By Mike Haymonds | The Hockey Museum
Our article in a previous The Hockey Paper edition described Stanley Shoveller as the greatest ever English hockey player. There is little doubt that the accolade as the greatest global player is deserved by the Indian Dhyan Chand.
Chand won gold medals at three Olympics – 1928 in Amsterdam, 1932 in Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin (when he was captain). In Amsterdam he was top scorer with 14 goals in five matches; in LA he got 12 (while his brother Roop Singh scored 13) and in Berlin he bagged a hat-trick in India’s 8-1 victory over the hosts. But for the intervention of World War II he could have played in one, or even two more Olympics. In 1928 one newspaper report read: “This is not a game of hockey but magic. Dhyan Chand is in fact the magician of hockey.”
Born Dhyan Singh in 1905 in Allabad to a father in the British Army, the family moved regularly because of army transfers, finally settling in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. He acquired the addition of ‘Chand’ (Moon in Hindi) to his name because he used to practice in the moonlight.
His initial love was wrestling and he claimed he could not remember playing any hockey worth mentioning before he joined the army on his 17th birthday.
He made his international debut at 21 on the Indian Army’s tour of New Zealand in 1926 (reported in THP September issue) and scored over 400 goals in his 22-year career (1926-1948).
At the Berlin Olympics it is claimed that Adolf Hitler was so impressed by Chand that he offered him German citizenship and a position of colonel in the German army, which he declined.
In his later years he suffered ill health, eventually dying of liver cancer in 1972. Two months previously, unhappy at his treatment by his countrymen, government and the hockey federation, he said: “When I die, the world will cry but India’s people will not shed a tear for me.”
After the Bharat Ratna award, India’s highest civilian honour, was extended to sportspersons in 2011 he was overlooked when the first sports recipient in 2014 was the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. Chand’s family has declined to champion him, saying: “He is in no way second to any sportsman.”
However, his national legendary status is maintained by the Dhyan Chand Award for a lifetime achievement in sport while India celebrates National Sports Day on his birthday August 29. Also the National Stadium in Delhi was named the Dhyan Chand Stadium in 2002.
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