Monday, Feb 26, 2018 | Last Update : 05:10 AM IST
Captain Roop Singh had outscored his more illustrious brother, Major Dhyan Chand, in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
Mumbai: Dhyan Chand is one of the first names on the lips of all and sundry, whenever the topic of India’s pre-Independence sporting heroes comes up.
Major Dhyan Chand (formerly known as Dhyan Singh) is one of the most celebrated hockey players in India between 1926 and 1948. During this period, the Indian hockey team terrorised their opponents worldwide, winning three consecutive gold medals in Amsterdam 1928, Los Angeles 1932 and Berlin 1936.
There are many stories about India’s immaculate performance against the Germans in Adolf Hitler’s Berlin, where they beat the hosts 8-1, a performance that equally frustrated and amazed the ‘Fuehrer’, so much so that he later invited Dhyan Chand, who was also the India captain in 1936 to his private box, where he reportedly offered him a high post in the German army – an offer that Dhyan Chand refused.
It is with good reasons that there have been many hues and cries from the current sports’ fraternity, who want the Government to award the Indian hockey hero with a posthumous Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the country.
However, there was another player in the Indian hockey side, who equally enthralled and mesmerised one and all with his brand of hockey, a man who has been overshadowed by the great Dhyan Chand, so much so, that he almost seems to have faded into the pages of history despite having outscored his more celebrated brother in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. He is none other than the Major’s younger brother Roop Singh.
Today, this former Indian hockey great’s recognition lies only in the form of the Captain Roop Singh Stadium, an arena that was built in 1978, a year after his death in his hometown of Gwalior. It was originally meant to be a hockey stadium, but was ironically converted to an arena for cricket a decade later.
However, nobody dared to disrespect the great Roop Singh by removing his name.
This, however, is not the only recognition that Roop Singh has in the world.
The Germans were so impressed with his performance during India’s gold medal campaign in Berlin 1936, that they have even named a street in Munich after him. Ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, a tube station in the city was also named after him.
Early life of Roop Singh and the windfall of 1932
Son of Subedar Sameshwar Dutt Singh, Roop joined the army of the Scindia family in Gwalior, early in his life, before going on to establish his name in the sport.
Dhyan Chand, who was the more decorated of the two, often said about his brother, “Roop is a better player than me.”
The greatest hockey player in India believed that Roop was one of the best inside left forwards of his time, someone who can bang in the goals from long range. In fact, the backhanded shots and passes were said to have been pioneered by Roop.
Roop Singh had already made a good name for himself in the hockey circles, before he went for his first major tournament, the 1928 Olympics. Although only three teams participated in the hockey event of Los Angeles – USA and Japan being the other two sides – the Indians were the most dominant side, in what essentially turned out to be a tri-nation tournament.
India completely steamrolled both their opponents, defeating Japan 11-1, and then USA 24-1. Roop Singh scored 10 goals in the match against USA, taking his tournament’s tally to 13 goals from two matches, one more than his brother.
The performance even prompted some of the local media to refer to Roop Singh as a “lion”.
The famous victory of 1936
However, the watershed moment for Indian sports came four years later, when India, despite friction between two factions in the team (the Indian and the Anglo-Indian), went on to dominate yet another Olympic – this time, in Nazi Germany.
Led by Dhyan Chand, India had gotten their campaign off to a rather shabby start with a 4-1 loss at the hands of the hosts in a practice game. After making a couple of changes to the squad post that victory, the Indians managed go into the tournament in rampant form once again.
The tournament had 11 teams this time round. India, who needed to top their group in order to make it to the semifinals, ran through Japan (9-0), USA (7-0), and Hundary (4-0). The French challenge in the semifinal was briskly swept aside, as Dhyan Chand’s men marched on to a 10-0 victory, to set up a summit clash with the Germans, who they had lost to in one of the pre-Olympic warm-up games. However, India were yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
The home side came out with full intent, as they held the Indians off till the 32nd minute. Then Roop Singh took to the field.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Normally known for his ability to set up goals by then, the 25-year-old Roop Singh broke the deadlock, opening the floodgates for the team to put seven more into the German net.
The hosts did manage to get one back (the only goal that India conceded in the entire tournament), but India had ensured a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Interestingly, reports suggest that Hitler was set to award the medals during the post-match programme, but was so frustrated at Germany’s inability to contain the fleet-footed Indians that he left before the ceremony.
How World War II abruptly ended a promising hockey career
Unlike his brother, Roop Singh did not have a long and prosperous career in hockey, with the onset of the Second World War. He later took up a job in the personal staff of the then royalty of Gwalior, Maharaja Jiwajirao Scindia.
However, independent India spelt doom for this hockey great who later had to reportedly take up a menial job, in order to support his large family, which consisted of his 12 children.
Roop Singh, one of the best sons of Indian hockey, ultimately passed away in 1977, at the age of 69, in poverty.