Although Hockey was invented in Persia way back in 200 BC, it was in mid-1800s that the modern version of the game was founded. The first field hockey club was established in Blackheath, Ireland in 1861. It was through British Regiments that Indians were first exposed to Hockey.
As was with Cricket, the first professional Hockey Club was established in Calcutta between 1885-86. It was followed by formation of clubs in Bombay and Punjab. The latter would go on to give the Hockey world innumerable gems.
The first Hockey Association in India went by the name ‘Bengal Hockey’. As the game became increasingly popular in the country, many more Associations started mushrooming up. Prominent among them were in Bombay, Bihar, Orissa, and Delhi.
Let us know the complete Indian hockey history and their journey in the olympic games.
Indian Hockey Olympics:
1928 Olympics- A Legend is Born
India made its Olympic debut at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, Netherlands. Playing in its first ever Olympics, the Indian hockey returned home with a gold medal, a first for the country as well.
The highlight of their feat was that they did not concede a single goal on their way to the yellow metal.
In their Division A matches, the men’s team defeated far experienced European teams by huge margins. This included the famous thrashing of Austria (6-0), Belgium (9-0), Denmark (6-0), and Switzerland (5-0).
The Gold medal match against hosts Holland was relatively tough, especially the first half. However, the Indian Hockey team made a great comeback in the second and put 3 past their opponents to finish at the top of the podium.
The standout performer for them was a 23-year-old player by the name Dhyan Chand. The Allahabad-born forward had scored 14 goals in the competition, three hat-tricks - one of which came in the finals.
‘The Wizard’, a sobriquet that he earned for his skillful goal-scoring antiques, would go on to lit up future Olympic Games for India.
1932 Olympics- The Biggest Win - Ever
The Indian Hockey juggernaut had an easy task defending their Olympic gold four years later at Los Angeles with only three teams featuring - USA and Japan besides themselves.
In fact ‘easy’ would be an overstatement, as the Indians defeated the Americans by a huge 24-1 in the gold-medal match, the biggest win at the time. The record stood for well over 60 years before New Zealand defeated Samoa by 36-0 in 1994.
Moreover, it was only 86 years later that India bettered its record by defeating Hong Kong China by 36-0 in 2018.
In the match against USA, Roop Singh, Dhyan Chand’s brother, was the star of the night, putting 10 past the poor hosts.
1936 Olympics - A Close Shave with Hitler
The 1936 Berlin Olympics campaign started on a nervous note for team India, as they were humbled 4-1 in a practice match by hosts Germany. However, riding on an in-form Dhyan Chand, the team went on to defeat familiar foes Japan (9-0), Hungary (4-0), and USA (7-0) to make it to the semi finals.
In the semis, they defeated France 10-0 to set a date with home-side Germany in the finals.
Having earlier suffered a defeat at their hands, the Indian team were nervous going into the finals. The epic finale perspired before a strong crowd of 40,000 enthusiastic fans, which also included the dreaded dictator, Fuhrer Adolf Hitler.
The Germans were successful in containing Indians and thus Dhyan Chand to a single goal in the first half.
India triggered an all-out attack in the second half to put 7 goals past the hosts, much to the dismay of Hitler. Legend has it that the autocrat stormed out of the stadium witnessing his country being defeated 8-1 only to return back for the medal ceremony.
Although Indian Hockey team had managed to defend the medal for the third time in the most unprecedented manner, things became tense when Dhyan Chand was called upon by Hitler for a special meeting.
Dhyan Chand’s meeting with Adolf Hitler
The ‘Magician’ was understandably worried since stories of the Fuhrer shooting people on spot were prevalent in those days. However, during the meeting in his private chamber, Hitler informed the Indian how impressed he was with his performances in the final. Moreover, after knowing that Chand was a part of the Indian army, the Fuhrer reportedly offered Dhyan Chand a high post in the Nazi army.
In reply, the 31-year-old politely refused the offer citing family relocation as the constraint. Quite thankfully, Hitler understood his reason and bid a warm adieu to him.
After a 8 year hiatus due to the World War, Olympics returned in 1948, exactly a year after India became independent.
With no legends like Major Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh among their ranks, India was not considered as a force to reckon with at that time.
However, those doubts were cleared as the Indians sailed through to the semifinals with convincing wins over Argentina (9-1), Austria (8-0), and Spain (2-0). A 23-year-old Balbir Singh was the star of the show for the team, scoring a double hat-trick on his debut in Argentina’s 9-1 demolition.
The final was against India’s former colonizers Great Britain, thus making it an emotional affair. As destiny would have it, the highly anticipated final was scheduled on 12th August, just 3 days before India’s independence day.
In the politically and emotionally charged match at Wembley, the Britons fielded a defensive formation. Nonetheless, riding on an in form Balbir, India took an early lead in the match. The second followed another just before half-time.
Pat Jensen and Trilochan Singh then scored one apiece in the second half to ensure that an Independent India retained their Olympic hockey crown with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Great Britain.
The victory significant as India had been struggling from the aftermath of the deadly partition. Add to that Indian Hockey Federation’s paucity of funds and the the team’s victory seems nothing less than a miracle.
Acknowledging this, BBC fittingly described Indian hockey team’s 1948 London Olympics gold as one of the most ‘politically significant’ episodes in the history of the Games.
The 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games was another smooth ride for the Indians. The team beat Austria in the second round by a comfortable 4-0 margin to set a semi final date with a familiar opponent in Great Britain. It was not a difficult task as well with the India Hockey team winning by 3-1.
Ultimately, the gold-medal match against the Netherlands as they were condemned to a 6-1 defeat at the hands of the Asians. That marked India’s fifth Olympic gold on the trot.
1956 Olympics - The Sweet Six
In the final phase of their Olympic dominance, Indian men were mauling teams in epic proportions and the 1956 Melbourne Games were no different.
The hockey team put a record 36 goals past their opponents in the group stage. This included the thrashings against Afghanistan (14-0), United States (16-0), and Singapore (6-0).
Then again, hockey legends like Balbir Singh, Leslie Claudius, Randhir Singh Gentle, Amir Kumar, and Shankar Lakshman among others were the architects of India’s Olympic gold march.
The semi final against 1932 Olympic finalists Germany was a tight affair, but India prevailed 1-0. In an epic climax, Sardar Harbail Singh’s men were to face arch rivals Pakistan in the finals.
In the build-up to the crunch gold medal match, India faced a major setback when the team's captain, Balbir Singh Sr., suffered a fracture in his dominant right hand. However, a resilient Singh decided to play the emotional final despite the painful injury. In doing so, he set an example before his team and that charged the team up.
Playing at the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), India Hockey team notched their sixth straight India's only medal at the 1956 Olympics.
Indian Hockey team was firm favourite entering into the 1960 Rome Olympics. They men defeated Denmark (10-0), Netherlands (4-1), and New Zealand (3-0) comfortably to make a headway into the quarters. The team then beat Australia and Great Britain to make for another encounter against arch rivals Pakistan.
However, unlike at the 1956 Olympics, the finals would be anything but easy. Afterall, India were to face a formidable Pak side that had conceded only a single goal besides scoring 24.
The highly-anticipated gold-medal match started brightly with Pakistan taking an early lead through Naseer Bunda in the 6th minute. However, the Indian men failed to break open an adamant Pak defence. The resultant was that the team failed to extend their record of winning 6 gold medals and had to settle with a silver.
Nonetheless, that wasn’t the end of the story, as the duo would go on to meet again in the following Olympics.
1964 Olympics - Revenge is Sweet
Coming from a heartbreaking final defeat at the hands of Pakistan, the Indian Hockey team began their 1964 Olympic campaign on a nervous note. They drew 1-1 first against Spain and then against Germany.
However, as the competition wore off, the team regained its lost momentum. It went on to win all the remaining 5 matches to top the group B.
Competing in the semi finals, India defeated fellow Asians Australia 3-1 to comfortably book a berth in finals.
However, as destiny would have it, India was also handed a golden opportunity of avenging the 1964 defeat as the finalists were none other than their dreaded rivals Pakistan.
And the Indians did just that, condemning Pakistanis to a 1-0 defeat and clinching the 7th Olympic gold in the process.
The phase from 1928 until 1964 could thus be considered as the golden era of Indian hockey. The team scored a massive 178 goals during the time (in Olympics) besides conceding only 7 goals.
During this dominance, India produced some of the most finest players in the world hockey. These included Balbir Singh, Gurbux Singh, Mohd. Shaheed, Zafar Iqbal, Merwin Fernandes, B. P. Govinda, Charles Cornelius, Ajitpal Singh, Harbinder Singh, Gurbux Singh, Harmik Singh, and Virinder Singh among others.
The gold medal win at the 1980 Olympics was the Indian Hockey team’s last major achievement in the competition.
Moreover, after India’s 1983 Cricket World Cup triumph, the cricket overtook hockey as India’s unofficial national sport when it comes to popularity.
The hockey team's performance declined over the next three decades. It failed to win a medal at the Olympics or the World Cup.
Hockey in Modern India
Nonetheless, the new generation of youngsters are taking India’s game to a whole new level with their breathtaking performances.
After a long sabbatical, the Indian men's team won its first ever major medal - a silver medal - at the Champions Trophy in 2016. They also managed to reach the knockout stage of the Olympics for the very first time in over 36 years. Moreover, the team also reached the quarter finals of 2018 World Cup, losing out to the Netherlands 2-1.
As of 2019, the team is ranked 5th in the FIH world ranking. From 2018, the Government of Odisha also started sponsoring the Indian national field hockey team, both women and men's team.
India have had some exceptional hockey players have graced the game. Dhyan Chand, Balbir Singh Jr, Dhanraj Pillay are a few in the long list of hockey greats. Along with these players, the team also had some outstanding coaches. Let us take a look at the 5 most popular Indian hockey coaches, team has ever had.
- Harendra Singh
Singh has represented India in 43 matches. He made his international debut at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing where India bagged the silver medal.
Harendra Singh has worked in various coaching and managerial roles of national senior and junior teams in tournaments such as 2000 Summer Olympics, 2005 Men's Hockey Junior World Cup, 2006 Men's Hockey World Cup, 2006 Asian Games, 2009 Men's Hockey Asia Cup and 2010 Men's Hockey World Cup.
After receiving the Dronacharya award in 2012, Singh was made the head coach of the Indian junior team in 2014 and the team won the World Cup in 2016.
It was in September 2017, he was appointed as the head coach of the India women's national field hockey team. This team then won the the gold medal at the 2017 Women's Hockey.
In May 2018, Harendra Singh was appointed the head coach of the India’s Men Hockey team. The team has won the silver at the 2018 Men's Hockey Champions Trophy and has has achieved 11 Gold Medals, 9 Silver medals and 7 bronze medals.
- Mir Ranjan Negi
No one can forget the best sports film made in Indian Cinema - Chak De India. As it may, the film was loosely based on Negi's life.
It was in the 1982 Asian Games, that Negi was the goal keeper and the the final was against the arch rivals Pakistan. India was humiliated by a margin of 1-7 and Negi was accused of having conceded those goals.
Negi returned as a goalkeeping coach in 1998 Asian Games in which the India national field hockey team won the Gold. Four years later, he was appointed as the goalkeeping coach of the India women's national field hockey team. The team won the Gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Mir Ranjan Negi has also served as the assistant coach to the Women's team when it won the Gold at the 2004 Hockey Asia Cup.
- Mullera Poovayya Ganesh
MP Ganesh played for India at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, finishing third.He twice represented India in the Asian Games, first in 1970 in Bangkok and then in 1974 in Tehran.
Ganesh was a prominent part of the Indian Hockey team that won Bronze at the first World Cup at Barcelona in 1971. He also captained the team that won Silver in the next World Cup in Amsterdam. He was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 1973.
Ganesh was the official coach to the Indian team that participated in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, 1989 Champions Trophy in Berlin, 1990 Indira Gandhi International Hockey Tournament in Lucknow and the 1990 World Cup in Lahore.
- Jagbir Singh
Indian Field Hockey's Centre Forward, Singh represented India in two Olympics (1988 & 1992), 1990 World Cup. Singh was a major part of the team almost for a decade from 1985–95, including two Asian Games (1986 & 1990), the 1989 Asia Cup & Champions trophy.
Popularly described as a 'Striking-circle assassin' during his playing days, Singh has also been honored with the Arjuna Award.
He was the coach of the Indian men's team in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Test series against Pakistan/Spain/France and the Champions Trophy held the same year in Lahore.
After retiring as a coach, Singh roped into the commentary and expert analysis team in almost all the major competitions like the Olympics, World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Asia Cup, and other international and domestic tournaments.
- Leo Pinto
The field hockey goalkeeper for India, Leo Pinto was a part of the team when India won the gold medal in 1948 Olympics. He is popularly known for striking a final penalty corner goal against Great Britain.
Pinto became a coach and a member of the national selection committee of the Indian team that won the bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He was also associated with the Bombay Hockey Association in the 1970s.