of the sport.He was known for his extraordinary goal-scoring feats, in addition to earning three Olympic gold medals, in 1928, 1932 and 1936, during an era where India dominated field hockey. His influence extended beyond these victories, as India won the field hockey event in seven out of eight Olympics from 1928 to 1964 .

On 29 August 1922 – his 17th birthday – Chand enlisted in the 1st Brahmans of the British Indian Army as a sepoy (private).A reorganisation of the army that year resulted in the 1st Brahmans becoming the 1/1st Punjab Regiment. Between 1922 and 1926, Chand exclusively played army hockey tournaments and regimental games. Chand was ultimately selected for the Indian Army team which was to tour New Zealand.

The team won 18 matches, drew 2 and lost only 1, receiving praise from all spectators. Following this, in the two Test matches against the New Zealand squad, the team won the first and narrowly lost the second. Returning to India, Chand was promoted to Lance Naik in 1927.

After successfully lobbying for reintroducing field hockey in the Olympics, the newly formed Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) made preparations to send its best possible team for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. In 1925, an Inter-Provincial Tournament was held to select the team members. Five teams participated in the inaugural nationals – United Provinces (UP), Punjab, Bengal, Rajputana and Central Provinces. Chand got permission from the Army to play for the United Provinces team.

In its first game in the tournament, Dhyan Chand as the centre-forward, and Marthins, their inside-right, performed very well together. Chand attracted much attention by his clever stick-work. His penetrating runs and judicious passes seemed to assure for him a position in the team that is to take part in the Olympic Games. Early in the game, it became evident that Chand was at his best. In combination with Marthins he took the ball away to the right and Marthins did well to give him a good pass. Quick as lightning, Dhyan Chand shot a goal. The ball struck one of the defenders’ stick and went into the net, giving goalkeeper Collie no chance. A goal within 3 minutes of the start was more than what the most optimistic of the UP supporters could expect. At the interval, UP led by three goals to nil.

On their part, Rajputana put every ounce of their efforts to score. The UP goal had more than one narrow escape, but were the winners of a fine exhibition match (3–1).

Buoyed by the success of the Tournament, it was decided that it would be held every two years. After two more trial matches between various hopefuls, the Olympic team (including Chand as center-forward) was announced and assembled in Bombay. Center-half Broome Eric Pinniger was selected as the captain. The IHF was initially low on funds since the provinces of Bombay, Madras and Burma had turned a deaf ear to their financial appeal, but they managed to scrape enough money. The Olympic team then played a match against the Bombay XI, and amazingly lost 3–2, even though Singh scored both his team’s goals. With a quiet send-off, the team left for England on 10 March, to play 11 matches against local sides as well in the London Folkestone Festival in 1927, winning all. It was also said that Great Britain did not send a team in 1928 to the Amsterdam Olympics after their national team was defeated by the Indian team at Folkestone. This is best cited in Kapur’s book Romance of Hockey where a despatch of H. Sutherland Stark, London representative of “Sports”, a magazine of Lahore, tells the story better than any other comment : “For reasons it is difficult to understand the English Hockey Association have taken up a very stiff attitude towards Indian Hockey in recent years and have repeatedly been twitted about it by even their own supporters. The Editor of a leading sports newspaper described them to me as an intensely conservative body, but there seems to be something more than conservative behind their unwillingness apparently ever to meet India in a full international encounter”.Finally, on 24 April, the team arrived in Amsterdam to embark on a tour of the Low Countries. In all the pre-Olympic matches against local Dutch, German and Belgian teams, the Indian team won by large margins.

In the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics, the Indian team was put in the division A table, with Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland . On 17 May the Indian national hockey team made its Olympic debut against Austria, winning 6–0, with Chand scoring 3 goals. The next day India defeated Belgium 9–0; however Chand only scored once. On 20 May, Denmark lost to India 5–0, with Chand netting 3. Two days later, he scored 4 goals when India defeated Switzerland 6–0.

The final match took place on 26 May, with India facing the home team of the Netherlands. The Indian team’s better players Feroze Khan, Ali Shaukat and Kher Singh were on the sick list and Chand himself was ill. However, even with a skeletal side, India managed to defeat the hosts 3–0 (with Singh scoring 2), and the Indian team won its country’s first Olympic gold medal. Chand was the top scorer of the tournament, with 14 goals in 5 matches. A newspaper report about India’s triumph said,

This is not a game of hockey, but magic. Dhyan Chand is in fact the magician of hockey.

On returning to India, the team was received by thousands of people at the Bombay harbour, compared to the three people who had seen them off.

Posted in Waziristan in the North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan) with his new 2/14 Punjab Regiment, Chand, by now a naik (corporal) was cut off from the IHF, which was by now controlled by civilians.

 The Inter-Provincial Tournament was being held to select the new Olympic team; the IHF wrote to the Army Sports Control Board to grant Singh leaves to participate in the nationals. His platoon refused. Chand received news that he had been selected by the IHF for the Olympic team without any formalities. The rest of his teammates however, had to prove their skills in the Inter-Provincial Tournament, which was won by Punjab. As such, seven players from Punjab were selected for the Olympic team. Apart from Chand, Broome Eric Pinnigar, Leslie Hammond and Richard Allen were the other 1928 Olympians retained in the team. Chand’s brother Roop Singh was also included in the squad as a left-in. Lal Shah Bokhari was selected as captain.

The Olympic team then played practice matches in India before heading for Colombo. In two matches in Ceylon, the Olympic team beat the All Ceylon XI 20–0 and 10–0. Wrote one newspaper on the first match,

“Perfection is perilous, for it tempts the gods. For once, this was proved wrong for even the god of weather paid tribute to the genius of the Indian players. Rain clouds, which had threatened to ruin the game, vanished into the blue, and thousands of spectators spent a happy hour marveling at the incomparable artistry of the Indian team.”

The India team set sail for San Francisco on 30 May, and arrived on 6 July. They reached Los Angeles three weeks before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, which took place on 30 July. On 4 August 1932, India played its first match against Japan and won 11–1. Chand, Roop Singh, Gurmit Singh each scored thrice, and Dickie Carr once. In the final on 11 August, India played against hosts USA. India won 24–1, a world record at that time (until it was broken in 2003), and once again clinched the gold medal. Chand scored 8 times, Roop Singh 10, Gurmit Singh 5 and Pinniger once. In fact, Chand along with his brother Roop, scored 25 out of the 35 goals scored by India . This led to them being dubbed the ‘hockey twins’.

One Los Angeles newspaper wrote, “The All-India field hockey team which G. D. Sondhi brought to Los Angeles to defend their 1928 Olympic title, was like a typhoon out of the east. They trampled under their feet and all but shoved out of the Olympic stadium the eleven players representing the United States.”

The team then embarked on a tour of the United States. They played a match on 20 August against a United States XI, almost the same team that they had faced in Los Angeles. Even after loaning its second keeper Arthur Hind, for a half, the team won 24–1.

After setting sail from New York, the team arrived in England. The then embarked on a hectic tour, playing nine matches in various countries in a fortnight, commencing on 2 September. They played four internationals-against the Netherlands, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The team then reached Sri Lanka and India, playing a number of matches to pay for their expenses. At the end of the tour, India had played 37 matches, winning 34, drawing 2, with one abandoned. Chand scored 133 of the 338 Indian goals.

In India he is often referred to as Hockey ka Jaadugar which translates to “Magician of the game of Hockey”.