Balbir Singh Junior, who was a member of the silver medal winning 1958 Asian Games Indian hockey team, breathed his last in Chandigarh on Sunday. The death of this Sansarpur-born hockey player came ten months after the demise of Balbir Singh Senior.
“My father breathed his last on Sunday morning and he passed away due to heart failure in his sleep. He took pride in representing India at the international level including the 1958 Asian Games and he would also share with us about his playing days along with Balbir Singh Senior sir. We are touched by all the tributes and condolences coming from the hockey world and fans and my mother Sukhpal Kaur thanks all the well wishers. He was also an avid golfer and a tennis player and was a member of the Chandigarh Golf Club,” shared Mandeep Samra, daughter of Balbir Singh Junior.
Born on May 2, 1932 at Sansarpur, Punjab, Balbir Singh Junior started playing hockey at the age of six years seeing his elder brothers play the sport in the hockey ground at the village. A student of Lyallpur Khalsa College and later DAV College, Jalandhar, Balbir Singh Junior would also captain the Panjab University team in the Inter-University hockey tournaments apart from playing in the Punjab team before joining the Indian Railways team in the 1950s. In 1958 Asian Games at Tokyo, Balbir Singh Junior was picked in the team as a back-up to Balbir Singh Senior as a centre-forward but played as an inside-left in the tournament. Col Balbir Singh Kular (Retd), who is a member of the 1968 Mexico Olympics bronze medal winning team, remembers Balbir Singh Junior as a perfect gentleman and an excellent hockey player of his times.
“In 1982 Asian games, when a journalist introduced me and other Balbirs as Balbir Singh Junior, I told him that Balbir Singh Junior can only be the one, who played along with Balbir Singh Senior sir. Though he and Balbir Singh Randhawa could not play in the Olympics like the other four Balbirs namely Balbir Singh Senior, Balbir Singh (Punjab Police), Balbir Singh (Railways) and myself, Balbir Singh Junior was as good as anybody else. Two of his elder brothers died in the Second World War serving in the Army. Growing up in Sansarpur, we would often see him play along with his other brothers, who too played for India, and meet him. He was a mighty centre forward and more than that, a great human being. He was Services team’s manager in my last nationals in 1974 in Bombay and we shared a close bond. It’s a great loss to Indian hockey,” said Col Kular (Retd).
Though Balbir Singh Junior would join the Army as an emergency commissioned officer in 1962 and later retire as major from the Army Ordinance Corps before settling in Chandigarh in 1984, he was instrumental in guiding Indian Railways to a hat-trick of national titles in 1957, 1958 and 1959. Kulwant Arora, member of the silver-medal winning 1960 Olympics Indian Hockey team, was his team-mate in Panjab University and Indian Railways, remembers the hockey stalwart.
“I first met him in 1952, when we played for the Panjab University and later we played together for the Indian Railways team. He was one of best centre forwards in the country in the 1950s and the hat-trick of the national titles for Railways spoke about his talent. The opposition teams had players like two-time Olympic medallist Raghbir singh Bhola, Olympic medallist Jaswant Singh and Balbir Singh Junior excelled against teams having many Olympics medal winners players,” says Arora.