It was a jam-packed stadium in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956. A young boy from the services was just included in the national hockey team of India — he was supporting it with his fast run on the left flank. The team was in the race to win a sixth consecutive gold. But the game was tough and the scoreline was zero-zero. Suddenly, in the second half, a corner was gained by India and this young boy assisted a fellow player to hit the ball into the net. That goal clinched the sixth consecutive gold at the Olympics for India. That boy was Raghubir Singh Bhola, now 89. He is currently a resident of Janakpuri in West Delhi.
Bhola still remembers every single moment of that glorious day. He recalls, “We were desperate for a goal. I was contributing to the team from the left flank with my fast run. I was not too skilled but had a good pace with the ball. Though I did not score a single goal in that Olympic, I had my part to play. In the 38th minute, we got a corner. Uttam Singh went for the push and Gentle [Randhir Singh Gentle] had to strike. I deliberately went to stop the ball without asking anyone. The ball was bouncing towards me and it was difficult to stop, but I managed to stop it, using my stick and my hands. It was a foul, really, but the umpire didn't notice. All the Pakistani players in the penalty box cried foul and stopped to protest, but, in the meantime, Gentle had dragged the ball and hit as forcefully as he could. We all heard the sound of the wooden board in the goal. With that goal, we won the gold with a final scoreline of 1-0.”
The 1956 hockey squad at the airport
Bhola adds that the team sustained the lead in the final owing to Amir Kumar’s clever tactics — one of the most decorated players of India back then. “We had to spend the remaining 32 minutes keeping the lead. So our strategy was to while away time and not give a chance to Pakistan to equalise. Suddenly, Pakistan was given a penalty bully (penalty stroke). Amir Kumar from our squad took the bully and saved it. A few minutes later, Pakistan again received a penalty bully, which could have been fatal for us. But Amir saved it again,” says Bhola, with a twinkle in his eyes.
He admits that during the 1956 Olympics, he only had pace and no skill. But the next Olympics, of 1960, in Rome, was his career best. He was one of the highest goal scorers, with six goals. But he still has one regret — that he missed the goal post to get an equaliser in the dying moment against Pakistan in the finals, and India missed the gold. He rummages through old newspaper clippings and draws out one that has his picture and the mention of his fatal miss.
“The whole world was expecting another gold from us. We had put up a brilliant performance. But in the final, Pakistan scored the first goal within 15 minutes. We were playing well, but somehow our moves were stopped by the Pakistani defenders. The entire Pakistani team was playing on the defensive. In the dying minutes of the game, a beautiful move was created from the right wing, through which we could deceive all the Pakistani players. Supporting the right flank, I made a dash for the ball. The last two defenders were dodged and the goalkeeper was on the ground. The ball I received was in front of an open goal. I thought I would hit it as hard as possible, but my strike missed the goal by six inches. We lost the match by a goal — it's still a great regret for me. Had the game been played in extra time, I could have tried to win.”
After 1960, though Bhola continued to be associated with Indian as well as international hockey in various capacities, he never forgot the defeat. Suddenly his face looks tired, and he says, “I could have passed on the ball to my supporting player, or I could have hit it gently. I had multiple options and enough time to score. But I could not do it, and that’s the truth.”
At home, one can see he is busy working out winning formulas for India. He wants India to win no less than a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, 2016 (August 5-21). He has made several recommendations to the PMO and the sports minister to improve the state of Indian hockey. “There is hardly any sports intelligence, which is a significant part of modern hockey. I have been continually writing about it to the authorities. They should give it some consideration,” says the sportsman who received the Arjuna Award in 2000.
Everything — his cups, his Olympics T-shirts — are reminders of his proud past. He never misses a single hockey match on TV, and there’s invariably a pen and a notebook beside him. He must always take notes — scribbling down furiously his ideas for a win. And in doing that the force of his one regret slowly fades out, giving way to hope.