Hockey India (HI) honours the members of the 1975 World Cup-winning team

“We don’t even recognise many of them,” said Sardar Singh ahead of the function organised by Hockey India (HI) to honour the members of the 1975 hockey World Cup-winning team here on Wednesday.

Sardar’s observation defined the disconnect between the players of the two eras.

It also exposed the game’s journey over the last four decades, influenced by the changing circumstances and new demands.

Nostalgia tinged the afternoon, which was a pleasant throwback to the glorious days of Indian hockey, a much-needed boost for the Netherlands-bound World Cup squad.

Sardar, the current captain, is not the only player among the present generation who is ignorant about the legends of the past.

Goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh, midfielder Birendra Lakra and several others did not have any clue either that some players of the 1975 squad had bagged a bronze (1971) and a silver (1973) in previous World Cups.

“These are legendary figures, but sadly we do not know much about them. That is because the sport has not been looked after and marketed properly over the years,” said Sreejesh.

However, Sreejesh and Lakra, who are part of the Indian team for the World Cup, would have seen the presence of the 1975 players as a source of inspiration.

A short video clip of the momentous World Cup final in which India beat Pakistan 2-1 at Kuala Lumpur prompted the present-day players to greet the yesteryear heroes with a round of loud applause.

Thirteen members of the Ajitpal Singh-led team were honoured with a cash award of Rs. 1.75 lakh each.

Widows of Surjit Singh (Chanchal Randhawa) and Shivaji Pawar (Sheela Pawar), and brother of late Mohinder Singh (Satpal Singh) were also present.

“It is a proud moment for us. We seek your blessings and hope to do our best in the World Cup,” said Sardar.

Ajitpal was appreciative of the initiative.

“I am thankful to HI for honouring us. I hope this will inspire the current team to do well,” he said.

High performance director Roelant Oltmans said: “These boys will dream to do what you did in 1975.”

Dil maange more,” urged Aslam Sher Khan, whose stunning goal against Malaysia ensured India’s progress to the final.

“India’s USP has been its self-belief. That will take you to the podium. Those days, hockey was different (played on grass) and the burden is too big for you boys,” he said.

Some of the legends took a stroll down memory lane. V.J. Philips, a famed forward of that squad, reminisced: “It was drizzling (during the final), so controlling the ball was difficult. One had to adjust to the condition of the pitch.”

Onkar Singh, who was the youngest member of the side, re-lived the biggest moment of his life. “It was the first major event for me, and I got a gold! The tricolour flying high and the spectators giving us a standing ovation are some unforgettable memories,” he said.

H.J.S. Chimni had the best story to tell.

“Prior to the final, a lady from the Indian embassy in Kuala Lumpur had predicted that, since three is the lucky number for India, it would win 2-1.

“She said ‘it is the third World Cup being held in the third month of the year. And, the date, 15, adds up to six, which is a (multiple) of three,’” he said.

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