Balbir Singh Senior — India’s iconic goal machine — was a legend across the border too, inspiring a generation of hockey players in Pakistan.
His stellar on-field skills and down-to earth-demeanour earned him the love and respect of even his rivals. “He was a great player and a greater human being. Even in Pakistan, he is considered a legend. As we both had Punjabi roots, we shared a special bond. So, whenever we met, we always used to converse in Punjabi,” recalls Pakistan’s triple Olympic medallist Motiullah Khan, who played against Balbir Singh in the 1956 Olympics, while taking to HT over phone.
Motiullah, 83, who is settled in Bahawalpur in Punjab province, won two silver and gold for the Pakistan in the Olympics.
Till Partition, Motiullah used to play football and it was only in 1949, he started wielding the hockey stick. “My first meeting with Balbir Senior was during the 1955 Bombay Gold Cup. I was playing for Afgan Hockey Club and we lost to Balbir’s side in the semi-final by 1-0. It was Balbir who snatched the win from us,” says Motiullah, who took help of his son Muteeb Ullah Khan to communicate, as he is having hearing issues.
“Our next meeting was at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. We lost the final to India 1-0. I still remember the game…Balbir and Leslie Claudius were superb and we all hold them in high regard,” adds Motiullah, who was part of the 1960 Olympics squad when Pakistan won its maiden gold.
“A week ago, I came across news that Balbir Senior had been admitted to a hospital. I told my son to enquire about him and he posted couple of message on his Facebook page, but somehow I couldn’t get in touch with his family. His demise is a great loss to the hockey world,” he says.
Another triple Olympic medallist from Pakistan, Abdul Rasheed Junior, reminisces: “My elder brother Abdul Hameed ‘Hameedi’ had played with him during the 1948, ’52 and ’56 Olympics. I got a chance to interact with the legend when he was the manager of the Indian team in the 1971 World Cup. He was a thorough gentleman and the players from both sides have so much to learn from him.”
Batting for India-Pak hockey series
Motiullah says sports and cultural exchanges should not be kept hostage to political relations. Strongly batting for India-Pakistan bilateral hockey series, he says sports can bring both the nations together. “It is sad that because of political differences, such a series seems to be distant dream in the near future. But nobody can stop both the sides from playing in the heaven. Now, Balbir must be joining his teammates to play a match against our side (Pakistan) and I am sure it would be a tough contest,” he says.