With less than 100 days to go for the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023, the anticipation to witness the world’s best hockey players at one of the world’s most preferred hockey destinations – Odisha, is only increasing with each passing day. While the Indian team carries out their preparations to end the medal drought in the prestigious event, it's time for hockey fans to relive the memories from India's historic World Cup campaigns.
Winner of the Silver Medal in the 1973 World Cup held in Amsterdam in Netherlands, and the Gold Medal in the 1975 World Cup held at Kuala Lumpur, the legendary VJ Philips recalls his memories from the years gone by.
In the 1970s, India was one of the powerhouses of field hockey, and one of the mainstays in the team VJ Philips recalls that the team was a very strong unit and there was very healthy competition for places.
Philips, who scored some very crucial goals in the 1975 World Cup, including a brace to kick start the campaign with a win against England, recalled studying opposition teams with great focus and working as close-knit group to achieve their goal.
Speaking further about the victorious campaign, Philips, who won Bronze in the 1972 Munich Olympics, said one of the highlights from the yesteryears was playing a world-class Pakistan team, especially since both sides knew each other quite well.
“Playing against Pakistan was a very good experience. All of them were world-class players. We had a very good forward line with players like Harcharan Singh, Ashok Kumar, BP Govinda and myself. They had also analysed our game, but we knew we would have run a lot and we had built that stamina and that helped us majorly in winning against them. It was not easy to beat Pakistan,” he added.
Ask the former attacker which out of three World Cups was his favourite, pat comes the reply, “1975. We had a very good side.”
Terming the 1975 World Cup win in Kuala Lumpur as a milestone moment for Indian hockey, Philips further added, “In 1973 also we had an excellent team. The German coach at that time said, "Give me this Indian team and I will win all the trophies possible. It was one of our fittest sides.”
Philips comes from a family of hockey players as both his brothers wore the India colours and won some of the biggest prizes in the game. “We have all the medals in our house, Olympics, Asian Games, World Cup and Commonwealth Games. We have contributed for the country and we are very happy that we could do that.”
Philips, who was considered as one of the best outside right players, recalled the campaign of 1975 and noted that the game against Argentina will always be close to him. “That is a very good memory for me. We were playing a team we should have won against easily and we didn’t. I’ll tell you why it is memorable, losing that game had an effect on our spirits as it went up before the next game. Whatever mistakes we had committed we rectified it against West Germany, and we also got some timely encouragement.”
While the match against Argentina was in the group stages, Philips recalled another incident before the final and touched upon the camaraderie in the team. “Another incident, before we went to play against Pakistan, the manager at the Hotel Hilton, asked me what would be the result, and I gave a thumbs up to say we will win for sure. But he returned a thumbs down gesture and he said no we would not win. After we won, he threw us a party and said, India has proven that they’re one of the best teams in the world.”
“We were like a family, the whole squad, we would go to a temple, a Masjid, a Gurudwara and pray to help us win, because we had only one thing in our minds. We have to win the World Cup, nothing else and we were fully concentrated on the task at hand.”
“Indian men’s hockey team can inspire juniors watching the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela”
A veteran of three World Cup tournaments and a bronze-winning Olympic Games, Philips wants the Indian Men’s Hockey Team to give their all when they step out in the national colours.
“There are 140 crore people watching you play and praying for you. The focus should be only on the game and the players should put in all their effort. All the players should be thinking on the same lines during the tournament and working hard. Everyone should remember they’re playing for India.”
"It's a great feeling, the moon feels nearer. Once you win the match, then you know what is what. I feel the team will do well and they should definitely aim for the podium. All the hockey players from the Indian fraternity are waiting and watching. We all want the team to do very well,” he expressed.
“Once they win, there is nothing like that, they have to play very well and concentrate on the game. The players should listen to the coaches and play as a team," he said.
An Arjuna awardee in 2000, and a winner of two silver medals at the Asian Games, Philips said the presence of the home support in the Indian men’s hockey team’s corner will give them a boost in energy.
“We will be playing on home soil in the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela and around 50,000 people will come to encourage you, and that will give you additional energy to play well.”
“Every match is important and there are junior players who are watching too, they will see the current players and they will get inspired by watching the Indian men’s hockey team,” he signed off.