Sportstar Archives: Dhyan Chand, Hitler and Berlin Olympics - through former coach's eyes

Swami Jagan Nath, manager of the Indian hockey team for 1936 Berlin Olympics, revisits the journey to the gold medal and missing Adolf Hitler at the final.

Swami Jagan Nath, coach and manager of the gold-winning Indian hockey team at the 1936 Berling Olympics. (circa 1984)   -  The Hindu Archives

Starting from Lahore it had been a very long journey. Now, during the last days of my life. I want
to live in peace, think of nothing else but God", be says. But 88-year-old Swami Jagan Nath thinks of hockey all right.

"It had been there in my blood for more than 70 years now. But I don't want the limelight. I would like to watch hockey even now. But then it is not always possible. I cannot go to the stadium by bus. Going by auto would mean some expenditure", Swami Jagan Nath says.
The Swami is not any title given by anybody, nor is he a religious leader. He was Jagan Nath Chhabra in school.

"The boys used to say 'Swami Jagan Nath Ki Jai'. They used to respect me for my hockey. The Swami stuck to my name".

A lengthy list: His life sketch is one long list of achievements, beginning from those days at Lahore’s Dayal Singh College in 1913 through the Berlin Olympics and the 1958 Asiad. He never donned the India colours, however. "I was really good, even though I say it myself. But then I never had the chance. Between 1915 and 1925, I was the best centre half in Lahore. We never had an Olympic
team. We never played international matches".

In 1936, Swami Jagan Nath went as the manager of the Indian team to the Berlin Olympics, a team captained by none other than the legendary Dhyan Chand. He was the coach of the team that took part in the 1958 Asiad at Tokyo and he was the chief coach at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala when the first batch of hockey coaches passed out.

Incidentally, the present chief coach of the Indian Olympic team, Balkishan Singh, was one among that batch at the NIS. "When I left NIS. I recommended Dhyan Chand. He was a genius all right, but had very limited knowledge about coaching. I had got an offer from Ghana and that's why I left the NIS", Swami Jagan Nath said.

He had been to Egypt earlier, on coaching assignment in 1956. And he had been to Australia and New
Zealand also. As the manager-coach of the Manavadar team (a team formed by MP's hockey-loving princes) in 1936.

Role of Anglo-Indians: "The Australians learnt hockey from us only. The Anglo- Indians have done a lot to improve Australian hockey since then. They (the Anglo-Indians) were very good. But they feared me all right, in Lahore."

The story goes that Swami Jagan Nath was considered such a dreaded opponent that an attempt was made to run him over before a particular hockey match at Lahore.

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A former Professor of Biology at Forman Christian College, Lahore, and Bhargava Municipal College, Simla, Jagan Nath proudly displays the Buck award presented to him by the YMCA College of Physical Education, Madras on the occasion of its golden jubilee celebrations in 1970. He secured his diploma from the Madras institute in 1929. A rare combination of a hockey player, a lecturer and a physical educationist indeed.

The Sportstar met him at his house in Karol Bagh, New Delhi, where he lives with one of his sons and a daughter.

"They (the Sports Authority of India people) took away a lot of my old files and pictures for their museum. These (some of the photographs still left) they felt were third-rate. To me they are still precious".


Question: Can you recall the Berlin Games?
Answer: To some extent yes. We had a great team then ; Dhyan Chand, Roop Singh, Jaffar, Ahmed Sher Khan and Shahabuddin, I forget names. We had left several weeks earlier and we travelled by sea. When we reached Germany we were all travel weary. We had written to the German association to arrange a few practice matches. The boys were leg-weary, but I told them that we can play the next day. We played a local German team or that is what we thought that team to be at that time. The Germans were very fast. They scored four goals against us and Dhyan Chand, was not in his true element that day. Probably the travel affected his play. Yet, he scored the only goal of our side.
After the match I told the German association president: "If this is an ordinary German side then what would be your national team. It would be better for us to go back".
He had a big laugh. He said "No, no this is the German national team. This team had been in training here for the past three months and we thought why not a practice match against India". My boys were not in good shape that day, as I told you earlier. But we beat the Germans all right in the final: Eight
goals to one at that.

Dhyan Chand

Dhyan Chand, the wizard of Indian hockey who led India to the hockey gold at the 1936 Olympics.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

Rain to rescue: Hitler was supposed to witness the final. The boys were a bit nervous. The Germans were prepared to die for Hitler. What will happen if the home team lost in front of him was unimaginable. As things turned out rains caused the final to be postponed to the next day and Hitler did not turn up. But he sent Herr Hesse. He was also a very respected and feared man. But in the final we simply outplayed them.

Dara flown-in: On the left wing Jafar was very fast and on the right Shahabuddin was also very crafty.
Dhyan Chand of course was the genius that we know of. No less was Roop Singh. I don't think there was much to choose between the two. Dhyan Chand had this uncanny sense of positioning to receive a pass or to provide a pass himself. So was his brother.
At inside right I felt (Lionel) Emmett was not up to the mark. That's why we called for Dara (later to become the Pakistan Hockey Association President) to be flown in . Dara was played in the semi-final against France and in the final against Germany. He was good.
 

Why was Dara not selected in the first place?

The tournament which formed the basis of selection was held in Calcutta. And Pankaj Gupta wanted a few players from Bengal to be included in we team. Dara was thus overlooked. I consulted Dhyan Chand and G. S. Sondhi and sent a message to rush Dara. Gupta was unhappy. But Dhyan Chand fully supported my argument. Dara had joined the army just then. The army made arrangements to fly him over to Berlin.

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Was there a separate coach to the team?
No. Why should there be a coach? I think the manager should be given a free hand in everything. That's of course when he himself is a coach or a former player. Otherise let the manager select his coaches. There is no need to have a separate coach and a manager. A manager can have under him a few assistant coaches. But he should be the overall in charge.

Did you have a coaching camp before leaving for Berlin?
Well, there was no time for coaching camps. In fact when we assembled in Delhi before departure to
play a friendly match we had just ten people. We lost to Delhi in that match. We played in different centres before leaving the country.

Do you remember anything else about that trip?
I took the boys to Paris before the Games and there once I was surrounded by a lot of people for autographs. Not because of my being a hockey coach. They saw my headgear and thought that I was an Indian prince. In Paris I allowed the boys to enjoy themselves. It would be foolish of a manager to place curbs on the private life of a player.

Jagan Nath was highly critical of the Indian style of play at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. (In the Picture: India's Jagdeep Singh (#9) scores one of India's goals over Oman at the Asiad.)   -  PTI

 

How could the players combine so well without playing together for long?
They were all very good players. They could fit in easily in any team. You needed just a couple of matches to get the rhythm going.

Do you think the present Indian side could have beaten the Berlin team?
I doubt very much. That was a very great team. I saw the Asiad. It was rotten hockey. People don't use different methods for penalty-corner conversions nowadays. We have to do better from the right and left. There are five or six ways of getting a goal during penalty corners. Instead you see the same stereotyped method in every match. The goalkeepers are not afraid nowadays. Earlier we didn't have the protective gear. Now the goalkeepers take the hits everywhere. Why should there be a direct hit always in penalty corners? Some space is always there. Let those five men rush out, but you can find some space somewhere. Dhyan Chand always knew where to pass, where to place. It is not necessary to take a hard hit even during penalty corners.

Did you lay stress on physical fitness those days?
Not much. Physical fitness was only part of the criteria. Skill, technique and tactics were the dominant factors.

What do you think about the new format of 4-2-3-1?
What's in a pattern? It all depends on the opponents. The format should change according to the strategy adopted against a particular opponent. The old system was not bad, wasn’t it? What. was wrong in the 5-3-2 system? The inners used to come back and join the full backs to check the inners of
the rival team. We had solidity in defence as well as extra men in attack. I am not criticising the new format. All I want to say is that there was nothing wrong with the old pattern.
 

Do you think the changes in rules have benefited the game?
The old 'sticks' rule was the best. They changed it. For what? This new rule has become unnecessarily troublesome. The Europeans couldn't control the stick. They needed to take a big swing to have a hard crack. Our players used the wrists more to generate power. The 'sticks' rule has been changed to the advantage of the Europeans. What is the use of a corner now? Can there be a goal at all from a corner now? It is like any other free hit.
 

Your views on the change from natural turf to synthetic surface?
The game has become faster now. That does not mean that the teams of the past were not capable of being as fast as the present set. Even on muddy, stony grounds players of the past were very fast. There is some physical strain on playing on astro-turf. But then there is hardly any question of missing now, because the turf is so uniform. Running is much better on a harder ground.
 

Has the game itself changed much? How would you compare today's players with those of your times?
The game is the same, except for these rule changes and the introduction of synthetic turf. But what I can't understand is that why we are not having brainy players? I have always said one thing: Indians should play brainy hockey. The players should pass an intelligence test, the coaches should also be asked to take this test. We and Pakistanis have the best of skills among all nations.

Nowadays I watch youngsters keeping the ball on the sides and dribbling. They are not playing with the ball in front. If you keep the ball in front you have 180 degrees to send a pass. I find young players coming from behind taking free hits always directed towards the right. Can't the opponents know
what you are doing? You should not allow the opponents know what you are doing. It would be up to my team-mate to reach the ball if I pass it intelligently. India can do a great deal if people are intelligent. We are the masters in technique. Then why can't we make use of it? I haven't touched a
hockey stick for years now. But let someone come in front of me, I will show how to beat him. Here Belgium keeper stopping India's goal-scoring bid following a corner.

(This interview was first published in The Sportstar magazine dated 14 July, 1984)

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