Sporting giant

November 29, 2020

Abdul Hameed ‘Hameedi’ achieved legendary status when he led Pakistan to a historic title-winning triumph in the Rome Olympics

Abdul Hameed, nicknamed Hameedi, was born in Bannu, now located in Northern Pakistan, in 1927. He took up hockey in his school days, playing both for the Islamia High School as well as the famous Waziri Club which was managed by his family.

Hockey was a very popular sport in Bannu and had been promoted further by the legendary Dhyan Chand whose army unit, the Punjab Regiment, spent four years in Bannu in the 1930’s. Dhyan Chand not only played for his army unit, but also for local clubs, attracting a huge audience in the process.

Hameedi was a good student and obtained admission to King Edward Medical College to study medicine. However, after two years at the college he left because of his desire to pursue a career in hockey. The Second World War had disrupted many routine sporting tournaments. However, intercollegiate competitions and club tournaments continued. Hameedi, playing as an inside right, took King Edward Medical College to two Punjab University finals and assisted his club to win the famous Obaidullah Inter-club tournament in Bhopal in 1946.

Following partition a young Hameedi was chosen as a member of the Pakistan Olympic team for the 1948 Olympics in London. He played in two of Pakistan’s four group matches, scoring a goal against a strong Dutch side that Pakistan overwhelmed 6-1 in the group stage. He also played in the losing semi-final against Britain, as Pakistan ended on 4th position in the Games.

Pakistan again fielded a strong hockey contingent for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Hameedi was again selected as the inside right of the team. After a bye in the first round Pakistan played France in the quarter final. Hameedi was in superb form. He scored two second half goals in quick succession and another one before the end to help Pakistan to an emphatic 6-0 win. Pakistan sadly lost narrowly by a 1-0 margin to Holland in the semifinal and were edged out 2-1 by Britain in the bronze medal play-off. The final result was another 4th position.

Pakistan’s failure to win a medal in two successive Olympics led to a lot of soul searching. A committee was commissioned and recommended remedial measures which included a new captain. Hameedi was asked to lead the team in the home series against the visiting West Germans in 1954 and then on a tour of Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia the following year.

For the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Hameedi was again the team captain. Pakistan had trained hard for these games and possessed a formidable side. Hameedi had brought much needed discipline to the side and focused on getting the players to a high level of physical fitness. The forward line of Right Out Noor Alam, Hameedi at Right In, Centre Forward Habibur Rehman, Left In Naseer Bunda and Left Out Motiullah, were complemented by a half line of Habib Ali ‘Kiddie’, Anwar Ahmad Khan and Ghulam Rasool. With Munir Dar and Manzoor Atif as full backs this was a real dream team.

Pakistan comfortably beat Belgium and New Zealand in their group matches with Hameedi scoring a goal against Belgium and two against New Zealand. Germany held Pakistan to a goalless draw in their final group match but in the semifinals Pakistan overcame old rivals Britain to qualify for the final. In a tightly contested final India beat Pakistan by a disputed goal to leave them as silver medal winners. Thus was the first medal won by Pakistan at the Olympic Games and Hameedi was acclaimed as a national hero.

In 1958, Hameedi led the Pakistan team at the Asian Games in Tokyo. Played on a round robin basis Pakistan were in great form. They overwhelmed Japan 5-0, South Korea 8-0 and Malaysia 6-0. Their final match against India ended in a goalless draw but Hameedi dislocated his ankle following a charge by the Indian full back Balkrishan. Nevertheless, Pakistan won the gold medal because they had a better goal average than India. Hameedi had added yet another feather to his cap and that of the country.

The 1960 Olympic Games were held in the eternal city of Rome. Hameedi led a Pakistan that retained the nucleus of the sides from 1956 and 1958. The team had undergone rigorous training at a special camp and one of the stalwarts from the time Munir Dar later recalled that Hameedi used to tell the team, ‘First play for your country, then your own glory, and don’t expect anything from anyone in return.’”

Pakistan began the competition with a 3-0 win against Australia that included a goal by Hameedi. This was followed by an 8-0 victory over Poland and a 10-0 rout of Japan. Hameedi was the main scorer in both matches with 3 and 4 goals respectively. Pakistan then overcame Germany 2-1 in the quarter finals and beat Spain 1-0 in the semi final.

In the final against India, Waheed and Hameedi both missed early scoring chances. Then came a moment of pure magic in the eleventh minute of play. The mastermind of the Pakistan attack, Hameedi, slipped a pass to his outside right Noor Alam, who dodged the Indian left half and sent in a stinging cross. Naseer Bunda collected the cross at the top of the circle, sidestepped the Indian full back Prithipal Singh, drew the goal keeper Lakshman forwards and put the ball into the right side of the goal. Despite desperate attempts the Indians were unable to equalize as the Pakistan defence stood firm.

Pakistan were deserving gold medal winners, having ended India’s winning streak of 32 years. Hameedi was now guaranteed legendary status. He was not only the first Pakistani captain to lead his side to an Olympic gold medal, but also the first to have achieved the double of a gold medal at both the Olympics and the Asian Games.

He was also the first hockey player to captain the Pakistan national side in two Olympic Games and the first to represent them in four Olympiads. He now also held the unique record of having scored goals in each of the four Olympic Games he played in. His tally of sixteen Olympic goals would remain a national record for almost fifty years.

After watching Hameedi’s performance at Rome, the renowned English hockey journalist RL Holland complimented his tactical genius and dubbed him, “the most constructive forward in the world today”.

Hameedi retired after the Rome Olympics and subsequently became involved with the game as an administrator. He was the manager of the Pakistan side for both the 1966 and the 1970 Asian Games leading them to a silver medal in 1966 and to the gold medal in 1970. He was also entrusted with the manager’s role for the 1973 World Cup. Pakistan participated in this tournament through their second string team, as the main team had been banned after their crude display at the victory stand in the Munich Olympics of 1972. It goes to Hameedi’s credit that he moulded this new and inexperienced side into a strong outfit, that came fourth in the tournament.

Hameedi was a principled administrator. In 1967 he was camp commandant of the team preparing for a pre-olympic tournament in London. Hameedi’s own younger brother Rasheed ‘Junior’ had been called to the camp but Hameedi did not select him in the final touring team. Rasheed would win selection only after Brigadier Atif took over as the manager of the national team.

Hameedi held many senior administrative positions including Director General Pakistan Sports Board, Director General Sports, Army Sports Control Board and Director General National Sports Trust (NST). He had a distinguished career in the army and retired as a Brigadier.

He also had a stint as Secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation after retiring from the army. This came at a time when Pakistani hockey had hit rock bottom. Hameedi initiated a hockey revival during his short stay in this office from 1989-1992. He created the groundwork that resulted in Pakistan reaching the final of the Hockey World Cup in 1990 and winning a bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was also during Hameedi’s tenure that Pakistan retained the Asia Cup in 1989 and won the gold medal in the Asian Games of 1990.

Hameedi’s younger brother Rasheed ‘Junior’ also played for Pakistan and captained them in the 1976 Olympics. This is the only instance in hockey Olympic history where two brothers have both captained their national side.

Hameedi spent his final years in Chakwal. He passed away in 2019 at the ripe age of ninety two. He will always be remembered as the man who led Pakistan to their first ever Olympic Gold and took them to the top of the hockey world.

Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books [email protected]

Sporting giant: Abdul Hameed ‘Hameedi’ achieved legendary status when he led Pakistan in Rome Olympics