Balbir Singh Dosanjh is perhaps the greatest field hockey player India has ever produced. Received from his freedom fighter father -his First Hockey Stick as a ‘Birthday Gift ‘ on completing 5 years. Idolizing India’s national pride Dhyan Chand, Balbir Singh Senior continued our legacy as world class dribblers who did magic with their sticks.
Before the Gavaskar’s, Kapil Dev’s and Tendulkar, there was a young boy from Punjab who made India proud globally. In the early 1940’s and 50’s hockey was India’s most loved and watched sport. Dhyan Chand, who is undoubtedly the father of Indian hockey, kick-started a revolution by winning the 1936 Olympic Gold medal.
When he was 12 years old, he was a Goal Keeper – Balbir watched 1936 Olympics Team India’s performance in a News real & saw the players scoring goals ( Dhyan Chand 3, Dara 2, RoopSingh 1, Tapsell1, Jaffar 1 & at that time – Balbir dreamt of scoring goals for India one day and could visualize public applauding for him ! His dream helped him to change to playing Centre Forward all his life & Scoring Goals for Independent India !!
Though India had previously won gold at the Olympics, the 1936 Berlin games created a rage that produced players like Balbir Singh Dosanjh.
A living legend and ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of world hockey, he is one of the very few players to win three Olympic Gold medals. The versatile center forward achieved this feat at 1948, 1952, and 1956 Olympic Games.
As a teen, Balbir Singh Dosanjh got hooked to Hockey after watching a few black and white newsreels of 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. He was mesmerized the way Dhyan Chand sold dummies to the opposition defenders. That was the day he decided to become a hockey player and win medals for India.
In 1952 Olympic Games Dosanjh scored five goals in the tournament final. The Olympic record is yet to be broken by any player. In total the magical center forward led all scorers that year with nine goals for the tournament.
A special honor was given to him in 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games as he was chosen the flag bearer of the Indian contingent.
People close to the Dosanjh family say that Balbir Singh Sr. is a direct descendant of Baba Bidhi Chand. He was a close aide of Guru Hargobind, the sixth of the Sikh Gurus. Perhaps this is where the grand old man of Indian hockey has inherited his fighting qualities.
The senior was recently bestowed with the ‘Keep Walking’ Honour for Lifetime Achievement at the Indian Sports Honours.
Balbir Singh Dosanjh and his Love for Hockey
The journey to his life’s calling, as he terms it, began 85 years ago. His father, Dalip Singh Dosanjh, a freedom fighter gave his son a hockey stick as a gift for his seventh birthday. The excitement with which his son, Balbir opened the gift wrapping and ran on to the ground nearby to play with his new stick warmed his father’s heart.
Balbir Singh Dosanjh was born on 19th October 1924 at Haripur Khalsa, Punjab and received his education at Dev Samaj High School Moga, DM College, and Khalsa College Amritsar.
The hockey ground at his school was, in fact, their family’s backyard. Young Balbir spent his after-school hours playing with his mates here. Observing him through the window of his tiny home, Dalip Singh would often wonder if his gift had distracted his son from his studies.
But, little did he know then that his son would one day become a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a world hockey legend!
Balbir Singh Dosanjh’s Early Stint in Hockey
Balbir Singh Dosanjh initially played for his college team at the Sikh National College, Lahore. However, the Coach of Khalsa College Amritsar, Harbail Singh persuaded him to get transferred to Khalsa College.
Balbir senior was his coach’s favorite trainee and blue-eyed boy. After the team finished their practice, Harbail Singh would take young Balbir aside and ask him to polish his dribbling skills. The coach followed this with ‘top-of-the-striking-circle’ shots into a goal for an hour.
Thereafter he moved to Amritsar in 1942 and began training and practice under Harbail’s guidance. In 1942-43 he was selected to represent Punjab University and he captained his team to 3 All India Inter-University titles in a row: 1943, 1944 and 1945. Balbir Sr. represented the team of Undivided Punjab (India and Pakistan) led by Col. AIS Dara that won the National Hockey Championships in 1947.
The partition of India forced Singh and his family to move to Ludhiana. He was posted in Punjab Police and captained the Punjab Police team during 1941-1961.
Balbir Singh Dosanjh – The greatest center forward to grace the Olympics
A three-time Olympic gold medalist, Indian field hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr. is still the record holder. He scored the most number of individual goals (five), against the Netherlands at Helsinki 1952 in an Olympic final.
The Indian men’s field hockey team recorded a historic sequence of six consecutive Olympic titles between 1928 and 1956. The prolific center forward Balbir Singh played a key role in the latter three of those famous triumphs. He not only scored crucial goals but also led his boys to glory in 1956.
1948 London Olympic Games
Balbir Singh Dosanjh was 23 when he made his Olympic debut, spearheading India’s attack against Argentina in their second match. A talented youngster he made an immediate impact, scoring a double hat-trick( 6 out of 9 goals) in an impressive 9-1 victory.
The date was 12 August 1948. 25,000 fans packed into Wembley Stadium for a much-anticipated gold-medal match between Great Britain and India. The Indians gave a tough fight to the Britishers. Singh Sr. was instrumental in the 4-0 win, netting twice in the first half.
The resounding victory delivered a first major sporting triumph to a country that had achieved independence the previous year. This was India’s first Gold as an Independent nation.
“Those feelings of joy and happiness are difficult to explain,” recalled Singh Sr. 67 years later.
“You have to experience it. But I was so happy on top of the world! Those first Games in 1948 are still fresh in my mind.”
1952 Helsinki Olympic Games
The Indian team was the king of the jungle when it came to field hockey world competitions. After four years, the Punjab native assumed the role of India’s flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony of Helsinki 1952 games. Appointed as the vice-captain of the team, he set a fine example by displaying sparkling form throughout the Olympic Games.
Facing Great Britain in the semi-final he scored all of the goals in a 3-1 win. In the final match against the Netherlands, Balbir Singh Dosanjh was simply unstoppable, slotting the ball past Dutch goalkeeper Lau Mulder five times.
The individual scoring record that still stands to this day, in a comprehensive 6-1 victory. In total, the Indian center forward racked up nine of India’s 13 goals at the Helsinki Olympic Games.
1956 Melbourne Olympic Games
Due to his amazing dribbling capabilities, and leadership qualities Balbir Singh Dosanjh was made the captain of the Indian team. He was not just the captain of the team but also the flag bearer of the Indian contingent at the games.
The added responsibility did not prove burdensome for the dribble master. He led his team-mates to a third successive Olympic gold/title by defeating Pakistan 1-0 in the final.
At the opening match with Afghanistan, he struck five times as India routed the opponents 14-0.
This high octane performance injured him and the captain had to sit out of the team until the semi-final match. In the semis, his brilliance with the stick helped India beat Germany 1-0 and advance to the gold medal match.
Other Duties and Tournaments under Captain and Coach Balbir Singh Dosanjh
After winning the Olympic gold medal thrice(48,52&56), Balbir Singh Dosanjh brought laurels to the nation in other world tournaments as well. He represented the Indian Hockey team at Tokyo Asian Games 1958 and Jakarta Asian Games 1962. India won a silver medal at both events.
After his playing career got over he served as the manager and chief coach of the Indian Hockey team. As a chief Coach/ Manager trained Eight Indian Teams for Inter National Tournaments- Each team had a Podium. In the 1971 World Cup Hockey tournament, under his coaching, the Indian team managed to grab a bronze medal. The golden moment of his coaching career came in the 1975 Hockey World cup when the Indian team was crowned world champions.
Awards and Recognition
- Balbir Singh Dosanjh was the first sportsperson to be honored with the Padma Shri award in the year 1957.
- He lit the Flame at the Asian Games 1982 held at New Delhi.
- In a poll conducted by the Pioneer newspaper in 1982, he was adjudged as the Player of the Century.
- In 2006 he was named the Best Sikh Hockey Player of All Times.
- Hockey India honored him with the Major Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
- He has his name in The Guinness Book of World Records for the longest unbroken record of scoring maximum goals in any Olympic Hockey Finals.
- During 2012 London Olympics -Chosen as one of sixteen’Iconic Olympians’, across all participants in all disciplines since the start of the modern Olympic Era in 1896 (a period of 116 years) by the custodians of Olympic History, The Olympic Museum( Lausanne) to have their Olympic Journey Showcased! Only Sportsperson from World Hockey, Only Asian Man & Only Indian – to be honored in this manner !!
‘GOLD’ – Sports Biopic of the Life and Time of Balbir Singh Dosanjh
Superstar Akshay Kumar will be seen playing the role of India’s legendary hockey player Balbir Singh Dosanjh. The movie is set against the backdrop of India’s Independence in 1947. Gold is directed by Reema Kagti and will showcase the heroic efforts of Balbir Singh Sr. and his team to give India the first ‘Gold’ medal as an Independent nation.
At 94, Balbir Singh Dosanjh is still active in the sporting arena and frequently visits the training ground to motivate youngsters. His last wish is to see India once again win the Gold at the Olympics Games.
Team KreedOn wishes the legend a healthy life and hopes he keeps inspiring us as he always does.