When hockey legends took on the world of films

World Cup winning captain Ajitpal Singh recalls the exhibition match organised by late Raj Kapoor at Wankhede

Balbir Singh Dosanjh, better known as Balbir Senior, had scored goals for India at the highest level. He managed the national team at a time when hockey players were treated as celebrities by the movie world. He was invited to post-victory felicitations by famous film stars.

At the 1948 London Olympic Games hockey final, he scored twice in India’s 4-0 rout of home team England. A delirious independent India, free from the British rule a year earlier, erupted in joy as Balbir and teammates returned with the gold medal. The sports movie, GOLD, features part of his life story.

After winning two more Olympic golds (1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne), he was appointed the manager for India’s 1975 Hockey World Cup campaign in Kuala Lumpur and flew from Malaysia with the title and trophy, a delighted nation’s first ever World Cup gold. India beat Pakistan in the final match, with the goals from the late Surjit Singh and Ashok Kumar.

The late Raj Kapoor invited Team India, captained by midfielder Ajitpal Singh, to a felicitation programme in Mumbai, and arranged an exhibition match against the film world. The world champions took on hockey stick-wielding actors on a makeshift pitch on the grass carpet at the city’s Wankhede stadium.

Ajitpal recalled, “Raj Kapoor was a great fan of sports. He invited the Indian hockey team to a Baisakhi function and we visited his farmhouse.”

India team manager Balbir Senior was present for the exhibition match and watched with pride as his heroes enjoyed fame and unabashed adulation.

Hockey was the pride of Indian sport then, so playing under a manager with a lifetime achievement as a goal-scorer was Ajitpal’s career high. “Sir brought out the best in his players,” said the World Cup winning captain.

On that day at Wankhede, Balbir Senior watched his players showcase their skills against artistes of another craft. “We played with a team of 11,” recollected Ajitpal, adding “They were 20, actors coming in and going out. It was an exhibition tie for all to enjoy.”

He recalled Dara Singh, Danny Denzongpa and Navin Nischol among others on the pitch that day when the film world rubbed shoulders with the world-beaters in India colours.

Mumbai’s Onkar Singh, a World Cup winning team player, whose personal album includes images from the Wankhede exhibition tie, said, “Hockey drew packed crowds across the nation. India players had fans everywhere; the public followed the sport closely. I hope more hockey movies are made; India has hockey legends whose life stories can be inspiring.” He remembered seeing Rakhee and Bindu at Wankhede, but was not sure who among the actors played. Onkar studied in Khalsa College (Lyalpur, Jalandhar) in 1975 and is currently the sports director at Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Matunga.

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 3:08:12 PM |

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