Autobiography of Hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand
Published by Sport & Pastime, Chennai, 1952
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The Game In England
|I must say a few words on how England, her people
and her press took interest in hockey. Most of the matches were played before a sprinkling of
spectators. Hockey is not popular in England like football & cricket.
England's press, like her people, takes little interest in hockey. Even the most thrilling hockey match merits just half a dozen lines. We stayed in England for 4 weeks, but few people knew that we were camping in London
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efore leaving for Amsterdam we played 11 matches in England. On the day after our arrival we journeyed to Aldershot, the military headquarters, where we opened our itinerary. We played against a Combined Services team and lost the match by two goals to one.
The beginning was thus inauspicious, but you must remember that as in Mumbai, we had no practice. During the three weeks on board the ship, we could only run about the decks and take part in deck games. Moreover, I feel that the result of this match should not have been on the record at all because the famous English summer weather came to the rescue of the home team, and the match had to be abandoned fifteen minutes early. It rained heavily, the ground was soggy, and we had no footwear to cope with the English conditions.
Let me here narrate an interesting experience that befell us and reminded us that England was not India. In India, whenever we got to the field for any match, our bearers and maalis carried our kits and gear. At Aldershot, we failed to shed our burra sahib attitude and were shouting for the maali to come and take our kits to the field. We shouted in vain, and then to our surprise found the opposing team march into the field with each player carrying his own kit.
We then realised that England was not the land of koi hai. Here every player, be he a prince or a pauper, must tote his own gear. Manager Rosser gently and affectionately rebuked us and told us that we must carry our kit ourselves. Thereafter we made no error on this score.
Although we stayed in England for quite a long time before we left for Amsterdam to take part in the Olympics, it was a great disappointment to us that we could not play a full international match in England. The Hockey Board of Great Britain did not think it proper to play an international fixture against us. We expected either England or Wales or Scotland or Ireland would play an international against us and give us a thrill. Instead we played an Anglo-Scottish XI at Merton Abbey, whom we beat 7-3, and played an Anglo-Irish XI also at Merton Abbey, whom we beat 12-4.
We took part in England's best known hockey carnival known as the Folkestone Festival. In this tournament the Hockey Association of England, instead of playing a national side against us, gave us a match in the name of the Hockey Association XI. We beat this team 4-0. The Hockey Association XI included 9 international players and 2 trial men. That being so, you might ask what is in a name? All I would say is that it was a case of sheer vanity or pride.
After winning the Olympic championship in 1932 at Los Angeles, we made a whirlwind tour of the European continent. On that occasion we spent a few days in London on a holiday. The English Hockey Association took no notice of us, let alone think of playing a friendly game against us.
A similar experience befell us again in 1936 when after winning the Olympic title in Berlin, we spent a few days holidaying in London on our way back to India. Of course we were not interested in any more hockey, but the point I am stressing is that the English Hockey Association again disregarded our presence on their soil. However, the same association arranged matches for the Afghanistan hockey team which also participated in the Berlin Olympics and were in London at the same time as us.
It strikes me now that the loose talk we heard in 1928 during the Folkestone Festival might have been true. We heard that England had initially entered for the Olympic hockey competition at Amsterdam in 1928. But after the Folkestone defeat, tongues wagged and said that England was scared of losing to us and hence withdrew from the event.
I reiterate that this is mere hearsay, although we fondly hoped that at least in future Olympics we would have the honour of meeting Great Britain and showing them how good or bad we were. It is my regret that this hope was never realised so long as I participated in Olympic events.
I envy the 1948 Indian Olympic team to whom fell that honour. How I wish I had at least been present to witness the historic occasion. But, like most of you, I was fated to be thousands of miles away at home listening to the radio and reading press reports.
We played a total of 11 matches in England, winning 9, drawing 1 and losing 1 - our first match at Aldershot. These pre-Olympic fixtures served us very well, and by the time we left for Holland in quest of Olympic honours, we could claim that we were fairly conversant with English hockey. There was one more advantage in all these matches; since the team consisted of the smallest number of men, it was often necessary for my teammates to play in different positions in the various matches.
The ground condition in most matches was very unfavourable to us because England's April showers played havoc with the field. The poet's desire "Oh! to be in England, now that April is here" was inexplicable as far as the Indian hockey players were concerned.
I must say a few words about how England, her people and her press took interest in hockey. Most of the matches were played before a sprinkling of spectators. We had a four-figure audience only at the Folkestone Festival.
Hockey is not a popular game in England like football and cricket, even though the number of hockey clubs is very large and each country has its own Hockey Association, with a central hockey board that organises matches between the four countries comprising Great Britain.
England's press, like her people, takes little interest in hockey. Hockey World is the only paper which lists the various matches played in full. It is the official organ of the Hockey Association, and is a weekly. It gives a systematic and methodical recording of hockey played all over England.
In England's daily press, even the most outstanding and thrilling hockey match would not command more than half a dozen lines. My name did come in for a meed of praise. I was called the "hockey wizard' and "human eel". We stayed in England for four weeks, but I would not have been surprised if even a few people knew that the Indian Olympic hockey team was then camping in London.
I will close this chapter with some recollections of my teammates. Our captain, Jaipal Singh, joined us immediately on our arrival in England. Studying in Oxford, he did not stay with us in London. Once could travel from Oxford to London in an hour or two by train, and so during match days he would come down from college.
Jaipal Singh's intimate knowledge of English players and ground conditions was of great help to us. We found him to be an exceedingly popular man in England's hockey world. A most affable man, he was a great hit in social circles too, as I found out in the few social gatherings I attended. We considered ourselves most fortunate in having such a man as our skipper.
The Nawab of Pataudi, that great cricketer, was also an Oxford student and he played with us at Folkestone. He did not accompany us to Amsterdam. Jaipal Singh and S. M. Yusuf, who was then studying in Cambridge, played with us in the Olympic Games, the latter staying with us throughout the tour.
Jaipal Singh, I believe, used to fly from London to Amsterdam most of the time, returning to London after the match was over. It is still a mystery to me why Jaipal Singh, after ably captaining us in England, and in two or three matches in the Olympic Games, suddenly left us. I have heard many stories, but so far I have not had the truth.
I could see from the very start of our stay in England that there was a conflict at the top level. Although Rosser was our manager, two ex-Indian Army men, Major Ricketts and Colonel Bruce Turnbull, more or less bossed Rosser. I could sense that our manager Rosser was not quite happy.
Whether this conflict at the top level had anything to do with Jaipal Singh's refusal to captain us later is a question for others to answer. Some said communal and racial issues were involved. Whatever the reason was, the fact remains that Jaipal Singh, the star full-back of Oxford, who made a great reputation in the hockey world in the Continent and in Great Britain, and who by virtue of his academic qualification and social status and knowledge of the game in those parts of the world was eminently suited to lead us, could not do so right till the end.
On Eric Pinniger, the vice-captain from Punjab, fell that mantle. He led the Indian team in the semi-final and final of the Amsterdam Olympic Games. I do not remember if Jaipal Singh even witnessed our play after he left us. Something had happened behind the scenes, and the three or four people who knew the inside story were manager Rosser, who is now no more, Major Ricketts, now retired and living somewhere in England, IHF president Major Burn-Murdoch, IHF vice-president Charles Newham, who is now in England, and Col. Bruce Turnbull, whose whereabouts I do not know.
All these men, for practical purposes, are not available, and it is very doubtful whether we might hear the real story from them. The only one who can enlighten us is Jaipal Singh, who is happily in our midst, and also perhaps Eric Pinniger who is in Pakistan. Jaipal Singh has now made politics his career, and he had done much for his people, the Adivasis.
Photograph taken on May 17, 1928 after India's first ever Olympic hockey match