Indian Hockey is on a downfall from bad, worse to worst. The year 2006 saw several high-profile events, and India failed to register its presence on the world scene in every one of them. Beginning with India’s disastrous performance in the Commonwealth Games in March, where the Indian men finished sixth, to the fifth-place finish at the Asiad in Doha, Indian hockey has gone from bad to worse. World Cup outing in September was also a disaster. It is a poor reflection on the planning aspect that, despite so many major tournaments lined up through the year, India did not play more competitive hockey. In fact, now that qualification for the 2008 Beijing Olympics is possible only by winning one of the three qualifying tournaments (from February 2008). It would be fitting to recall the legendary “Bhopal Wanderers”, for whom Dhyanchand said “Give me Bhopal Wanderers, and I can beat any team in the world”.
Hockey started in Bhopal with inter state forces hockey tournament in 1909, which was organised in the “Kali Parade Ground” and eight teams participated in it. After the tournament, it was observed that the Bhopali youngsters, who found the hockey sticks worth Rs 2/- beyond their reach, had taken to the game using mango tree branches with a bent end known locally as “Khapota”. The payjamas used to be lifted and converted to shorts, and the sherwanis remained as it is. The games used to be played in narrow lanes of Bhopal, with open drains and mud on both sides of the road. The stick work was such, that the ball never touched either the drains or mud. There were many yongsters from Bhopal who had gone to study at Aligarh University during 1931. The hockey players of Aligarh University wanted to participate in Mathura Gold Cup, which was disallowed by the university as examinations were due. The players decided to participate anyway, but by the name of “Bhopal Wanderers”, as eight players in the team were from Bhopal. In the first four years, Bhopal Wanderers had won ten tournaments, including the initial Mathura Gold Cup. The 1936 Berlin Olympics was played under the captinship of Dhyanchand and the team included two famous bhopali players Ahsan Mohammad Khan and Ahmed Sher Khan. The year 1938 was the pinnacle year of Bhopal Wanderers, who won all the tournaments played in India. The olympics of 1940 were postponed, which would have seen atleast six players from Bhopal representing India. By the time this olympic was played in 1948 at London, three players from Bhopal, Akhtar Hussain, Latif-ur-Rahman and Major Shakur were part of the team. However they wre not played. In 1952 Helsinki Olympics saw four players from Bhopal Akhtar Hussain, Habib-Ur-Rahman, Latif-Ur-Rahman and Anwar Ahmad Khan play for Pakistan team.
Something changed drastically after that, as no player from Bhopal found a place in the Indian hockey team. Even when the great Inam-ur-Rehman, generally accepted as the best inside-left ever produced by the country, was playing at his peak for Calcutta’s famous club Mohun Bagan in the early 60s, he could not find a place in the Indian team for the 1964 Olympics.Bhopal’s hockey magic found expression again in 1968 when Indian Airlines, in the Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Tournament in 1968 in Delhi, captained by Inam-Ur-Rahman with 7 other boys from Bhopal, mesmerised team after team with their ball control, short passing, dodging and stickwork. Indian Airlines lifted the trophy on debut, shocking spectators and sports writers alike, that such talent, though available in the country, was being neglected. The shock gave way to questions from the press, and in 1968, Inam-ur-Rehman became the first Bhopal player to represent independent India in the Olympics, twenty years after another Rehman from Bhopal had been selected for the London Olympics.
As in every other stream of Indian life, unsolicited interference of political interests and one up manship has ruined the legacy of Bhopal hockey
Photograph: Team of 1936 Berlin Olympics