Balbir Singh Senior: The legendary goal machine who was always a team man
The dying of Balbir Singh Senior doesn’t mark the top of an period. The period in query had lengthy disappeared in a vortex of fevered creativeness and half-remembered truths. The man himself had seen it disappear. He had tried to alert others to the actual fact greater than forty years in the past however, like Cassandra, he had gone unheeded. That is why his dying is a superb loss: we by no means understood what we had.
If the common Indian remembers Singh at the moment – if we bear in mind him in any respect within the midst of the pandemic – it will likely be as a talismanic goal-scorer from the time when newly impartial India gained the hockey gold in three consecutive Olympic Games. The traditionally minded will savour the neat symmetry of all of it, for the sequence mirrored the Olympic exploits of the hockey groups from British India within the inter-war years when the ur-Indian centre-forward, Dhyan Chand, reigned supreme.
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Close followers of the sport may even recall Singh’s function within the background of India’s triumph within the 1975 Hockey World Cup, the final match earlier than worldwide hockey changed grass with synthetic enjoying floor. Talk of the pre-Astroturf period could immediate the mischievous to make jokes about how India had been the one-eyed king within the land of the blind. After Partition, the opposite eye went to Pakistan who didn’t do too badly both, they may add. The confused could specific shock that Balbir Singh died twice when in truth it was his youthful namesake who handed away in February.
All these totally different factors of view will miss the important import of Singh’s lengthy and storied life and what it tells us about hockey in India and about India itself.
The colonial legacy
Singh and others from the primary batch of Indian hockey heroes had been merchandise of colonialism. The lifestyle in a British-ruled colony conditioned them to take up a sport like hockey. Colonial-era establishments, whether or not sympathetic or against the British Empire, gave them the chance to nurture their abilities.
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A robust home construction with roots going again to the start of the 20th century allowed them make a profession out of the sport. They had an earlier era of gamers, a few of them world beaters, to study from. And that they had in a position directors, from the ranks of each the rulers and the dominated, to assist them.
The naked bones of Singh’s life story match the narrative. That he began enjoying hockey within the city of Moga in East Punjab factors to the unfold of the sport past the large cities and conventional centres, in Punjab particularly and throughout British India usually. After his failure within the F.A. examinations in Moga, he might keep it up together with his training at Sikh National College, Lahore, and later at Khalsa College, Amritsar, as a result of he was an impressive hockey participant. And it was his hockey abilities that bought him a job in legislation enforcement.
Sir John Bennett, the Inspector-General of Police, Punjab, knew an excellent hockey participant when he noticed one. Others who formed Singh’s profession included Harbail Singh, whom he first met when the latter was coach at Khalsa College, and Dickie Carr, an Anglo-Indian from Kharagpur and a gold medal winner on the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, at whose insistence Singh was referred to as as much as the 1948 trials in Bombay.
A team-man to the top of his life, Singh wouldn’t have disputed the truth that he was not an outlier. Taking the instance of the 1948 India squad despatched to London: other than a big contingent from Bombay, it included gamers who spent a substantial a part of their youth in large cities like Lahore (Keshav Chandra Datt and Tarlochan Singh), Delhi (Jaswant Singh Rajput), Bangalore (Walter D’Souza) and Madras (Ranganathan Francis).
But there have been others who had learnt their hockey in smaller centres like Faisalabad (Grahanandan Singh), Naini Tal (Pat Jansen), Bhopal (Akhtar Hussain and Latif-ur-Rehman), Jubbulpore (Gerry Glacken), Mhow (Kishan Lal, the captain) and Kharagpur (Leslie Claudius). Their love for the sport had been variously nurtured by Anglo-Indian colleges, schools, civilian golf equipment, useful seniors and sympathetic directors. Quite a few gamers from that period discovered employment in authorities companies, which had been the bulwark of British rule in India.
These information should not acknowledged to undermine the fun felt by the gamers after they bought the chance to signify the tri-colour in London in 1948, about which Singh had spoken eloquently. And impartial India rightly reaped the advantages of what this high-quality era of hockey gamers achieved for the nation. However, it’s equally vital to grasp the legacy that they had inherited, a legacy that impartial India failed to guard past some extent.
Of course, as Indians coming to maturity in and round 1947, Singh’s era needed to negotiate a world marked by each continuity and alter, together with the seminal occasions of Independence and Partition, the brutality of which Singh, as a policeman in Punjab, noticed from shut quarters. There had been different, minor discontinuities that needed to be handled. The 12-year Olympic hiatus compelled by the Second World War meant free India might not name upon any participant from Dhyan Chand’s era. A recent problem needed to be mounted with new gamers. India was lucky that hockey had continued within the nation uninterrupted by means of the warfare years however in the meantime the usual of hockey internationally had additionally improved. And in fact, there was Pakistan.
The gamers had their particular person demons to take care of too. Looking again at India’s Olympic domination within the decade after independence, it’s tempting to think about that it got here all too simply. However, behind each triumph lay tales of particular person and collective battle. For instance, it’s not often remembered that Claudius, who would go on to win three Olympic gold medals and one silver, performed just one match in London. He was thought-about too small to be efficient within the heavy grounds of England.
It was no totally different for Singh. Tucked away in Dhyan Chand’s memoirs, Goal!, revealed in 1952, is a remark in regards to the Indian centre-forwards of the time. “It is a pity,” writes Dhyan Chand, “That we have no outstanding centre-forward to-day. That is my opinion. What we have to-day is a company of mediocrities amongst whom I would include Balbir Singh of East Punjab.” As a participant and a coach, Singh made many critics eat their phrases. One want to think about that Dhyan Chand would have agreed to do the identical by the point Singh ended his enjoying profession.
A warning that went unheeded
What allowed gamers like Singh and Claudius to beat such obstacles early of their careers was the strong system that produced and supported Indian hockey gamers. And that is what Singh had seen disappearing earlier than his eyes. In 1977, he wrote, in collaboration with sports activities journalist Samuel Banerjee, an autobiography, The Golden Hat Trick: My Hockey Days. In the foreword, Banerjee writes: “(Balbir Singh’s) only concern was whether the printed word would draw more youngsters to our dying hockey tradition.” India had been nonetheless the World Cup holders, however had missed out on an Olympic semi-final spot for the primary time in Montreal in 1976. Singh might already see the top.
He was not the primary. Twenty years earlier, in 1957, Father Daniel Donnelly, rector at St Stanislaus School, Bombay, had recognized the principle threats to India’s hockey supremacy: the failure of colleges to foster the sport and falling spectatorship at hockey matches. Donnelly’s clear-sighted evaluation had implicated, with out naming, authorities officers, educators and hockey directors in India’s failure to guard its hockey legacy. What made Singh totally different was that he had proven, in 1975, that he had an answer.
Of course, Singh would have been the primary to level out that he had assist from like-minded people and, extra importantly, he had the belief of the gamers who executed his plans to perfection. If solely Indian hockey directors had reposed related religion within the man within the many years that adopted. The introduction of Astroturf, and its shortage in India, would have arguably created a brand new impediment in his path. However, from what we all know of Singh, on the sector and off it, he would have possible discovered a well beyond it.