A Tribute To Major Dhyan Chand

7 min read

By: Dr. Vijay Francis Peter, Sr. Sports Editor, ICN Group

Major Dhyan Chand’ Singh better known as Dhyan Chand was an Indian field hockey player, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time. A legendary center-forward, he is remembered for his goal-scoring feats, first as a player and later as captain. Chand won 3 Olympic gold medals (1928 Amsterdam,1932 Los Angeles, 1936 Berlin) and was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honour, in 1956.

Dhyan Chand Singh was a Bais Rajput He was the elder brother of fellow player Roop Singh. His father Sameshwar Dutt Singh was in the Indian Army. The family finally settled in Jhansi. Being in the military, Singh’s 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.

Chand joined the Indian Army at the age of 16, in 1922. It was in informal matches in the regiment that Subedar-Major Bale Tiwari noticed his dribbling skills. A keen enthusiast of the game, Tiwari recognized Chand’s talent. He became his mentor and laid the foundations of his technique. 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. 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. 

1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics

In the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics, the Indian team was put in the division A table, with Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland . On May 17 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 May 20, Denmark lost to India 5-0, with Chand netting 3. Two days later, he scored 4 goals when India defeated Switzerland 6-0 in the semi-finals.

The final match took place on May 26, 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. Keeper Richard Allen created a unique record of not conceding a single goal. Chand was the top scorer of the tournament by a large margin, scoring 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.

1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and tours

Chand 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 leave 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. Chand’s brother Roop Singh was also included in the squad as a left-in. Lal Shah Bokhari was selected as captain. 

They reached Los Angeles and won all matches. In the final India played against hosts USA. India won 24-1, a world record at that time, and once again clinched the gold medal. Chand scored 8 times, Roop Singh 10. 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.”

Captaincy and 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics

In 1933, Chand’s home team, the Jhansi Heroes participated in and won the Beighton Cup, which he considered the most prestigious of Indian hockey tournaments.

If anybody asked me which was the best match that I played in, I will unhesitatingly say that it was the 1933 Beighton Cup final between Calcutta Customs and Jhansi Heroes. Calcutta Customs was a great side those days; they had Shaukat Ali, Asad Ali, Claude Deefholts, Seaman, Mohsin, and many others who were then in the first flight of Indian hockey. I had a very young side. Besides my brother Roop Singh.

The final team for Olympic reached Berlin on July 13. On July 17, the Indian team played a practice match against Germany and lost 4-1. As such, manager Pankaj Gupta informed the IHF that Ali Dara had to be sent immediately to replace the out of form Mirza Masood.

India and Germany were to clash in the 1936 Berlin Olympics field hockey final.

On the morning of the final, the entire team was nervous since they had been defeated the last time they had faced Germany. In the locker room, Pankaj Gupta produced a Congress tricolour. Reverently the team saluted it, prayed and marched onto the field. The German team was successful in restricting the India side to a single goal until the first interval. After the interval, the Indian team launched an all-out attack, easily defeating Germany 8-1, incidentally the only goal scored against India in that Olympic tournament. Chand top-scored with 3 goals.

The final was included in the Leni Riefenstahl film on the 1936 Olympics, Olympia. Overall, in 3 Olympic tournaments, Chand had scored 33 goals in 12 matches.

East African tour and final tournaments

After returning from Berlin, Chand joined his regiment. Between 1936 and the commencement of the War in 1939, he largely confined himself to army hockey, with one visit to Kolkata to take part in the Beighton Cup tournament in 1937. After the Beighton Cup, Chand spent four months in a military camp in Pachmarhi to attend military classes. Later, he was promoted to Lieutenant.

Towards the closing phases of the war, Chand led an army hockey team which toured around the battlefields in Manipur, Burma, the Far East and Ceylon. When the war ended in 1945, Chand decided that the Indian hockey team needed new young players. In 1947, the IHF was requested by the Asian Sports Association (ASA) of East Africa to send a team to play a series of matches. Unusually, the ASA made a condition that Chand should be included in the team. Once again, Chand was chosen as captain.

Last days

In 1951,Captain Dhyan Chand was honored at the National Stadium with Dhyan Chand tournament.

In 1956, at the age of 51, he retired from the army with the rank of Major. The Government of India honored him the same year by conferring him the Padma Bhushan. Till date, he remains the only hockey player to have received the Padma Bhushan.

After retirement, he taught at coaching camps at Mount Abu, Rajasthan. Later, he accepted the position of Chief Hockey Coach at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, a post he held for several years. Chand spent his last days in his hometown of Jhansi.

Dhyan Chand died on December 3, 1979 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. He was cremated at the Jhansi Heroes ground in his hometown, after some initial problems in getting clearance. His regiment, the Punjab Regiment, accorded him full military honours.

Legacy

Even today, Dhyan Chand remains a legendary figure in Indian and world hockey. His astounding skills have been glorified in various invented stories. A number such legends revolve around the fact that Singh had a magical control over dribbling the ball.

August 29, Chand’s birthday, is celebrated as National Sports Day in India. The President gives away sport-related awards such as the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award on this day at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

India’s highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is the Dhyan Chand Award which has been awarded annually from 2002 to sporting figures who not only contribute through their performance but also contribute to the sport after their retirement. Dhyan Chand holds record for the most international goals, i.e. more than 1000 .

Stories about Dhyan Chand’s play

  • Once, while playing a hockey game, Major Dhyan Chand was not able to score a goal against the opposition team. After several misses, he argued with the match referee regarding the measurement of the goal post, and amazingly, it was found to not be in conformation with the official width of a goal post.
  • After India played its first match in the 1936 Olympics a German newspaper carried a banner headline: ‘The Olympic complex now has a magic show too.’ The next day, there were posters all over Berlin: Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action.
  • After seeing his creative play at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Adolf Hitler offered Dhyan Chand, a Major in the British Indian Army, German citizenship and an offer to promote him to the rank of a Colonel (which Dhyan Chand, of course, refused).
  • In Holland, the authorities broke his hockey stick to check if there was a magnet inside.
  • On one occasion, a lady from the audience asked Dhyan Chand to play with her walking stick instead. He scored goals even with them.
  • Don Bradman and Dhyan Chand once came face to face at Adelaide in 1935, when the Indian hockey team was in Australia. After watching Dhyan Chand in action, Don Bradman remarked “He scores goals like runs in cricket”
  • Residents of Vienna, Austria, honoured him by setting up a statue of him with four hands and four sticks, depicting his control and mastery over the ball.