Balbir Singh (Dosanjh), Senior
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Name: Balbir Singh Dosanjh (Sr)
Date of Birth: 10/10/1924
Place of Birth: Haripur, Jalandhar
Employer/Domestic Team: Punjab Police
Position: Centre forward
International Debut: May 1947
Last International match: May 1958
Olympic Appearances: London 1948 (Gold), Helsinki 1952 (Gold), Melbourne 1956 (Gold)
Olympic Captaincy: Melbourne 1956
World Record: Scored five goals in the men's hockey final at 1952 Olympics. The unbroken record is also registered as a Guinness World Record for most goals in an Olympic hockey final.
Padma Shri: 1957, first hockey player to receive the honour
Books Authored: Autobiography 'The Golden Hat Trick: My Hockey Days' (1977) and 'The Golden Yardstick: In Quest of Hockey Excellence' (2008)
A brief biography
NEW DELHI: He made his India debut in 1947 and just a year later Balbir Singh Dosanjh, better known as Balbir Singh Senior, became the hero of independent India's first major sporting success -- the 1948 London Olympics men's hockey gold.
Balbir Singh, one of the greatest centre forwards ever, has left behind a treasure trove of memories -- fondly taken care of by his grandson Kabir Singh and daughter Sushbir Kaur, who he used to live with at their Chandigarh home. The duo formed two pillars who supported Balbir Singh in the strongest possible manner.
The shine of that 1948 Olympic gold won't ever be the same, with it's proud owner not there anymore to wear it. But it will be a rich tribute to talk about those seventy minutes on August 12, 1948, after which India's tricolour was hoisted at an Olympic medal ceremony for the first time.
Here's an account of that momentous day, including anecdotes by the legend himself.
India was just three days away from celebrating a very special Independence Day. Around 7,000 km away, in London, 11 Indian men were fighting a different war against their former rulers - the British. The venue was the Wembley Stadium, packed to capacity. The occasion was the Olympics final in men's hockey. The irony was unmistakable. The British, before this, had refused to play a team from India since it was one of their colonies. On that day though, they had no choice. India was a free country, and the Indian players played like free men, thrashing Great Britain 4-0. India won their fourth consecutive Olympic gold, and the tricolour of an independent India made its maiden journey to the top of the pole at the Olympics. History was made.
Sub-inspector Balbir Singh made his Olympics debut in 1948, and by the end of the Games, he was a hero. The centre-forward scored two goals in the final, while Tarlochan Singh and Pat Jansen scored the other two.
"It happened 70 years ago, but it feels like only yesterday," Balbir Singh had said in 2018, as he reminisced the moment while talking to Timesofindia.com.
"The Tiranga rose up slowly. With our National Anthem being played, my freedom-fighter father's words 'Our Flag, Our Country' came flooding back. I finally understood what he meant. I felt I was rising off the ground alongside the fluttering Tiranga," he added.
Balbir Singh went on to win two more Olympic gold medals - one in 1952 and as captain in 1956, but the top prize in the 1948 Games remained the most cherished accomplishment for him. For a man who was once handcuffed by the Britishers to be inducted into the police force and play for Punjab, it was payback. Incidentally, the same British officer who ordered that arrest, Sir John Bennett, came to welcome the Indian team when it landed in London for the Games and hugged Balbir.
India's 1948 gold medal was hailed by the entire nation. It was a special moment for independent India.
The country had paid a heavy price for its freedom from the British Raj. India was partitioned for the creation of Pakistan. In one of the largest movements of population in history, millions lost their lives, families and friendships were ravaged and loved ones were lost or left behind as dead bodies.
After a catastrophe of that magnitude, hockey provided the country a sense of sweet revenge. Great Britain, who incidentally had beaten Pakistan in the semi-finals, had to once again kneel down in front of Indian resolve.
Balbir Singh Sr, in his autobiography 'The Golden Hat-Trick - My Hockey Days', describes the moment when the umpire blew the full-time whistle at Wembley signalling India's win.
"After the victory, VK Krisha Menon, free India's first High Commissioner in London, who witnessed the match, came running to congratulate us," he wrote.
The scenes that followed upon the team's return home were soul-stirring.
"Bombay literally rolled out its biggest red carpet. It was natural, since the maximum number of players in the team were from that city," Balbir Singh mentioned in the book.
"We were swept off our feet and it was here that I realised what the victory meant to our nation, starved as it was of world class accomplishments. Hockey was the only sport that gave the country a ray of golden hope, something to cheer for and celebrate.
"In Delhi, President Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came to see a match that had been arranged at the National Stadium...The press claimed that 70,000 people watched the match that day...The enthusiastic spectators hoisted us on their shoulders, patted us and touched us, as if they were paying a tribute to heroes returning home from a fierce battle."
Interestingly, Balbir Singh was not selected in the 39 probables for the 1948 Olympics, only to be telegrammed later to join the national camp after the chorus of voices asking for his inclusion grew louder. Two days into the camp, he broke a rib and was hospitalised. However, he recovered soon and was named in the 20-member Olympic squad.
At the Games in London, Balbir was pulled out of the eleven at the last minute in the quarter-final against Spain and the semifinal against Holland. That despite scoring six goals in the match against Argentina on his Olympic debut. The touring selection committee seemingly had some reservations about Balbir. But after another public outcry, he was included for the final. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In hindsight, the Britishers probably didn't want to play India internationally pre-independence because they knew how big a threat India's hockey team was. In Balbir's words, the British snub was due to a "sense of false prestige" and "haughty British traits".
That equation changed completely after seventy minutes of hockey on August 12, 1948, and that too on British soil.
1952 Helsinki Olympics
At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics hockey venue, Balbir Singh Sr. lives on
When that 'supreme referee' blew the final whistle on the morning of May 25, 2020, the match that Balbir Singh Sr was sent to play from 1924 to 2020 was over. Leaving his three Olympic gold medals behind for the world to cherish, the magician took his wand, the hockey stick, with him.
He left, leaving people who knew him well with the memory of his famous smile, which won him admirers who wept at his departure after a prolonged illness. But a few young legs in the inside field of the velodrome in Helsinki sent across a different message -- 'Don't mourn Balbir sir, celebrate him', while he continues to bless them at the very venue where he created a world record in an Olympics hockey final.
In the final of the 1952 Games, Balbir Singh hammered five goals in India's 6-1 victory over Holland. It's a record that still stands and finds mention in the Guinness Book of World Records, for most goals by an individual in a men's Olympic
hockey final. Those close to the legend say he was very angry that day, as his team-mates didn't pass him the ball at times when he was in the best position to score. But that's a story for another day.
On June 1, when the Kapyla Sports Park in Helsinki re-opened following the coronavirus break, the first thing that the players of the Warriors Hockey Club did was bow in front of Balbir Singh's images displayed at the entry of the stadium.
THE HELSINKI OLYMPICS
Helsinki had to wait for 12 long years from the day when it came very close to hosting the Olympics to be able to actually host the Games. In 1937, after Japan forfeited the 1940 Games, Helsinki started preparations to play hosts, as the city was runner-up to Japan in the final bidding stage. But World War II demolished any chance of the Olympics taking place.
The sports infrastructure that came up in Helsinki in the 1930s was finally put to use in 1952, when Helsinki became the smallest city to host the Olympics.
Among those sports buildings was the velodrome in the Kapyla Sports Park. Besides cycling, the inside field of the venue became the home of field hockey at the 1952 Games. From the natural grass surface in 1952, the field now has a multipurpose artificial surface that is suitable to play American football and lacrosse, besides hockey on.
FIELD HOCKEY IN FINLAND
In the modern era, Finland would be more synonymous with the Northern Lights, snow, ice hockey and, of course, the Santa Claus village Rovaniemi in Lapland. To somehow fit field hockey in that fold, the 1200-odd people of the Indian community in the Finnish capital have led the way.
A popular figure among the closely-connected Indian community in Vantaa and Helsinki is Bikramjit Singh, more popularly known as Vicky Moga -- a former hockey player from Moga in Punjab.
Yuzvendra Chahal, which was called 'casteist' by many, on Friday clarified that he never believed in any kind of disparity and expressed his regret for unintentionally hurting sentiments. Yuvraj made the said remarks while having an online conversation with Rohit Sharma.
Attain, as he reportedly earned 379,294 pounds through his sponsored posts during the lockdown period. He had shared just three posts during this time and raked in 126,431 pounds per photo.
Survivor of a life-threatening accident that left him bed-ridden, Vicky found his love for hockey too strong to not do anything about it, even in a country where the sport exists only on ice and in a totally different format. That's when the Warriors Hockey Club came to life.
"We founded this club in 2014. At that time, there was not much field hockey played here. I approached the Finland Hockey Association (FHA) as I wanted to do something for field hockey here. They asked 'what could I do?' I said that I can start by putting together a club. They agreed to give me a chance," said Vicky, talking to Timesofindia.com.
Vicky then went all out to assist FHA in whatever way he could and is now a member of the association over the last five years. Besides being the coach and president of his club, Vicky is also an umpire and a technical official for tournaments.
"When I founded the club, there were just two clubs. Now there are more than 10. Two of our players have also represented Finland in the under-16 team," he added.
"The kids of Indian families here used to play football at that time. I contacted their parents and convinced them for hockey.
Today we have more than 60 players, who have origins from more than 20 different nations. Our under-14 and under-16 teams are doing very well, as we have been winning medals consistently, and our under-12 team won a gold medal (in an indoor hockey tournament) in 2017," Vicky said with a sense of pride.
'TO TRAIN ON A HISTORIC GROUND IS OUR GOOD FORTUNE'
The inside field of the velodrome could be seen having marking lines different to that on a hockey field. That's because the more popular American football is also played here, along with lacrosse. The turf is a little softer than the one prescribed for a hockey field but that's the requirement for the ground's multi-purpose nature.
But you may not find a hockey player who won't be willing to sacrifice that much to train on a soil laden with Indian hockey history.
The 1952 gold was India's fifth consecutive yellow metal in Olympic hockey, and second in a row as an independent nation, when Balbir Singh Sr. led the team as India's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony.
"Call it our luck or good fortune, we train at a ground where hockey was played during the 1952 Olympics," said Vicky as
the young players jogged behind him. "The most inspirational thing about it is that in the tournament Balbir Singh Sr made a world record that's still unbroken -- he scored five goals in the final against Holland."
It was perhaps with Balbir Singh's blessing and definitely due to the inspiration the players drew from him that in 2017, the under-12 team of the club went on to become the champions of FHA's Indoor Hockey League.
Winning five of their six matches in the four-team league, the Warriors had clinched the title, finishing top of the table with 15 points. Vicky's son, Arjunjit, was also a member of that team.
A TEAM OF LEGENDS
Helsinki is called Balbir Singh's Olympics as he scored nine of the 13 goals India scored in the tournament, including a staggering five in the final.
But in a team game, it's criminal to not credit the team as a whole, and the Indian squad of 1952 had other legends as well, who would walk into a 'Hall of Fame' any day.
Leading the team was KD Singh 'Babu' (two Olympic gold medals), with the likes of Leslie Claudius (3 gold medals, 1 silver), Udham Singh (3 gold medals, 1 silver) and Keshav Dutt (2 gold medals), along with Balbir Singh to complete a formidable outfit.