“People have forgotten us, haven’t they? But we ended India’s 30-year dominance in hockey on September 9, 1960,” reminisces Abdul Waheed Khan, a member of the 11-man squad that won Pakistan its first gold medal at the Olympics.
Khan and his teammate Khwaja Zakauddin – now in their late 70s – are rejuvenated every time they recall the victory of the 1960 Rome Olympics hockey final.
That’s when Pakistan came head-to-head against its arch rival India for the second time in the Olympic history. But unlike the first meeting in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Pakistan was not ready to settle for silver.
With so much to prove, they went into the final to defeat India 1-0 with Naseer Bunda’s timeless goal – shocking the world champions of 32 years, who lost to a team known as the underdogs.
“I still can’t forget or explain the feeling,” says Khan. “All I knew was that I hadn’t slept the night before, and after winning this final, the entire team couldn’t sleep the night after. The excitement just wouldn’t wear off.”
After losing their title for the first time in six Olympics – pre- and post-Partition – Indians kept saying that Pakistan’s victory was a fluke. But the team had shaken their neighbours’ throne once and for all.
“It was the day the world of sports realised that Pakistan existed. But more importantly, the Indians understood that they don’t rule hockey anymore. Despite them calling our victory a fluke, we defeated them again in the 1962 Asian Games final,” evokes Khan.
It was a dream Olympic debut for him and a couple of other players, where Khan alone scored 17 out of 33 goals in six matches at the tournament. “I was 23 at that time. What more could I have asked for?” asks the former centre-forward.
But his most cherished memory is not his stellar performance but the sensational goal by Bunda that won the final.
Agreeing with Khan’s views, right-winger Zakauddin remembers the 1960 win as ‘avenging the 1956 defeat at the hands of India’. “I thought I could touch the sky that day.”
Everything was top-notch ‘those days’, he says, the coaching, the management, the team all had the maddening desire to win. Losing was not an option. “But today, the players are not as dedicated as we were. They don’t have the same team spirit.”
“A man had walked up to me at a function before the 1960 final tournament and asked me if Pakistan can beat the favorites the next day. I said that we’ll win, no matter what.”
Both Khan and Zakauddin agree that the common thread in the win was then Captain Abdul Hamid Hameedi. “That man had waited for four Olympics since 1948 to win the gold,” says Zakuddin. “He was a formidable captain, someone who led us by example.”
Hockey had changed the landscape for sports in Pakistan. The sport was introduced in the subcontinent by the British in 1885 and later local clubs were established throughout the region.
The All-India team won its first gold medal at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
According to Khan, who came to Pakistan when he was in fourth grade, that although it was a European sport, the people picked it very well – and fast. “We learnt and excelled at hockey quickly as we became champions just 13 years after we were created. But unfortunately, more than a hundred rules have been changed in hockey since our time. They took away the off-side rule, which was the beauty of the game, and now its played on astro-turf, not grass.”
Khan and Zakauddin said that landing in Karachi after the gold medal win was another story, with people celebrating and treating the players like heroes.
“The biggest honour came in another form though. President Ayub Khan named hockey as the national sport after meeting us!”
Before 1960, the government had not decided what Pakistan’s national sport would be. “But Ayub Khan named it our national sport, because we were just that good at it!”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th,2014.