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Tokyo 2020: Why the India-Great Britain men's hockey quarterfinal is steeped in history

A brief overview of the historic significance of the Men's Hockey quarterfinal to be played between India and Great Britain on Sunday

Indian Mens hockey team

Can India tame GB in Tokyo?  (Source: Hockey India)


Subhashish Majumdar

Updated: 2021-08-01T14:37:05+05:30

The last of the quarterfinal matches of the Men's Hockey competition at Tokyo 2020 will be played between India and Great Britain - two old powerhouses who created and nurtured the game but are now striving unsuccessfully to relive the glory days.

According to experts, the game of field hockey as the sporting world knows it today has its origins in Britain in the mid-1800s.

Blackheath Football and Hockey Club, which is now called Blackheath and Old Elthamians Hockey Club, happens to be the first professional hockey club in the world which was founded in the year 1861.

British sports journals vouch for the fact that the game of hockey was even more popular than football in the 1860s and it is no surprise then that it was England and not India who first won gold at the Olympic Games in 1908.

Six teams – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, and France competed for top honours with England, Ireland, and Scotland ending up on the podium!

Great Britain, who stood atop the podium in 1908 and 1920 never made it to a final until the London Games in 1948 where they lost 0-4 to India – a country they had ruled over for close to a century! The Indians won gold when they first took part in 1928 and the rest is history - but, a 49-year medal drought has blunted the popularity of the sport in the country.

Both India and Great Britain look back at the 1980s with a sense of pride and longing as the hockey days ceased to happy days in the decades that followed.

The heroes of Moscow 1980 are revered to this in India while hockey lovers in England have fond memories of Seoul 1988.

It was in the South Korean capital that the Indians, led by MM Somaya failed to make it to the semifinals after being beaten 0-3 by Great Britain who went on to win a historic gold after getting past a mighty Australian side in the semifinal.

Great Britain has won three Olympic gold medals in hockey (Source: England Hockey)

Mark Hager, who now coaches the Great Britain women's team was part of the Aussie side that lost to GB and went home empty-handed while the British side ended as up as the Olympic champions after a gap of 68 years.

Post the gold at Seoul, Great Britain has never made it to the Olympic podium – not even at home in London 2012, when they lost to the Australians in the bronze-medal match.

In Rio 2016, Great Britain failed to progress beyond the group stage while India, the hockey wizards of old, made it past the knock-outs for the first time since 1980.

The teams from India and GB that last won medals in the 1980s played a seventy-minute game separated by two halves of 35 minutes each. Rolling substitutions were unheard of and teams went into extra time to break deadlocks which used to be followed by penalty strokes and not shootouts. It was also a time when hockey used to be taken a lot more seriously in the sporting annals of both nations – as described by the decorated players of old.

When Manpreet Singh and Adam Dixon lead their respective sides on to the pitch on Sunday, hockey connoisseurs both Indian and British will hope that one team goes all the way in Tokyo 2020. For, only a medal can, perhaps, accord hockey its rightful place in the lands where it all began and flourished.

Come Sunday, India and Great Britain – two nations that have witnessed the game originate, evolve, adapt, and innovate over the years, will now attempt to rewrite a bit of hockey history themselves.

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