The Indian hockey team was on a roll after winning its second consecutive gold medal at the 1932 Olympics. The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) had a template that was working – organise a countrywide inter-provincial tournament for selection purposes, and generate funds.
In 1936, the story was the same, however there was unparalleled interest among the players and administrators to be a part of the tournament. Hope was in the air, and many of the athletes knew, being part of the Olympic touring party would mean, a higher probability of winning the gold medal.
Thirteen teams took part in the championships. After a series of matches, the final showdown was between Bengal and Manavadar (a Gujarat province). Bengal won the close game 1-0 and took the Maori shield – which now served as the official trophy for the winners (donated by the Maoris when Indian team toured New Zealand in 1935).
SELECTION FOR BERLIN OLYMPICS
After the tournament, the selection panel from the IHF chose 18 players. IHF President Sir Jagadish Prasad (Member, Viceroy’s Commission) threw in his hat and chose Dhyan Chand as the captain. He was to be ably supported by Jagannath as the manager and Pankaj Gupta as the assistant manager. Dhyan Chand, a simple man with humble background was now given the task to lead the Indian team at the Olympics. His dream was no longer a dream.
A RARE LOSS AND A BUMPY RIDE
The grand tour to Berlin began with a match against Delhi on 16 June, 1936, a game in which the Olympic team lost by 4 goals to one. Was this the right team? or was it just one-off day similar to the match which was played against Bombay prior to the team’s departure to Amsterdam?
More so for Dhyan Chand, who did not take this defeat easily pondered whether India would lose under his captaincy at the Olympics. His doubts were somewhat set aside when he led the team victorious against Jhansi, Bhopal, Chennai, Bangalore and in Mumbai before setting foot on the P&O line Ranpura on June 27.
As the ship sailed on the Arabian sea, it was tough on some of the new players who were not used to the roughness of the sea, plus it was the monsoon season. The journey was to Marseilles, France with a stopover at Malta. From Marseilles, the team had to take a train to Paris, where the squad spent a day visiting some of the marvels Paris is well-known for. A train to Berlin and thereafter it was turn of the organising committee to showcase their hospitality.
Adolf Hitler, the chancellor of Germany used Olympics to showcase the progress his country was making to the world. He was few years away from unleashing his dark side, however anyone who visited Germany during the Games were perplexed by the amount of men in military uniform. They were everywhere, and some of these army men took part in the Games. Unlike the temporary structures that were built at LA, the Olympic village in Berlin was steel and brick affair.
LOSS TO THE HOSTS
On July 17, 1936, the Indian team faced a German international side as a part of their practice match. A shock defeat at the hands of the hosts, showed the improvement the German side had made in the last few years. Dhyan Chand and the two managers sat and discussed the line-up and seeing the poor form of India’s inside-right, an SOS was sent to the IHF to draft in a replacement player in place of Masood. Dara was sent and he only reached Berlin on the day of their penultimate match. This replacement was a contingency plan to tackle the German side should they meet India in the finals.
The rest of the practice matches were won without any hiccups.
30 GOALS EN ROUTE TO THE FINALS
India’s first match against Hungary was an appetiser of sorts, the defending champions won 4-0. Next up, USA and this time the defense of the American team was far better than the previous edition as they lost the match 0-7. Two matches and two wins – surely it was not making headlines. Indians were expected to win every match they played; the only question remained, by how many goals.
Japan fought hard and kept the score 0-0 for the first twenty minutes. Then, the goals came in a spree and the final score went in India’s favour 9-0. Next up was France, a calk walk if you may call it, 10-0 and India into the finals and were scheduled to play the hosts Germany.
The hockey finale between the two best teams of the tournament was postponed as a result of rain. With a bad pitch and scars from the earlier defeat to the German side, the Indian team wasted no time in requesting for the finals to be played next day. Last day of the Olympics, these two teams clashed on the morning of 15 August, a date which would be forever attached to India eleven years later.
In front of the 40,000 people and against a confident and well-matched German side, the battle was on. Germany adopted India’s tactics of short passes which helped them to keep the score down to 0-1 at half-time. The last half saw Indians unleash an all-out attack on the Germans and scored seven goals.
The Germans pulled one back – the only goal they managed to score in the finals and it also was the only goal conceded by the Indian team in the tournament. India’s captain Dhyan Chand scored yet another hatrick and this time he led India for a third successive Olympic gold medal.
A special correspondent from the Hindu summed up the finals this way – “The game was played at a fast pace and was packed with thrilling incidents. The Germans undercut and lifted the ball, but the Indian team countered with brilliant half-volleying and amazing long shots. Dhyan Chand discarded his spiked shoes and stockings and played with bare legs and rubber soles and became speedier in the second half.”
The Indian hockey team returned victorious, again and little did the squad knew, it would be another 12 years before an Olympic event would be held.