The 14 men who won India's first Olympic gold

India, which was then part of the British Empire, took part in its first Olympic field hockey tournament at the Games in 1928. These are the men who won the country its first gold medal.

The Indian hockey team that played the 1928 Olympic final. Standing (left to right): Richard Allen, Maurice Gateley, Leslie Hammond, Dhyan Chand, Eric Pinniger, George Marthins and William Goodsir-Cullen. Squatting (left to right): Rex Norris, Michael Rocque, Shaukat Ali and Frederic Seaman.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Jaipal Singh Munda

Date of birth: January 3, 1903

Considered one of the best defenders ever to play for Oxford, with his clean tackling and strong hits, Jaipal Singh led India at the 1928 Olympics and was one of two players roped into the side while in England. Even before the Games, he was known in Bengal hockey circles for organising regular club and college teams’ tours of India.

At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Jaipal Singh left the Indian team after the league stage and did not play the final, and there are contrasting accounts of what happened. While some reports say he was not allowed leave as a probationer from the erstwhile Indian Civil Service, others claim he left due to a dispute with team manager A. B. Rosser. In his own memoirs, however, Jaipal Singh confirms the former version but remains silent on why he left abruptly. He did not play again for India. He resigned from the Indian Civil Service and returned home to join politics. Jaipal Singh became known more for his nationalistic activities including forming the Adivasi Mahasabha, being part of the anti-colonial movement and being a champion of Adivasi rights and a separate state even after Independence.

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Michael Rocque

Date of birth: Not available

A right-back, Rocque was a member of the Central Provinces team before being selected for the 1928 Games.

Richard Allen

Date of birth: June 4, 1902

Born in Nagpur, Allen, like many of his contemporaries, was an Anglo-Indian who lived all his life in India. A student of Oak Grove, Mussoorie, Allen played for Calcutta Port Commissioners in the Calcutta League, considered the strongest and most prestigious domestic competition at that time, and was India’s first-choice goalkeeper at the Olympics. Not too tall for his position, Allen nevertheless made up for it with his quick reflexes and brilliant positioning. Along with Dhyan Chand, he is the only player to figure in all the matches through the first three Olympics for India – from 1928 to 1936 – and continues to hold the record for conceding the fewest goals (three) in his Olympic career, one of which was in the famous 24-1 victory against the USA in 1932 while signing autographs! He passed away in 1969 in Bangalore.

William Goodsir-Cullen

Date of birth: March 29, 1907

Born in Firozpur, Punjab, and a student of St George’s College, Mussoorie, Cullen was one of three from the college who participated in the 1928 Games. As was normal back then, he came from an army family and spent his time around military areas. Winning the first inter-provincial championship with the United Provinces team sealed his spot in the national side as one of the defensive midfielders and he is credited as one of the reasons India did not concede a goal through the competition. Cullen continued to play in the domestic leagues after the Olympics before joining an oil company and then the British Army during World War II. He moved to Australia in the 1950s and died on June 15, 1994.

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Syed M. Yusuf

Date of birth: Not available

The other player to join the Indian team for the Olympics from university in England, Yusuf was a student at Cambridge. Yusuf was originally an Afghan, but back then it did not matter in amateur sports. He went back to Kabul after his studies and missed the 1932 edition, but he led the Afghanistan team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He also led the Afghan side at the maiden Western Asiatic Games, held in New Delhi in 1934. In 1948, he participated in his third Olympics, becoming one of the very few athletes to outlast World War II. Yusuf finally settled in Lahore, organising regular visits between the two Punjabs on either side of the border and participating in tournaments.

Feroze Khan

Date of birth: September 9, 1904

Perhaps the man who saw Dhyan Chand from the closest quarters, Feroze Khan was the other centre-forward in the Indian team in 1928. He played the same position in the inter-provincial championships for Punjab, making the cut for the Indian team. With the national side, however, he had to make way for Dhyan Chand and played inside-right, but the two built up a good partnership. Born in Lahore, Khan completed his education there and played for Punjab before joining Bombay Customs and representing the side in domestic tournaments. He moved to Karachi after Independence, where he died on April 21, 2005, at the age of 100 as the oldest Olympic gold medallist at that time.

Eric Pinniger

Date of birth: December 28, 1902

Born in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, the midfielder was part of the first two Olympic gold medal-winning hockey teams in 1928 and 1932. As vice-captain of the Indian side in 1928, he led the team in the final after Jaipal Singh Munda left the team and is often considered the best centre-half in the world of his time. One of the six players in the side from the schools of Mussoorie, Pinniger was employed by North Western Railways in Lahore and led the team for more than a decade. Selected in the national side after outstanding outings for Punjab in the inter-provincial championships, he was deputy to Lal Shah Bokhari in 1932 as well but was not included for 1936. Pinniger settled in Pakistan after Independence.

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Leslie Hammond

Date of birth: March 4, 1905

Yet another player from the Mussoorie stables in the team of 1928, Madras-born Leslie Hammond alternated with Jaipal Singh in the defence. Considered one of the most resilient defenders of his time, Hammond represented the victorious United Provinces, as a teammate of Dhyan Chand, in the first inter-provincial championships – the five-team tournament in Calcutta organised specially to pick the team for the Olympics. The selection process became tougher in 1932 and Hammond was named among the “Possibles” who took on the “Probables” in the trial match before earning a call-up to the national team. Hammond emigrated to Australia before passing away on June 26, 1955. His medals are preserved at the Gold Museum in Ballarat.

Rex Norris

Date of birth: July 18, 1899

While there were quite a few India-born Britishers in the Indian side, Reginald Alexander “Rex” Norris is the only one who left behind a rich sporting legacy both in India and abroad, taking his skills across Europe as a reputed hockey coach. Born in Chikmagalur and having studied in Bangalore, Norris joined Central Railways and played a large part of his hockey years in Jabalpur. He led the railways side to victory at the Aga Khan Cup four times before representing Central Provinces as a midfielder in 1928 for a spot in the national side for the Olympics. Norris did not play again for India after the 1928 Games and moved to London in the 1950s, turning to coaching full-time. He coached the Dutch team from 1954 to 1956, the Italians in 1960 and the Mexicans just before the 1968 Olympics. He died in September 1980. Two of his sons – Havelock and Ronald – represented India in boxing, Ronald reaching the quarterfinals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. His daughters Philomena and Wendy represented India on foreign tours in hockey in 1953 and 1956, respectively, when women’s hockey was yet to be formalised as a sport.

Maurice Gateley

Date of birth: June 13, 1904

Maurice Gateley belonged to the Mussoorie group of Anglo-Indians who made the 1928 Olympics side. Little is known of him, but the then 24-year-old right-out etched his name into the history books on March 17, 1928, by scoring the first ever Olympic goal for India, against Austria. Gateley belonged to Delhi and played for the city on the domestic circuit and, in that sense, was a relative outsider given the fact that Delhi was not exactly known as a hockey nursery compared to other centres like Calcutta or Bombay. But his hockey skills were honed at St George’s College, alongside George Marthins and William Goodsir-Cullen. In the inter-provincial competition, Gateley played for Punjab. He was known for his keen anticipation and ability to stop-dash at speed.

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Shaukat Ali

Date of birth: October 6, 1897

Shaukat Ali’s inclusion in the 1928 side was not a surprise, but him actually playing the Games was definitely dramatic. The elegant midfielder was one of two players on the drop list just before the Indian team left for the Olympics due to the lack of funds to pay for their travel – the other being Rex Norris – before public contributions helped arrange the approximately ₹15,000 shortfall. Born in Bengal and playing his entire life for Calcutta Customs on the domestic circuit, Shaukat dominated the city maidans. Dhyan Chand, in his memoirs Goal, gives Ali the best compliment when he writes: “Allen was our only goalkeeper and therefore there was no question of replacing him or giving him rest. I wondered at times what should have happened to us if Allen happened to injure himself. Possibly Shaukat Ali who played almost in every position would have been asked to take his place.” Interestingly, Ali was designated as a forward in the official report! He was unlucky to miss out on a spot in 1932 despite impressing in the inter-provincial tournament. He died on February 25, 1960.

George Marthins

Date of birth: December 24, 1905

The third of the St George’s triumvirate, George Eric Marthins represented United Provinces in the inter-provincial championships. In fact, between Oak Grove and St George’s College, six players in India’s 1928 side came from the small hill station! St George’s itself provided six hockey Olympians to the Indian side over the first three editions – including Earnest Goodsir-Cullen and Lionel Emmett (both 1936) and Carlyle Tapsell (1932 and ’36). Marthins’ partnership as inside-right with Dhyan Chand, both for his provincial team and the national side, was instrumental in the latter scoring many of his goals. Marthins died in March 1989.

Frederic Seaman

Date of birth: January 2, 1906

Born in Allahabad to a police inspector, Frederic Stephen Seaman was a forward known for his nippiness and positioning on the right. He played for United Provinces, like William Goodsir-Cullen, Dhyan Chand and George Marthins. In fact, barring Gateley and Feroze Khan, the entire Indian forward line at Amsterdam was from the United Provinces side, and the coordination and combination showed in the games at the Olympics. Seaman left with his family – wife and two sons – after Independence and settled in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he passed away on September 21, 2000, at the age of 94.

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Dhyan Chand

Date of birth: August 29, 1905

Dhyan Chand, as it was back then, is still the biggest name in Indian hockey. Keshav Dutt, the two-time gold medallist after Independence, called him “the Bradman of hockey, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli rolled into one.” Shy and diminutive, Dhyan Singh Bais became Dhyan Chand after the moniker was given to him by India team manager Pankaj Gupta. He also became not just a sporting icon but also India’s identity in the pre-Independence era, separate from being a colony of the British.

Born in 1905 in Allahabad, Dhyan Chand got into hockey seriously only after joining the army, following in his his father’s footsteps. His rise as a player was as mercurial as his goals and he was part of the first-ever Indian hockey team to travel abroad, to New Zealand, in 1926. That tour saw India winning 18 games and losing only one, but, more importantly, it established Dhyan Chand’s reputation as a player and a scorer. His selection for the 1928 side, however, was on the back of his performance for the victorious United Provinces in the inter-provincial tournament.

Dhyan Chand was the standout player for India at the 1932 Amsterdam Games as well, scoring 14 goals in five games including two in the final. Inducted into the side without trials in 1932 and captaining in 1936, Dhyan Chand set the gold standard for Indian hockey. He played domestic hockey for 28 years and became a coach at the National Institute for Sports, Patiala, after retirement before breathing his last on December 3, 1979, in Jhansi.

While all his children played the game at different levels, Ashok Kumar was the only one who reached a similar level of success, winning the 1975 World Cup. His birthday, August 29, is celebrated as National Sports Day.

(Information sourced from: Profiles of Indian hockey Olympians by K. Arumugam, an initiative of Hockey India; India and the Olympics, by Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta; Goal by Dhyan Chand; official 1928 Olympics report by the Organising Committee.)