Adolf Hitler had his fair share of interactions with Indian hockey players during his rise to fame in the 1930s. While most of us know that he famously offered Dhyan Chand a role in the German Army owing to his stellar performances in the Olympics — this is probably one story not many are aware of.
Dhyan Chand’s brother, Roop Singh, was also a standout player in that team and has often been declared as one of India’s finest ever players. He was born in 1908 in Jabalpur - at a time when the British were still a strong force in India. He was naturally athletic since his early days and picked up hockey along with his elder brother.
Roop Singh’s natural flair for hockey was evident the moment he stepped onto the field. Playing as left in, he had a knack for tricky stick work and was known for his exceptional penalty corner shots. He, in essence, was a complete hockey player being the most formidable asset to the teams he represented.
Together with his brother, he was part of two Olympic gold medal-winning teams in 1932 and 1936. One of the records include Roop Singh scoring 10 goals in the highest ever scoring game at the Olympics when India beat USA 24-0.
As a tribute to his brilliant performances, stature, and reputation — Roop Singh had a street named after him in Munich by the Germans because they were in such awe of him. Sadly, post his retirement from the Armed Forces, he lived a modest life with a paltry pension of Rs. 148 a month. Moreover, he was extremely humble about his hockey career mostly out of respect for his elder brother and often kept away from the limelight. It may seem ironic but Dhyan Chand always rated Roop Singh as a better player than him as did several individuals who witnessed them both play at the same time.
He passed away in December 1977 at the age of 69. The Captain Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior is named after him as a tribute, although one would question why cricket is played there instead of hockey. Regardless, Roop Singh laid the foundation for India’s exemplary worldwide hockey dominance that continued throughout the 20th century.