Balbir Singh Kullar ( Services )

In Punjabi language the word “Balbir” means “Strong and Brave”. Thus, It is in fitness of things that the name Balbir has a glorious record in Indian hockey. It finds mention in five Olympics and Asian Games and bagged 12 medals . In the Olympics , Balbirs have won four gold and three bronze medals and the Asian Games , they pocketed three gold and two silver medals . In fact Indian hockey team has had the benefit of services of six Balbirs representing it at different points of time . In 1967 , Madrid , International hockey tournament , Indian team comprised of 4 Balbirs .

This has land to many a times “Comedy of errors” of a different kind and has created confusions specially for foreign journalists and commentators . Thus those Balbirs were distinguished as ( i ) Balbir Singh ( Sr. ) who represented India in 1948 , 52 , 56 Olympics and 1958 Asian Games .
(ii) Balbir Singh ( Railways ) : represented India in 1966 , 70 Asian Games and 1968 Olympics .
( iii ) Balbir Singh Kullar ( junior ) : represented India in 1958 Asian Games .
( iv ) Balbir Singh Kullar ( Punjab ) : represented India in 1966 Asian Games and 1964 ,1968 Olympics .
( v ) Balbir Singh ( Services ) : represented India in 1966 Asian Games and 1968 Olympics.
( vi ) Balbir Singh ( Randhawa ) : represented India in 1967 in international Hockey Tournament at Madrid.

Suffix Railways, Services and Punjab signifying their respective national teams. It is further interesting to note that all six of these Balbir’s are from the Jat Sikh community of Punjab. Out of which three with suffices junior services, Punjab belong to one family Kullar, one street and the same village Sansarpur.

Balbir Singh Kullar of services has distinguished himself as one of the best half line players in recent Indian hockey. He has been hailed as a versatile player who is equally at home in defence and attack. He has represented country at Olympics and Asian Games besides leading the national team ones in an exhibition match against Indian Railways at Jammu in 1971. Honours and accolades have come a plenty to him. In an exclusive interview to the express news service, the then chairman of selection committee, Nagarwala once remarked “Give me Joginder, Peter and Balbir Singh Kullar of services, I will defy the entire world”. ( H T, 10 March, 1967 ) Balbir Singh Kullar’s mastery over the game got immediate notice from the knowledgeable commenting on a selection for the first time in Indian team, Illustrated Weekly Remarked that “He is almost placed at par with Mohinder Lal and that is perhaps saying everything” as Mohinder Lal at that time was a well established National Half Back and who had the distinction of scoring winning goal in 1964 Tokyo Olympics final against Pakistan. Balbir Singh Kullar was not only known for his mastery of the game for also for his fair play and sportsmanship. He was rightly been conferred with the highest supporting award by the nation, i.e. Arjuna Award, in 1968. The citation for his award specifically mentions sportsmanship beside high lightly Yeomen services he has rendered to nation team. His international hockey career which Sohal promisingly began in 1964 at Shivaji Stadium against Bhopal in the national hockey tournament and ended at the same ground when injury prone Balbir Singh Kullar once again broke his knee which had already been operated upon more than once. Thus, the curtain was drawn on a glittering career which ended like all good thing in life. But Balbir Singh Kullar’s love for the game of hockey and his bond of association with the game was so strong that he could not keep himself away from the game. He was coach of national women hockey team during 1995 to 1998. He was also national selector for men hockey team many years. Balbir Singh Kullar has a vast knowledge and deep understanding of the game and has very clear and firm views on every aspect of the game. He is a “Thinker” on all issues connected with hockey in real sense of the world and number of the interviews which have been published ins National Magazines, Newspapers and number of papers he himself has penned bear testimony to this unique aspect of his multifact personality.

Balbir Singh Kullar was born in 1945 hockey loving family of Kullars of Sansarpur. His father Gajjan Singh Kullar had three sons and two daughters. Balbir Singh Kullar occupies the fourth place in the ladder where the present researcher is at the bottom of the same ladder. Thus, it was quite some task for the present researcher to formally interview Balbir Singh Kullar for the purposes of present research. As, like many elder brothers, he was not ready to take the younger brother seriously at first, but once the interview commenced and he realised that the researcher ment business, he became as enthusiastic as only he could be about the subject of hockey. From his personal experiences due to the close association with Balbir Singh Kullar, the present researcher can vouch for that each and every word which came out of the mouth of Balbir Singh Kullar in a foyr hour long interview was uttered with utmost sincerity. Here are the excerpts of the interview.

About his early fomenting years which were spent in the hockey filled air of Sansarpur and his initiation into the game, Balbir Singh Kullar feels that the hockey conducive atmosphere of Sansarpur of those days and the highly positive attitude of the parents towards the game were the main factors which inculcated the love for the game deep into skin. He says that he had the fond memories of the village activities during his early childhood which were in variably centered around the game of hockey. He still had vivid recollections of the functions which used to be held during various occasions and how whole village children used to participate in them. The elders of the village used to take great interest in the affairs of the children in those days told Balbir Singh Kullar. He narrated the example of Tara Singh Kullar, who was a village senior and a great hockey lover also had great interest in children affairs. After collecting all children of the village with used to take them to hockey field. Many time he organised parties for them by collecting one or two paise from each of them and contributing major share form his pocket. Balbir Singh Kullar told that once Tara Singh Kullar after collecting the money send one of us to fruit market to buy mangoes and mango party was organised under a Pilkin tree near the historical hockey ground of Sansarpur. The fun and enjoyment he got from the party still fresh in his mind, said Balbir Singh Kullar. But biggest celebrations were reserved for occasions when a village son returned after winning laurels at the hockey field. The celebrations to honour the four Sansarpuri member of silver medalist hockey team of Asian Games of 1958 ( Tokyo ), were held in the Sansarpur Guruduara and the day became a turning point in his career as he decided on that very that he would try to emulate the heroes of the day told Balbir Singh Kullar.

Balbir Singh Kullar feels that he was not only lucky to born in those glorious days of hockey in Sansarpur but also had the twin advantage to been born in a family which could boost of great hockey player and which not only loved but worshipped the game. Balbir Singh Kullar’s father Gajjan Singh Kullar were a contemporary of great Dhyan Chand and had rubbed shoulders with him in the hockey field and elder brother also played hockey at college level. Thus, getting all encouragement from the family to play the game was but natural and Balbir Singh Kullar is the first one to acknowledge the contribution of his family towards his development into a player of repute. His still recalls with fond rememberance how his mother used to dress him up for the game every evening and how she used to encourage him to become a great player. Balbir Singh Kullar also remarked that whenever his mother would say that he should work hard to become a great player, his pet reply was that he would play like “Udhi”, the great Udham Singh Kullar, who was his childhood “idol” and still remain Sohal.

Balbir Singh Kullar further told the researcher that he and his schooling from Cantt.Board High School, Jalandhar Cantt, which did not have much to boost as a school. As his father was serving in the army and family land was tilled by tenants, the most of his time in school going age was spent on hockey field. In those days hockey tournaments were regularly organised in the village. Teams of neighbouring villages also used to take part in those tournaments. In addition to teams from Sansarpur, Khusropur and Mithapur were the two nearly villages who also had good teams and used to give stiff fight to Sansarpur team. These two villages also had produced some hockey players of repute, remarked Balbir Singh Kullar. Balbir Singh Kullar feels that by playing in those tournaments, he got the chance to hone his skills and learnt the those basics of the game which helped him throughout his career. Highlighting the importance of those tournaments further, Balbir Singh Kullar remarked that those very tournaments enabled the Sansarpuri’s to develop their trade mark style of hockey, which is so distinct that he could still recognise the Sansarpuri’s style in hockey, said Balbir Singh Kullar as he was also a beneficiary of that style. After passing high school examination from Cantt.Board High School, Jalandhar Cantt., Balbir Singh Kullar told the researcher, he joined D.A.V College (Jalandhar), and in 1961, he shifted to Sports College, Jalandhar, which was established that very year. As a student of these colleges, he got the chance to play in two inter-varsity tournaments and was later selected for Indian Universities team in 1962, Balbir Singh Kullar considers this selection as a major break through in his career as it, provided him the chance to make his first foreign tour, which was to Afghanistan, and also enabled him to show his skills at national level. Services were the first to spot his talent and he joined army as a “sepoy” in 1964, told Balbir Singh Kullar. Joining army was also in line with family tradition as Balbir Singh Kullar remarked that his grand father fought in the first world war, his father in the second, but he did not get such a chance and limited his fighting on the play field. Balbir Singh Kullar may have regret there but he forget his playing battles so well that he steadily rose in the army and got to the rank of the Colonel in 1993. About his job with the Services, Balbir Singh Kullar told the researcher that his main occupation was playing hockey for the Services team and could rarely wore the uniform as he was either touring with the Services team or practicing at Services hockey ground for most of the time.

In response to the researcher’s question though he had played numerous matches at the national and international level and his efforts have received acclimation from highest officials to ordinary hockey fan, which were the game which gave him maximum self satisfaction and he himself regards them as his best efforts, Balbir Singh Kullar had to say the following:

In 1964, he was playing with the central command team in inter-services hockey tournament against southern command team at Shivaji hockey stadium. The goal-keeper of southern command was Shankar Laxman, who was hailed as the best Indian goal-keeper at that time and has been a member of 1964 Tokyo Olympics winning hockey team. Scoring a goal against him in that game has providing him immense satisfaction and he considers this goal as one of the best scored by him, remarked Balbir Singh Kullar.

Balbir Singh Kullar further said that he also value highly his efforts in the final match of 1966 Asian Games which India won 1-0 against Pakistan, as it remains our only gold medal in Asian Games upto 1994. The move which brought about the winning goal by his name sake Balbir Singh ( Railways ) was initiated by him.

Balbir Singh Kullar feels that he reached his peak in the 1968 Olympics at Mexico. He scored 3 goals in his madin appearance against such strong teams as West Germany & Australia, besides also scoring against Mexico. In all he scored 3 goals in addition to making several good moves.

Balbir Singh Kullar also viewed his efforts in 1972 national hockey championship against Railways in semi-final as highly satisfying and considers the goal he scored by scopping the ball high into the roof of the goal post from top of the circle as one of the most beautiful goal ever scored by him.

Balbir Singh Kullar’s favourite hockey playing ground is Shivaji Stadium ( Delhi ). He has many fond memories of the ground. Infact, his hockey playing career is closely linked with the games he played on this very ground. He played his first game on the ground for central command against southern command in the inter-services hockey tournament and scorer the match winning goal which heralted him on the national scene, ( The goal has been described in the preceding paragraph ). Balbir Singh Kullar played his 1st national game on this ground, though he represented Punjab against Bhopal in 1964. The game ended in goalless draw. Later, he represented S.R.C., Meerut, on this ground in the prestigious Nehru Hockey Tournament in 1965 and his team won the cup for the first time by beating Bombay XI 1-0. His last international appearance was also at this very ground when he represented India against West Germany in March’72. India lost the match 0-1, as Balbir Singh Kullar was playing with a heavily bandaged knee. He played on this ground once again in Nehru Hockey Tournament ‘78 representing A.S.C. ( Jalandhar ), which ended in a goalless draw, he slipped during the game on this very ground, as his knee was not in good shape and had to be taken from ground on stretcher. This, alas, became his last appearance not only the Shivaji Ground but also of his first class hockey career. Thus, the ground where his hockey glittered also became his Waterloo, though in a different way. Though it is a matter of conjecture, but he feels that if his knee were not to have disserted him, he could have played at national and international level for atleast another ten years.

Balbir Singh Kullar is not only a great hockey player, aliving legend but also an equally great hockey thinkers, theoritician and has very definite and firm views on all aspects of Indian hockey. His view on these aspects have been published in form of write ups and interviews in national press. The researcher, therefore, specifically asked him to elaborate his view on total hockey, Indian coaching system, causes of downfall of Indian hockey and suggestions for improvement and professionalism in hockey. He has very precisely expressed his opinion about these aspects in response to our questionnaire, ( see section……) but the interview provided an opportunity to the researcher to request him to elaborate, as these are the some of the most pertinent questions related to Indian hockey and Balbir Singh Kullar could be one of the most suitable person to look for guidance in these matters. Here are the excerpts:

Balbir Singh Kullar has already expressed his disagreement with total hockey system in his responses to our questionnaire, saying that no change can be made in an adhoc manners at the top level and this total hockey is suitable for physical fitter European teams. In response to the same question in the interview,he explained his point of view by saying that no Indian team which plays in any national tournament of repute and is not considered a major outfit in Indian national hockey. Indian Air Lines, Punjab Police, B.S.F., Services, Railways, Air India, Punjab & Sindh Bank etc. Which have won national tournament in near past and from where majority of national players are drawn, play the traditional 5-3-2-1 system. On the one hand it shows that traditional system is more conducive to Indian hockey and also that if we adopt total hockey at international level, our players have to change their style of play at a stage when they have already mastered the other system ( Indian hockey ) and such basic changes are hard to make. According to Balbir Singh Kullar if the total hockey system has to be adopted, at international level, we should first bring the change at club level and national level and then select only those players for Indian teams, who are already wellversed with the system. Bringing a change overnight and that too at the highest level is not all desirable. To further stress his point of view, he cited the example of Pakistan team, whose performance his recent past in international tournaments has been better as compare to ours and who have won some major international tournaments by sticking to the same traditional system. Balbir Singh Kullar feels that total hockey may be suitable system for European teams but certainly does not suit us. And if such a change has to be brought, it should be done only after a national debate and should be first introduced at grass root level. Only when the result of such a change at lower level are found to be encouraging, it should be introduced at higher level. Though, Balbir Singh Kullar has his own doubts that the system ( total hockey ) will be successful even at junior level in India.

Balbir Singh Kullar has already expressed his dissatisfaction with a quality of coaches being produced by NIS ( Patiala ) in his response to our questionnaire. In the interview, he expressed the view that system of appointment of coaches in India needs and overhauling. National coaches should not be changed from tournament to tournament but should be given a contract for an extended period and should be made accountable for producing result duringentire term- which may be of four years atleast, in opinion of Balbir Singh Kullar. More ever only those persons should be chosen for the top job ( i.e. national coaches ), who had themselves played with distinction at highest level, possess the required knowledge of the game and also have experience of coaching junior teams successfully. No matter, how great a player one has been, it does not necessarily make him a good coach. Being a good player may be a necessary condition to become a successful coach but certainly not sufficient for the same. Balbir Singh Kullar feels that international player of repute who after retiring from the game wishes to become a coach, he should first be given charge of a club & junior team. His back record as a coach with these junior teams should be taken into account while appoint him a national coach. Balbir Singh Kullar also feels that coaches should be given more powers, so that they are in better position to maintain discipline in the team.

Among the chief causes responsible for downfall of Indian hockey, Balbir Singh Kullar’s feels that Indian hockey has not been able to attract the best supporting talent in India. For which, he feels that hockey officials, to meden persons and Inian pushi as a whole is responsible. Balbir Singh Kullar strongly feels that hockey is not being given the position, it deserves in national sports. Economic and other benefits as well as glamour attached with the game is much less as compared to games such as cricket and tennis. Media which plays very crucial role in popularising a game in this age of tele-communication often discriminates against hockey, feels Balbir Singh Kullar. Economic benefits are also small for hockey players as compared to players of cricket as our private sector invests more in cricket. He says even our parliamentarians and film star play an exhibition cricket match, which is highlighted by our media, but these same people, have no time for even viewing a national hockey game. Thus, these factors coupled with the fact that hockey is a demanding game and a hockey players has a short injury prone ( playing life ), drive away the talented younger sportsman to other games.

The other chief cause responsible for downfall of Indian hockey according to Balbir Singh Kullar is the lackluster a management of Indian hockey. He cited the example of Pakistan, where hockey management has been in the hands of I.S. Dara, Hamid and Atif, who all have been players of great repute and command great respect from every corner, where as same can’t be said about those who have headed our hockey many a times.

Balbir Singh Kullar also feels that hockey in modern times as become an expensive game and this is gradually slipping out of the reach of our masses.

Balbir Singh Kullar, therefore, suggests that more incentives for hockey players at all levels, better management in hockey controlling bodies and above all a hockey awakening in the masses, where media roll is crucial, and greater fincial inputs in the game by private sector as well as by Govt. Could be some of the remedies needed for revival of Indian hockey . Balbir Singh Kullar is a great advocate of discipline among hockey player. He feels that control of Indian hockey should be given to personnel for military and hockey national players should be given training on the lines of military training and they should also be put in barracks during practice sessions. To make them disciplined and physical fitter, Balbir Singh Kullar feels that players should be given commando typetraining as was done by South Korea in 1986 prior to Asian Games. Balbir Singh Kullar attributes the success of Korean team in 1986 Asian Games. This training rather than their playing skills. Balbir Singh Kullar is still optimistic about future of Indian hockey and feels that our juniors are quite talented and by giving them proper training, we should include military commando type training also, we can build a team which will produce results in the future,” one should not say that hockey is finished in India, there lies a future”, remarked Balbir Singh Kullar to conclude our interview.

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