With less than 30 days to go for the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Olympic fever is slowly engulfing the entire sporting world. While the Indian athletes carry out their high-octane practice sessions, it’s time for the hockey fans to relive the memories from the triumphant Olympic campaigns in the past through Hockey India’s Flashback Series.
In the fifth article of Hockey India’s Flashback Series, the fiery centre-forward BP Govinda went on a nostalgic trip, fondly talking of his hay days as an iconic figure with a distinctive head band. “Our Coach KD Singh Babu made me play as outside-left in the Bronze Medal match against the Netherlands,” recalled the stylish striker.
“All through the tournament in Munich, I had played as centre-forward, but our Coach insisted I change my position for this match, and it so happened that I scored the equaliser and then Mukhbain Singh scored the winning goal through a penalty corner which helped us win the match 2-1,” recalled Govinda, who was drawn to hockey from his school days in Somwarpet in Coorg.
Having won a Bronze Medal in 1968, India had fielded a young team in Munich which saw stalwarts like Michael Kindo, Ashok Kumar Dhyanchand and BP Govinda make their Olympic debut. But the campaign didn’t go as expected despite a good start against teams like the Netherlands (1-1 draw), Great Britain (5-0 win), Australia (3-1 win), Poland (2-2 draw) and Mexico (8-0 win). India had also beaten New Zealand 3-2 to make the cut for the Semifinal. “But we lost 0-2 in that match. I think we played particularly well in the second half. For almost the entire 35 minutes, we were in their D and we were attacking with all our might, but it was so disheartening that we couldn’t convert a single goal. All our shots would go near the goal mouth, and we would miss. It was as though we were jinxed,” explained Govinda, who is also part of Hockey India’s National Selection Committee.
The Former India Skipper who led the team to a Silver Medal at the 1978 Asian Games rued missing an opportunity to play for the World XI side at the Munich Games, but the match was called off due to the Palestinian terrorist attack on Israeli athletes. He said, “West Germany had beaten Pakistan in the Final to become the new Olympic Champions and the organizers had planned an exhibition match between World XI and the Olympic Champions. I was chosen from India to play for the World XI side but due to the Black September incident, they called off that match. Though there was no safety concern for us within the village, our contingent was quite close to where this incident happened.”
Another instance Govinda regrets to this day is the penalty stroke he missed against Pakistan in the 1973 World Cup in Amstelveen. “I had scored the only goal (in the 62nd minute) against Pakistan in the Semis and that goal of mine took India to the Final against the Netherlands. I had become an instant hero back home but unfortunately; I couldn’t replicate that in the Final. Surjit Singh had scored two goals and the score was level at 2-2 when we earned a penalty stroke towards the dying minutes of the match.”
“But Harmik Singh, Ajitpal nobody was coming forward to take the penalty stroke. I told (teammate) MP Ganesh, no one is going so shall I go? I went voluntarily. Before taking the strike, I had decided I will hit to the left corner of the goalkeeper but when I lifted my stick, it went underneath the grass, and the ball didn’t connect properly to the stick. My shot didn’t even reach the goalie. We lost the opportunity, and the match went into extra time, and we eventually lost,” recollected Govinda.
But something he fondly remembers from his playing days is his formative days when he played for Mohun Bagan. “That’s where it all began for me. In 1967-68, we won the first division and the Beighton Cup. I was very fortunate and lucky to have played with greats like Gurbux Singh and Vece Paes. I got my first call up for India in 1970,” he said.
Consistent India team stand great chance to finish on the podium
Speaking of the current Indian hockey team led by Manpreet Singh, Govinda said, “They have been playing consistently in the past two years, and they have shown a lot of promise. But my advice to them is to take it match-by-match and their first aim should be to make the Quarterfinals. I would say, once they have crossed that hurdle, it is anybody’s game in the Semis and Final.”
“This team has been doing well under Graham and have shown that they are capable of beating big teams like Australia, Netherlands, Belgium and even the Olympic Champions Argentina. I have no doubt that they can perform well in Tokyo,” he added.