Disha Pawar

Did you know, India had a better hockey player than Dhyan Chand?

“When I die, the world will cry, but India’s people will not shed a tear for me, I know them”, said major Dhyan Chand and quietly passed away at the age of 74 in a general ward at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences after two months of fighting a prolonged battle with liver cancer. 

India celebrates National Sports Day on August 29th every year, but not many know that the date was chosen with an intent to commemorate the greatest Indian Hockey player, Major Dhyan Chand, who was born on the said date. He remained a celebrated player throughout his career, perhaps didn’t receive the recognition he should have at that point of time but it’s better late than never. He fell short of being recognised in India but was feared world over. But, did you know, that the man who was part of three Olympics gold winning teams wasn’t the best? There indeed was a player who Dhyan Chand himself thought was far more superior than him.

The player in discussion is no one else but Dhyan Chand’s own younger brother Roop Singh who just like his brother, went on to play three Olympics, before World War II cut his career short. By Chand’s own admission he thought had Roop played further he would have broken every single record. Consider it a case of misfortune or sheer negligence, but a player of his stature only after a brief glorious stint in Indian hockey got reduced to a personal staff of the then royalty of Gwalior, Maharaja Jiwajirao Scindia in order to support his family of 12 children along with his wife.

Don’t be ashamed if you haven’t heard of this stalwart yet, because their hardly remains any evidence of his legacy. The most that we can hear or see of him today in India is in his hometown Gwalior, where a stadium in 1978 was built in his name ‘Captain Roop Singh’ to celebrate the brilliant athlete that he was. Again, here’s a catch, what was meant to be a hockey stadium eventually turned into a commercial cricket stadium. Again, misfortune or just sheer negligence.

Interestingly, if you move away from India and step into the land of Fuhrer, you will find a street named after Roop Singh in Munich who along with his brother Dhyan Chand restricted the hosts to a 8-1 victory on the latter’s homesoil in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Another recognition will lead you to the British capital, London where ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, a tube station in the city was named after him.

But what was it about Roop Singh that made him so special?

Before playing his first Olympics in 1928, Roop had already made a name for himself in the hockey circles. The tournament saw only three teams- India, USA and Japan, participate yet India remained a dominant side which pulled huge crowds to the stadium. Out of the two matches played in that tournament, Roop Singh netted a total of 13 goals, one more than his brother. Such a feat was unlike anything seen before.

This phenomenon continued in the next Olympics in 1932 and was carried forward to 1936 Berlin Olympics when Roop pioneered the chain of hard-hitting goals after entering in the 32nd minute to clinch another gold away. It was in fact Roop who is said to have started backhanded shots and passes. Unfortunately, end of 1936 Olympics also ended Roop Singh’s career as the onset of the Second World War forced him into taking up menial jobs leaving his hockey stick to gather dust.

After independence, Roop Singh couldn’t revive his career back and just like that India lost another talent to poverty in 1977 at the age of 67.

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