My early hockey days …1

*By Prabhjot Singh

When I played hockey for the first time, it was with a Khunda – a nicely chiselled out curved tree branch that resembled a plough. And the ball used in the game was made of a worn out piece of cloth held in shape by a large number of rubber bands cut from a discarded bicycle rubber tube.

For the first several months, it was my favourite stick as boys of my age group from my immediate neighbourhood would assemble every evening for a game that would at times continue for more than an hour.  Two broken pieces of bricks or even chappals (Slippers) would serve as goalposts at the either end of the uneven playfield. The game was played barefoot. Gradually we all started mastering the skill of keeping the ball close to the stick while attempting to dribble past an opponent.

Hard hitting was normally avoided as the ball would peel off with broken rubber bands scattered all over. The makeshift indigenous playing equipment, however, served the purpose well with teams of three to four players each.

Since our “khundas” looked little crude, we could not carry them to our school – Government Model Middle School (Jhullian Wala School) – for a game during the recess break.

Our most memorable day came when we were in sixth standard. A couple of boys in my neighbourhood, who also went to the same school, were all smiles when our PT teacher asked us who all play hockey. And all hands of boys in my Section went up in affirmation. To our great surprise we were asked to go to another room where there was a huge steel box. The school peon, Bhajan Singh, was already there.

After PT Madam arrived in the room, he opened the box and started taking out hockey sticks. Each one of us got a brand new stick. Thrilled and excited as we were, we immediately rushed to the school playfield for our first game with new hockey sticks and a leather ball. Since we were not used to holding the stick and playing with a regular ball, the first game turned out to be a mere hitting match. It was almost after a week of practice with the regular sticks and the leather ball, we all started playing well. Broken or damaged sticks were replaced on approval by the PT Madam.

Those who played football were issued a couple of balls for regular practice. Interestingly, the football team also had most of hockey players in it.

An Inter-Middle Schools tournament was our first tryst with the competitive hockey. We won the first two matches but lost the third to a better organized and professionally trained team.

However, we had a consolation as four members of our team were chosen for the Zonal team that was to play in Inter-Zonal for selecting a district team. Incidentally I was one of them. Other three included Gurdishpal Singh, who ultimately went on to represent India in international hockey, Sukhjit Singh and Manjit Singh.

Hockey continued with most of us to our next institution – High School.

The intervening break between the Middle and High School saw most of us joining evening game of hockey at the neighbouring Gujjarkhan Khalsa High School. The school was later converted into an educational hub with a separate school for girls, a women’s arts college, a business school, and an English medium school besides a few other specialized institutions. 

The Gujjarkhan Educational Centre is run by a Board of eminent people.

On the sprawling Gujjarkhan playfields, most of promising sportsmen and women of the area would come for training. In addition to school and college teams, outsiders including cricket, hockey, football, basketball players and athletes used the playfields for their training.

At times, the management would not take it lightly with outsiders using the playfields. The police would be called to chase away outsiders or players practicing there. It was an unending conflict as outsiders supported by their parents would maintain that the ground belonged to the society of which they all were members. Many students of the institutions run on the premises were also treated as outsiders in case they were not members of the regular teams of the Gujjarkhan institutions.

This unsavoury aspect apart, it was Gujjarkhan playfields that gave a major exposure to young and budding players of the area.

Several senior hockey players, including alumni of the Gujjarkhan institutions, would make it a point to attend the evening game. Among regular ones were Jagtar Singh and his brother, Raminder Singh (both sons of Mr Mehar Singh, a leading criminal lawyer of his time. Both Jagtar Singh and Raminder Singh had the distinction of playing for India. Col Raminder Singh, son-in-law of Punjab CM Beant Singh had also led one of two Indian teams in an invitation tournament played at Ahmedabad. He also played for Signals and Services. Besides, he  served Punjab as Director of Sports), Gurainye (Devinder Singh Benepal, he was also in India’s camp for the 1975 World Cup but an alleged medical aberration saw him leave the camp), Golu (Ajit Singh, one of toughest hockey players of his time), Jawahari (Col Jawahar  Lal), Jagdeep Singh Phoolka (He was a goalkeeper of the 1966 Asian Games gold medallist Indian hockey team), Bau Ji, Dhiri (Randhir Singh), Dhobi (Durlabh Singh), Teja (Tejinder Singh Sandhu), Billa and Kala (brothers who played for Gujjarkhan School team), Bubby (Col Jatinderpal Singh Ahluwalia, who later captained SCD Government College hockey team), Sheela (Sushil Kumar Gupta), Hari (Harjit Singh Dua of Deson group), Chhindi (Charanjit Singh), Sarabha and Bhutewalia (both from Guru Nanak Engineering College hockey team),  Kallu (Ajinderpal Singh, a promising centre half with superb stickwork),Pinky (Gurdarshan Singh Mand) besides a few others. They all used to be regular for the evening game which was played over “shakanjavi”.

After the game, most of them would head for the Bengali Sweets Shop in the Model Town Market and laze around there.

Other than the regular evening game, this group, which was known outside as Model Town Lions Hockey Club, also used to invite teams from outside for friendly games.

Corps of Signals (because of Col Raminder Singh) that had young MP Ganesh (who later captained India and also was the national chief coach), SN Pawar (member of the 1975 World Cup champion team), Maghar Singh and Gurdial Singh (deep defenders of Corps of Signals), was a regular. We as youngsters were lucky to watch MP Ganesh play barefoot on the dusty playfields of Gujjarkhan and grow into an international star.

BSF Jammu was other team that came for friendly games…

We also used to wait for Sports School and Sports College teams from Jalandhar. Players like Hardyal Singh and his brother Hardev Singh besides Surjit Singh Rehal (they all later represented Kenya), Shiv Dutt aka Pandit Ji, Murthy and Kulwant Singh Mangu have all played at Gujjarkhan school playfields.

It was on this ground that the Lions Club started organizing Major Bhupinder Singh Memorial All-India Hockey Tournament that featured almost all top teams of north India. Donations of two annas, four annas, and one or two rupees, were collected from willing hockey fans to run the tournament. There were also a few regular sponsors and friends of the Club who extended financial and moral support to the organizing committee. Prominent among them were Mr DS Bhogal, Mr Inder Mohan Singh Grewal of Upper India Steel, Mr Apinder Grewal (who later became Mayor of Ludhiana), and Mr Surjit Singh of Punjab Agricultural University (He used to do the commentary and compeering).

After few years, venue of the tournament was shifted to Punjab Agricultural University grounds where well maintained lustful green playfields fascinated all players, officials and spectators.

In High School

After a long break, I finally moved to High School. With high first division, I was confident of getting admission in Government Model High School, Cemetery Road in Civil Lines. It was perhaps one of the best English medium schools those days.

Most of my class fellows in Model Town Model School, too, got admission there. Our school was known for its sports teams, including hockey and basketball (both boys and girls), besides table tennis and badminton.

In 1970, when the newly set up Punjab School Education Board conducted its first ever Matriculation Examination, our school not only produced the State topper in Rajinder Singh Bhatia (753/900) but also had 27 students (with 625 or more marks)  in the merit list. I was second in the school with 681 marks and 111th in the State. Incidentally, I was the only regular player in the school to figure in the merit list. 

Earlier, the matriculation examination used to be conducted by Panjab University. But reorganization of Punjab in 1966 had the schools in the undivided State distributed among Punjab and Haryana Boards.

Our school hockey team  that had  besides me(Prabha),  Gurdishpal Singh (Lalli), Ajinderpal Singh (Kallu), Sukhjit Singh Raju (Sheikhu), Bhawanjit Singh Gill (Daana), Harpal Singh Brar(Palli), Manjit Singh Sidhu (Manna), Barmi brothers, Bahal Singh Jagday, and Simmar Pal Singh Gill (Peter), was known to play neat, clean and attractive hockey.

Since the Cemetery Road School did not have any playfield of its own, we used to practice at Gymkhana Stadium which was later renovated and named after the first Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji, to coincide with his 500th birth anniversary.

It was not only our hockey training centre but much more to us.

The most memorable was the Zonal final of Inter-School hockey in which we were to play Malwa Khalsa Higher Secondary School. Our opponents had an impressive lineup with tough players like Baldev Singh (Dronacharya award winner and famous coach of Shahbad Markanda centre that produced scores of Olympians and internationals), Kuldeep Singh (he played for Western Railway for many years), Gurwinder Singh aka as Golu(great goalkeeper), Tara (speedy forward), besides Jasbir Nagi (we later played  together for Government College, Ludhiana). Master Charanjit Singh, a tough task master, was the coach-cum-manager of Malwa School team and it also happened to be the defending champion team.

Since we were from a high profile school, we were known to play text book neat and clean hockey while our opponents were known for their tough and robust tactics.

The match had already evoked great response. Malwa School used to get a strong crowd support from nearby villages. We were primarily an urban school, we felt handicapped as we had already any supporters.

Just a day before the final game, our team meeting was addressed by Mr Harbhajan Singh Sandhu, father of Gurdishpal. He was then District Development and Panchayat Officer. To cheer us up, he said he would get a big crowd from nearby villages to counter the supporters of Malwa School.

As expected, there was a big crowd for the game. We started well, attacking our opponents from the right flank where Sukhjit and Peter were in great nick. Ever green Bhawanjit (Daana) did torment the opponents defence with some superb moves worked out by our dribbling master and playmaker Ajinderpal.

Ajinder would often hoodwink his opponents with his superb stick work and create openings for his forwards that would catch opponents defence on the wrong foot.

Our tactics played dividends as we took the lead in the first half. It did not deter the forward line of Malwa School. Led by brilliant Tara, it did threaten our defence.

On one occasion as Tara broke loose, Gurdishpal tackled him from the wrong side and hit him hard on his knee. Tara came down crashing, bleeding profusely from his knee. All broke loose. Crowd was on to the field. Gurdishpal disappeared. We were also scared. Fortunately, some of people brought in by father of Gurdishpal stood cover for us.

It took a while for tempers to cool down and the game to resume. After assurance that there would be no retaliatory action against our players, we agreed to return to the field.

Though we played our hearts out, we lost the game 1-2 and not without getting Sukhjit bruised badly after he was pushed from behind on the adjoining brick-based basketball court while he was building an attack from the flank.

Barring these two incidents, the game was played on a brisk note and most of the spectators went back satisfied. We were; however, disappointed as it was our best chance to dethrone Malwa School. None of us at that time realized that school rivalries would jus evaporate as we all get into college in the following year. 

Kuldeep, Gurwinder and Jasbir Nagi, for example, joined Government College, Ludhiana, and we became team mates.

It was in 1970, the year the college was celebrating its Golden jubilee, I got admission in Pre-University (Medical).It is one of very few educational institutions that used to boast of the best

grassy hockey ground, exclusive football and cricket grounds, an international standard athletic track, a swimming pool, basketball, tennis and volleyball courts besides a weights training hall.

Hockey ground was so famous that it played host to a Test match against visiting national team of France. For its maintenance, no one was allowed to walk on its sprawling green lawns, and trespassers were fined heavily. As a hockey player, it was a dream comes true for me as I played hockey on this ground for six years. During this period, the college hockey team created history. In 1974, it won the Panjab University Inter-College championship for the first time in 54 years.

This historic triumph was not without some pulsating moments and a drama. Four teams that had qualified for Inter-Zonals that year were SGGS College, Chandigarh; Jat College, Rohtak, Government College, Gurgaon, and Government College, Ludhiana. Till then, all Haryana colleges were still affiliated to Panjab University.We played a goalless draw against SGGS College, Chandigarh, in our opening game of the round-robin league. A 2-0 win over Jat College, Rohtak, in the second game boosted our chances as we started tasting our first title victory. In our third and final game, when we left the Hostel for hockey ground, we were all determined to score a big win as SGGS College was also expected to win its last game against Jat College Rohtak.  To win the title, we needed a better goal average as we and SGGS College had the same number of points with one win one draw in our first two games each. And since Jat College with brilliant right-winger Phool Kumar, in its side, we expected it to give a tough fight to SGGS College. Our game was the first of the last day. Gurgaon College also had an outstanding and speedy center-forward Shamsher Singh. Since he was the only dangerous man in our rival team, we decided to mark him tightly.

We started very well scoring five goals in first 23 minutes before Shamsher broke loose and dribbled past almost our entire defense. Before he could do a shot at the goal, our center-half, Kuldip Singh, who later played for Western Railway and Railway, bodily checked him and hit him in the knee. Withering in pain, he sprawled on the field. Umpire Gurcharan Singh Bodhi (coach of the 1975 World Cup Champion Indian hockey team) gave Kuldip marching orders. Trailing by a big margin and losing their star player was too much for the Gurgaon team.

It walked out in protest saying that Umpiring was biased. Repeated requests by umpires to the Gurgaon team to return and resume the game met with no response. An SOS was sent to Dr. B.L. Gupta, the then Director of Sports. Within minutes he arrived on the ground and talked to the two Umpires. He asked umpires to blow a whistle and ask the teams to resume the game.

Gurgaon team, however, refused to relent. After a couple of warnings, Dr. Gupta threatened to scratch our rivals for defying umpires. The threat did not work. After a few minutes of Gurgaon refusing to take the field, Dr. BL Gupta went inside the ground and called the Manager of Gurgaon to send his team. He refused. Furious Dr. Gupta then not only scratched the team but also ordered Gurgaon boys to vacate the university hostel within the next 30 minutes. We heaved a sigh of relief when we were declared winners of the game. And in the last game, contrary to expectations Jat College beat SGGS College to confirm our number one position in the league. 

Interestingly, that team had three Nagi brothers – Onkar, Harpal and Jasbir – and two Grewal brothers – Sukhvir and Jagbir. Besides Sukhvir Grewal, another member of the team, Gurdeep Singh Pannu, who happened to be a nephew of the then DPE of our college, Sohan Singh Pannu, also played for India. Gurdeep was chosen to represent India in the 1975 Rene Frank International Tournament in Madras. The tournament was held a few months after India had won the third World Cup in Kuala Lumpur. Sukhvir played for India for a number of years and had the distinction of caching the Indian Olympic hockey team to Barcelona in 1992.

Fortunate as we were, our first year in the college saw us come face to face with many of country’s eminent personalities, including Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam, Harkishen Lal (painter), Keki Daruwala, Mohan Sehgal, and  Avtar Singh Cheema, besides others. We felt proud that General TN Raina and Maj-Gen Himmat Singh Gill, bureaucrats NN Vohra, MS Gil, IC Puri, SS Puri, Jagpal Singh Sandhu, top police officers Joginder Singh, Rupinder Singh had been students of this great institution. To honour one of its outstanding alumni and scientist, the college was renamed Satish Chander Dhawan (SCD)  Government College in 1976.