Certain dates in a nation’s history are unforgettable. September 9, 1960, was one such day for the Pakistanis. The country won its first-ever Olympic gold by defeating India in the final at Rome. Though there were efforts of many behind this epic success, one name stood out — Abdul Hameed Hamidi, the captain of the team. The national hero, who rose to the rank of brigadier, passed away on July 11, aged 92.
Hamidi was born in KP’s southern town Bannu in 1927. When he grew up, hockey was the greatest passion not only in his town but also at home.
Waziri Club, one of the most prominent local hockey outfits, was run by his family. Many of his relatives played for the club.
Waziri club’s local derby match with the Giants Club attracted a crowd of around 7000, out of Bannu’s total population of 125,000.
Then his Islamia High School had a great rivalry with the Government High School. There again, thousands turned up with Muslims supporting Islamia HS and Hindus cheering Govt HS. The atmosphere couldn’t have been better.
Hamidi played at the inside right position throughout his career.
After school, Hamidi distinguished himself in the board tournaments for strong outfits of Gordon College, Rawalpindi, and Islamia College, Peshawar.
He came from a well-educated family, and got admission into the prestigious King Edward Medical College, Lahore. But he left the college after two years for the love of hockey.
During these two years, he helped the college reach the final of the Punjab University Championships — a rare achievement.
During all these years, Hamidi had been appearing for Bannu’s clubs in various all-India tournaments. The crowning achievement was winning the famous Obaidullah tournament in Bhopal in 1946.
After Independence, Hamidi joined Pakistan Army and there his game further flourished. He was selected to represent Pakistan at the 1948 Olympics.
Before Pakistan’s birth in 1947, the united British India team had won three consecutive Olympic gold medals. The Muslim players constituted a significant proportion of all these teams. So a Pakistan-India final in London in 1948 was widely anticipated. What to talk about gold or silver, the Pakistan side failed to land even bronze medal, finishing fourth.
Four years later, in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Pakistan again ended at the fourth spot.
Naturally, there was dejection at home. A five-member committee, including former all-India Olympians, was formed to identify the faults and give recommendations. The committee made four main recommendations, one of which was to increase the authority of the captain.
Hamidi was made Pakistan’s captain in 1954. The army officer inculcated discipline among the players. He also conducted the training in a manner that the team not only developed the much wanted team spirit but also became physically very fit. The players were able to play the full 70 minutes at a good pace.
Under his able captaincy, Pakistan won silver medal at the 1956 Olympics, losing to India by a controversial goal in the final. Still, it was an epoch making moment — Pakistan’s first ever medal of any colour in any Olympic discipline.
In 1958, Hamidi led Pakistan to gold medal in the Asian Games.
Hamidi finally carved out a permanent place in the nation’s sporting folklore by skippering Pakistan to their maiden Olympic gold (in any sport), in the 1960 Olympics at Rome, which ended India’s 32 years hold on the Olympic title.
He also had a hand in that historic goal in Pakistan’s 1-0 win. The beautiful strategic move started with Noor Alam on the right wing. Near the Indian circle, he passed the ball to Hamidi. The Indian defenders, who dreaded Hamidi the most, went out to check his advance, making a gap for unmarked Naseer Bunda. Hamidi quickly dished it out to Bunda and the latter in a split second flicked it in.
Seeing his display at Rome, the famous English hockey journalist RI Holland declared him, “the most constructive forward in the world today”.
It was after the gold medal at Rome that hockey was officially declared Pakistan’s national game.
A schemer as well as scorer, Hamidi’s tally of 16 Olympic goals remained a Pakistan record till 2008 when Sohail Abbas surpassed it.
He captained Pakistan at two Olympics; another unique distinction.
After retirement from active hockey, Hamidi managed the Pakistan team on quite a few occasions, including the 1966 and 1970 Asian Games with Pakistan winning silver and gold medals, respectively.
His last stint as manager was the 1973 World Cup. Hamidi was handicapped because he only had a second string Pakistan side under his command. The Pakistan team which participated in the 1972 Olympics had been banned by FIH for inappropriate behaviour after their defeat in the controversy-marred final against the hosts West Germany. But the team still managed to finish fourth at the 1973 World Cup.
His last role was as the all-important secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF). He assumed the post when the country’s hockey was at the lowest ebb. Pakistan had had its worst positions in the World Cup and the Olympics till then: 11th at the 1986 World Cup and 5th at the 1988 Olympics.
Hamidi brought about a revival. Pakistan finished runners-up in the 1990 World Cup, superbly hosted in Lahore. The country won bronze at the 1992 Olympics. Pakistan regained the Asian Games title apart from retaining the Asia Cup.
He will always be remembered as the man who arguably played the biggest role in Pakistan winning their first-ever Olympic gold. It will be a befitting tribute to the legend if the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore, where PHF’s headquarters are located, is renamed after Hamidi.