The hockey stars of 1975 are a forgotten lot! That was the year when a bunch of ambitious men conquered the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur. They were feted on return but only for a brief period and by a few States. The nation celebrated their deed but the sweet memory of that eventful day was not lasting.
In comparison, the 1983 team that won the cricket World Cup at Lord's continues to be feted. “We don't grudge them at all,” says Aslam Sher Khan, a key hero of that triumph. His sons played cricket at school. “But why ignore the hockey heroes if you call them so,” laments Aslam.
A few exhibition matches involving film stars were organised to raise funds for the 1975 team. The Uttar Pradesh Government gifted each member a two-wheeler. “Some State Governments gave cash awards but nothing for the Delhi members,” remembered Ashok Dewan, the goalkeeper who made a sensational save in the dying minutes of the final against Pakistan.
Aslam, who enacted a leading role in the 1975 victory, played for a few more years, and then penned a book titled To Hell With Hockey. His equaliser in the dying minutes of the semifinals against Malaysia is etched in gold. It gave Indian hockey a great fillip.
“But it did not last long. It was the last World Cup on natural grass and with it our hockey was buried by insensitive officials. We were ambassadors once but today we need a police verification to enter the stadium.”
Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand and a wizard with the hockey stick in his own right, scored the match-winner in the final, enjoyed the glory, but vowed never to allow his son to play hockey, just as Dewan.
Says Ashok, “I played against my father's wishes. He lived a life of penury and he did not want us to suffer the same fate.” The star of 1975 was engaged in procuring police verification on Friday to facilitate his accreditation to the World Cup.
The other day, Ajitpal Singh, captain of the 1975 team, was denied entry to the Dhyan Chand Stadium. One of the heroes of 1975, Virender Singh, retired from work as most of his colleagues, would not attend the matches. “I am not protesting. My wife is unwell. But hockey continues to remain a condemned sport. How can it be a National game? Who will pursue a sport that offers no security?” he asked.
Three members of the 1975 team — Surjeet Singh, Mohinder Singh and Shivaji Pawar — have since passed away. “Only a few among those remaining are involved with the game because there is little respect for us. We have never demanded the moon. But respect costs nothing,” says Ashok.
Some pleasant words came from Harcharan Singh, a retired Army officer. “Hockey is a lovely sport but mired in needless controversy. Times were different when we won the Cup but the game sadly did not prosper from that grand achievement.”
No son or daughter of any member of that team represented India in hockey. “Can't say why? Some did not allow. Some had kids who were not interested,” recalled Harcharan.
The exceptions happened to be Virender and Pawar. Their sons played some hockey at the domestic-level, enough to land jobs with the Railways.
In striking contrast is the cricket team of 1983. Six players from that team have sons who have excelled in the game. The heroes of that team continue to reap rich rewards even today. Every four years the nation remembers them.
Not the hockey stars of 1975. And what a pity the media campaign to attract spectators to the venue, to cheer the Indian team, does not include a hockey player.
That then is the story of Indian hockey and its ‘stars'!