Remembering gold medal triumph in the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur
Besides the World Cup Hockey final in March, 1975, it was also the venue for an Olympic Qualifier football event when Malaysia last qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.
It was in 2019 that I got an opportunity to visit the Merdeka Stadium, the historic venue where the 1975 World Cup final between India and Pakistan was played. On March 15, 1975, India scripted history. After winning a bronze in the first World Cup in Barcelona, India finished runners-up in the second World Cup in the Netherlands, losing to the hosts in tiebreaker after having taken 2-0 lead early in the game. The wait for glory and the crown ended only in Kuala Lumpur on tis day, 48 years ago.
I had an opportunity to revisit Merdeka Stadium in September 2019. The grassy field on which two great traditional rivals and neighbors slugged out for the gold is no more a hockey venue. Instead, Kuala Lumpur has a new ultramodern hockey complex where all major international hockey events are organized.
The Stadium Merdeka has a long history. It is known as the site of the formal declaration of independence of the Federation of Malaysia was declared on August 31, 1957, almost 10 years after India got its freedom. Subsequently, it was chosen as a venue for promulgation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963. At one stage it was the largest stadium in Southeast Asia before it underwent structural changes.
The stadium has a lower and an upper terrace, with a total capacity of 25,000, as well as 14 tunnels entrance, a covered stand, 50 turntiles and four floodlight towers. It remained the main v venue for holding of all major sporting events in Kuala Lumpur till Bukit Jalal National Stadium was built in time for the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
Besides the World Cup Hockey final in March, 1975, it was also the venue for an Olympic Qualifier football event when Malaysia last qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. It also used to be the venue for the Merdeka Cup Football Tournament.
Some members of the 1975 World Cup champion Indian hockey team, including Ashok Dhyan Chand, Aslam Sher Khan and Brig Harcharan Singh, have very fond memories of the event.
Since then India has played host to this prestigious FIH tournament four times – 1981-82 in Bombay (now Mumbai), 2010 in New Delhi, 2018 and 2023 in Odisha. Unfortunately, India, as hosts could not even reach semi-finals of World Cup. In the last edition held jointly in Rourkela and Bhubaneswar, India touched a new low by failing to qualify even for quarter-finals.
Hockey has also a come long way since the maiden 1975 gold medal triumph. From grass, it has moved to synthetic surfaces. It was a year after the third World up in Malaysia, the 1976 summer Olympic Games saw the introduction of synthetic surface for hockey competitions. It also marked the beginning of downfall of Indian hockey. Though India won the gold medal in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, it was primarily because of boycott by US Led Western world. The truncated hockey competition saw India winning a narrowly against Spain in a closely contested gold medal match.
Between 1980 and 2021, India did not get any Olympic medal in hockey. It got a reprieve in 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games held in 2021 when it returned to the podium to win a bronze. But the subsequent World Cup in Odisha in January thus year came as a big disappointment and India finished a poor joint ninth with Argentina.
Ashok Dhyan Chand, who was in Chandigarh to participate in the Playwrite Sports seminar says that each member of the 1975 World Cup champion team enjoys the right to claim his role in bringing singular honour to Indian hockey in the 52-year history of the World.
Personally speaking, 1973 was our best chance, and I still hold we missed a great opportunity of bringing the trophy home after taking a 2-0 lead in the final against the hosts, the Netherlands.
“Though we had been Olympic champions before but were never a World Cup winner,” says Ashok Kumar who scored the match winning goal against Pakistan in the final. Pakistan had taken the lead which fullback Surjit Singh neutralised with a penalty corner conversion. It was left to mercurial Ashok Kumar to score the decisive goal. Earlier, it was Harcharan Singh whose goal in the semi-final got India into final.
“We all members of the 1975 World Cup champion have only one desire – to see India back on podium with the gold medal,” says Ashok Dhyan Chand revealing that an exclusive Hockey Museum in memory of his father and Hockey Wizard is under construction at Jhansi. The museum when complete would cost Rs 19 crore.
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