On 29th August 1905, field hockey champion Dhyan Chand was born in Allahabad. Dhyan Chand is remembered for his quick goal scoring and for winning three Olympic gold medals for India.
Dhyan Chand Singh, popularly known as Dhyan Chand was born in Allahabad to Sameshwar Dutt, who used to work in the British Army and play hockey in the army as well. Chand’s younger brother, Roop Singh was a prolific hockey player as well. Since Dhyan Chand’s father was in the army, he was transferred to many places across India and finally the family settled in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh.
As a young boy, Chand had no interest in hockey and the only sport he was fond of was wrestling. Though he did play a few games of hockey casually with friends, Dhyan Chand did not take the sport seriously until later. Dhyan Chand joined the army at the age of 16, which is when he began playing hockey. Dhyan Chand had a habit of practicing hockey at night, when the moon came out (since there were no floodlights in those days). It was because of this that he was named “Chand” which means moon, by his friends.
Between 1922 and 1926 Dhyan Chand played hockey solely for army hockey tournaments. He was soon selected for the Indian Army team which was to tour New Zealand. There the team won 18 matches, and lost 1, while 2 matches were drawn. Chand received tremendous praise from all the spectators. After this, Chand won the first of two test matches against New Zealand. After this victory, Chand was promoted to Lance Naik on his return to India.
The Indian Hockey Federation successfully lobbied to reintroduce field hockey in the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928. An inter-provincial tournament was held in 1925 to choose India’s national hockey team. Five teams took part in the trial and Dhyan Chand was selected from the army to play for the United Provinces team. Impressed by his spectacular performance in the trials, Dhyan Chand was included in the Indian team as a centre forward. At that point the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) was low on funds, but received no financial support from Indian provinces. Nonetheless, the IHF managed to collect funds and received a quiet send off to England in March and played 11 matches, winning all of them in the Folkestone Festival. It is believed that Britain did not send their team after their national team had been defeated by the Indians at Folkestone.
On 17th May 1928 the Indian National Hockey team made its Olympic debut against Austria in which Chand scored 3 out of the 6 goals. Team India then went on to win all the matches that year and defeated Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and even the host nation, the Netherlands. Dhyan Chand was the top scorer throughout the tournament and following his impressive performance he popularly came to be known as the “Wizard of Hockey”. A newspaper quoted the following about Dhyan Chand after India’s triumphant victory, “This is not a game of hockey, but magic. Dhyan Chand is in fact the magician of hockey”. On the team's return back to India, the team was received by thousands of cheering fans, as opposed to the handful of people who had seen the team off at the airport.
Back to serving in the army, Dhyan Chand had lost touch with the IHC. When the inter-Provincial tournaments were being held to select the new Olympics team, the IHC contacted the Army Sports Control Board to allow Chand leave to participate in the nationals. When Chand’s platoon refused, he was selected for the Olympics team without any formalities. Other players however had to prove themselves in the Inter-Provincial tournament, which was eventually won by Punjab. Seven players from Punjab were selected. Chand along with other Olympians, Broome, Eric Pinnigar, Leslie Hammond and Richard Allen were part of the team by default. This team chosen for the Olympics practiced in India before heading to Colombo (Sri Lanka). The Indian team defeated the All Ceylon team by their spectacular performance.
Following this victory the Indian team left for San Francisco for the Olympics which were to take place from 30th July 1932. On 4th August 1932, India played its first match against Japan and won. During the final match against USA on 11th August 1932, India won, scoring not only a gold medal but also setting a world record at that time. During those Olympic Games, Chand and his brother scored 25 out of the 35 goals scored by India, which led their pair being nicknamed as the “Hockey Twins”.
The victorious team then proceeded on a tour of the USA and played another match against the States which they won again. After leaving from New York the Indian team reached England, from where they embarked on a tour across various countries like Germany, Holland and Hungary. By the end of the tour, India had played 37 matches out of which it won 34 matches, 2 matches were drawn and one was abandoned. Out of the 338 goals India had scored, Chand scored 133 of them.
In December 1934 the IHF decided to send a team to New Zealand. Chand and his brother Roop Singh were selected in this team, Dhyan Chand, as captain. In a subsequent tour, India played 48 matches, 28 in New Zealand and the rest in Ceylon and Australia. India won all the matches. Of those 48 matches, Chand played in 43 and scored 201 goals.
Once again after returning to India, Dhyan Chand resumed his duty with the army. In December 1935, the IHC again held an Inter-Provincial Tournament to select players for the Olympics team. Dhyan Chand’s platoon again refused to let him go and once again he was selected in the hockey team without any formalities. Dhyan Chand and the Indian team went on to win the Berlin Olympics in 1936 where he was honoured with the Olive Crown. Later in November 1947, Dhyan Chand was a part of India’s tour to East Africa where they won all the matches.
After returning from East Africa, Dhyan Chand reduced his involvement with serious hockey and only played a few matches. At the age of 51, in 1956 Dhyan Chand retired from the army as a Major and was honoured with the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in the same year. Following his retirement, Dhyan Chand coached hockey players in Mount Abu. Post his retirement; Dhyan Chand also held the position of Chief Hockey Coach at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala for many years.
Dhyan Chand passed away on 3rd December 1979 in Delhi, due to liver cancer. Even after his death, Dhyan Chand remains a legend in the field of hockey. His birthday, 29th August is celebrated as National Sports Day every year and the President of India gives away sports related awards, like the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and the Dronacharya Award at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on this day.
The 20th National Award 2012, the Gem of India, awarded by the Union Minister of India, was given to Dhyan Chand. The award was received by Dhyan Chand’s son, Ashok Dhyan Chand (a hockey Olympian in his own right) on behalf of his deceased father.
The Dhyan Chand Award, India’s highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is awarded every year to sportspeople who contribute to sports not only by their performance, but also after their retirement. In 2002, the National Stadium in Delhi was renamed the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in his honour. Apart from India, even the Astro-turf hockey pitch at the India Gymkhana in London is named after Dhyan Chand. A tube station in London is also named after this hockey legend.
There are also many interesting anecdotes associated with Dhyan Chand. It is believed that Adolf Hitler offered Dhyan Chand the position of Major in the British India Army after watching his spectacular performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, German citizenship and also offered to promote him to the position of Colonel in the army. But Dhyan Chand refused this offer.
Dhyan Chand’s autobiography, “Goal” was published in 1952 in Chennai and he will always be remembered as a legendary sportsperson who won India many awards and accolades.
Also on This Day:
1947: A drafting committee was set up with B.R Ambedkar as the Chairman to draft the Constitution of India.
1994: A prominent Bengali author and journalist, Tushar Kanti Ghose passed away.
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