Golden memories: When the Pakistani hockey team won its first gold medal

60 years ago, on September 9, 1960, Pakistan won the first gold medal in any sport by defeating India in the hockey final in Rome.

It is said that a country’s national and regional identity is linked to its sporting achievements.  In 1951, Hashim Khan won the British Open squash title and thus it did not take long for Pakistan to become world champions.

When it comes to cricket, Pakistan surprised everyone by winning the Oval Test in its first tour of England in 1954.  Remember that India had to wait almost 40 years for its first victory in England.

But it was a game of hockey that attracted the attention of fans in both Pakistan and India.

There were many reasons for this.  Before the formation of Pakistan, the United British Indian team won the Olympic hockey gold medal three times in a row, in 1928, 1932 and 1936, but then World War II broke out and the next Olympics were held in 1948.

The team that won three consecutive gold medals had the most important role of Muslim athletes.  This was the reason why not only the Pakistani people but also the sports fans had expected the final of the 1948 Olympiad between India and Pakistan after the partition of India.  But far from gold and silver, the Pakistani team failed to win a bronze medal, finishing fourth at the London Olympics.  Four years later, in 1952, Pakistan again finished the Helsinki Olympics in fourth place.

This was the second consecutive defeat of Pakistan which caused more frustration and successive defeats shook everyone.  In this situation, a five-member committee was formed which was headed by Mian Riaz-ud-Din, a former hockey player and senior civil servant from Punjab University.  The committee made a number of recommendations, including:

* Instead of a quota system of representatives, a new selection committee should be formed which should include only eminent former players.

* There should be no undue pressure on the players but they should make their own decisions.

* The captain’s power and authority was to increase.

* In order to increase the number of players, several tournaments will be organized in all the provinces under the supervision of the Provincial Tournament Committees.

All these efforts showed their color and in 1956 Pakistan reached the final for the first time and faced India, for which the whole hockey world was waiting.  In this match, India scored only one goal through a penalty corner, which was a controversial goal because when the ball was hit by India, Pakistan was not ready on the goal line at that time, even Indian fullback Randhir Singh.  Gentleman’s hit was not good because the ball hit the net instead of hitting the board.

It was a time when Pakistan was almost victorious and held back consecutive Indian victories, and came very close to winning its first medal in any Olympic sport.

Winning a gold medal at the 1958 Asian Games before the 1960 Rome Olympics certainly gave the national team some confidence.  This was the first time in any world competition that India came in second.

It was almost the same team that had been playing together since 1956.  Eight of the first 11 players selected had played against India in the 1956 final.

Captain Abdul Hameed Hamidi is in the first position.

So most athletes knew this was their last chance to win an Olympic gold medal.  The team was once again led by Abdul Hamid Hamidi, the only Olympic athlete since 1948.  Hamidi’s influence can be gauged from the fact that he replaced Zafar Ahmad Khan with Zafar Hayat at the last moment.  Pakistan got off to a great start and easily won all three pool games.

In the quarterfinals, Pakistan faced West Germany.  Center-forward Abdul Waheed gave Pakistan the lead but Germany soon leveled the score.  Then the victory went to the national team because of Naseer Banda from the left side.  However, Pakistan won the semi-final against Spain due to a penalty corner by Manzoor Hussain Atif.  There was never any doubt about the lead of the national team even though Hamidi was saved from the threat of penalty.

Now the stage is set for the Titans’ competition in the ancient city of Rome.  The Indian team, which had won six Olympic hockey titles, was now up against a strong and determined Pakistani team.

The Green Shirts began to attack together.  In the 13th minute of the final, Hamidi passed the ball on the right side and threw the ball towards Noor Alam.  Noor Alam’s center was to the left of Naseer Banda.  The ball landed on his hockey stick and then flashed to the left of the Indian goalkeeper.  The goal proved decisive, ending India’s 32-year dominance in Olympic hockey.

Pakistan’s dominance in the tournament can be gauged from the fact that they scored 25 goals while only one goal was scored against them.

Renowned English hockey journalist RL Hollande has paid tribute to Hamidi and Banda in the following words:  He doesn’t show great cunning like Naseer or Indian Peter, but none of them have the understanding or the ability to master his clever strategy.  In my opinion, he is the most constructive leader in the world today.

This was a major achievement for Captain Hamidi, who retired from hockey after competing in four consecutive Olympics.  It was also an important opportunity for manager AIS Dara as he worked hard all these years to move the winning squad forward.

The news of the victory of the national team became the adornment of every newspaper. (photo source: DAWN NEWS)

But most importantly, it was a happy occasion for the entire Pakistani nation to finally win its first Olympic gold medal.  The team’s return home was warmly welcomed and grand events were held in his honor in all major cities.

It is worth mentioning here that the final of the 1960 Olympic hockey was broadcast all over Western Europe on the European link-up.  It was also the first time that TV had covered the Olympics on such a large scale, while the first Olympic Games were televised on domestic television in London in 1948.

Success in the Olympics shows where any nation stands in the world community.  In the year 2020, the Diamond Jubilee of Pakistan’s first gold medal was celebrated.  This was the success that led to hockey being officially declared the national sport of the country.

Team:

* Goalkeepers: Abdul Rashid and Ronnie Gardiner.

* Fullbacks: Munirdar, Manzoor Atif, Khurshid Azam and Bashir Ahmed.

* Half backs: Ghulam Rasool Chaudhry, Anwar Ahmad Khan, Habib Ali Kadi, Zafar Hayat.

Forwards: Noor Alam, Abdul Hamid Hamidi, Abdul Waheed Khan, Naseer Banda, Matiullah Khan, Zafar Ali Zafari, Mushtaq Ahmed, Khawaja Zakauddin.

Scorers: Abdul Hamid Hamidi 9, Abdul Waheed 6, Naseer Banda 5, Munirdar 1, MH Atif 1, Matiullah 1, Anwar A Khan 1, Noor Alam.