Indian hockey stalwart and member of the gold medal winning 1975 World Cup team, Varinder Singh passed away in a hospital in Jalandhar in the early hours of Tuesday. The former India defender had a heart ailment and was suffering for the past 10 days. He was 75.
“In light of the tragic passing of the great hockey player Shri Varinder Singh, we pray to the almighty to grant the departed person’s soul eternal rest and to provide the family members the fortitude to endure this irreparable loss,” Hockey India (HI) said in a statement. “Varinder Singh’s achievements will be remembered by the hockey fraternity worldwide.”
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Apart from winning India’s only World Cup crown, Varinder was also part of the silver medal winning 1973 World Cup team that lost the final to hosts Netherlands on penalties. He also won a bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics apart from being part of the 1976 Montreal Olympics when hockey was played on artificial turf for the first time. India had finished seventh then.
Varinder, who played as a defender in right-half or right-in position, was also part of the silver medal winning Indian outfits at both the 1974 Tehran and 1978 Bangkok Asian Games. India lost the final to Pakistan both times. At the domestic level, Varinder used to play for the Railways.
“This is just so sad, just shocking news. I cannot believe it. I have known Varinder since our school days. We used to play against each other in inter-school tournaments. We also went together to the Lyallpur Khalsa College in Jalandhar,” said Ajit Pal Singh, captain of India’s 1975 World Cup-winning team.
“During college, he used to play as a centre-forward or even as a striker at times before moving to the midfield and defence later when playing for India. We used to be roommates, travelled together and knew each other so well. The last time I spoke to him was probably a month or two back, but we were regularly in touch through messages.”
In 2007, Varinder was also conferred with the prestigious Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand and scorer of the winning goal in the 1975 World Cup final against Pakistan, recalls the versatility of Varinder.
“He was a learned person. Soft spoken off the field but smart and very fast on the field. He had a knack of making the right calls and passes at the right time. He was a defender but could easily turn into an attacker when required,” said the 72-year-old, referring to India’s 3-1 victory against West Germany in the group stage.
The Germans had marked Indian forwards in the match, not allowing them to attack which is when Varinder helped create goalscoring opportunities upfront that helped India win the match and top the pool.
“He had that sense of timing and his on-field understanding too was very good with other players. He was a real speedy player who played a very important role in India’s 1975 World Cup victory,” concluded Ashok.