“You are doubtless aware that I am a common man, and then a soldier. It has been my training from my very childhood to avoid limelight and publicity. I have chosen a profession where I have been taught to be a soldier, and nothing beyond that,” wrote yesteryears Hockey legend as he began his autobiography, “Goal”. The Allahabad-born Dhyan Chand had joined the Indian army at the age of 16 and began a career that would go on to make him a legendary figure in the history of Indian sports. To Chand, Hockey was nothing less than a ‘religion’. As he mentions in his autobiography, “ever since I started playing this beautiful game, I became one of its great devotees.”
Dhyan Chand was often called a ‘magician’ on the Hockey field. Such was his aura that it spread beyond India to Germany, Britain, Japan and Holland. In India, the Hockey player had defined the very nature of the sport, his birthday being commemorated as National Sports Day. While in UK, Dhyan Chand has a tube station to his name, in Vienna a statue has been erected to pay homage to the genius with sticks. While legends and myths have for long surrounded Dhyan Chand’s fame, a particular incident that happened in Germany during the Olympics is often talked about while discussing the Hockey star’s international repute.
In 1936, the Indian Hockey team was putting their best in the Berlin Olympics. The semi-final was against France whom they had defeated 10-0. Chand had scored 4 goals in that match. The team was scheduled to clash against hosts Germany on August 15. Apparently, the team was excessively nervous on the day of finals as they had been defeated in the previous match against Germany.
A group of 40,000 were present in the crowd to watch the two teams clash. In the audience were top Nazi officials like Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Joachim Ribbentrop and the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler. While the Indian side could not score a single goal till interval, in the second half they went on a full swing attack, defeating Germany 8-1. Reportedly, Dhyand Chand played the game bare footed and later with rubber slippers, leaving the audience awestruck with his astute performance.
The game ended with Adolf Hitler leaving the stadium in frustration. Later, however, he came back to present the team their medals. The following day Dhyan Chand was surprised to receive a message from the Fuhrer, asking him to come and meet him. The Hockey genius was understandably worried as he had heard stories of the Nazi dictator shooting people on the spot.
On meeting him, Hitler welcomed Dhyan Chand warmly in his private box in the stadium. He then asked Dhyan Chand what he did in India, to which Chand explained that he worked in the Indian army. Hitler is then believed to have offered Dhyan Chand a high post in the German army on account of his splendid performance in the Olympic finals to which the Fuhrer was witness. Dhyan Chand, however, politely refused the offer saying that his family resided in India and that it would be difficult for him to relocate. The German dictator was understanding towards his position and ended the meeting.