Beighton Cup is one of the oldest field hockey tournaments running till date. Instituted in 1895, it is organised by Hockey Bengal earlier called Bengal Hockey Association and used to be held on natural grass at the Mohun Bagan ground on the Maidan in Kolkata (earlier called Calcutta) in India and for last few years has been held on Astro Turf (artificial grass) at Sports Authority of India (SAI East) in Kolkata. The Beighton Cup was initially organized by the Indian Football Association, until the Bengal Hockey Association took over in 1905.
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In the 1940s and 1950s, Bengal had strong teams in Kolkata such as Customs and Port Commissioners, and Bengal-Nagpur Railway in Kharagpur. It went on to win the 1952 national hockey championship held in Kolkata, defeating Punjab.
Dhyan Chand remembers
In his autobiography Goal!, the legendary Dhyan Chand remembers his Beighton Cup debut. He says, "In my opinion it is perhaps the best organised hockey event in the country. Kolkata is indeed lucky that it has at least three or four first class hockey grounds on the maidan, and this is a great advantage to run a tournament on schedule. Instituted in 1895, this tournament has had a non-stop run. World Wars I and II did not affect the tournament. Threats of Japanese bombs and actual bombings in Kolkata while the hockey season was on also did not prevent the tournament from being held. That being said, it is sad to think that the tournament had to yield to the communal frenzy which gripped the nation in 1946-47."
He further says, "If anybody asked me which was the best match that I played in, I will unhesitatingly say that it was the 1933 Beighton Cup final between Calcutta Customs and Jhansi Heroes. Calcutta Customs was a great side those days; they had Shaukat Ali, Asad Ali, Claude Deefholts, Seaman, Mohsin, and many others who were then in the first flight of Indian hockey. I had a very young side. Besides my brother Roop Singh, and Ismail, who played for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in Mumbai, I had no other really great player in the team. But I had a team which was determined to do or die. It was a great match, full of thrills, and it was just opportunism that gave us the victory. Customs were pressing hard and our goal was at their mercy. Suddenly I broke through and from midfield gave a long through pass to Ismail, who ran with Jesse Owens' speed half the length of the ground. A misunderstanding occurred between the Customs left-half and the goalkeeper, and Ismail, taking every advantage of it, cut through and netted the only goal of the match. We felt very proud of our triumph."
Hockey in Kolkata
Apart from the Beighton Cup, Kolkata had many firsts in hockey to its credit. The first hockey association in India was formed in 1908 — the Bengal Hockey Association. The first national hockey championship of India was held in 1928. It was called the inter-provincials, with 5 provinces of undivided India participating. The first Indian Olympic team for the Amsterdam Games was selected in Kolkata after the 1928 nationals.
Twenty-seven Olympic gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze medal ~ that is what Bengal's hockey can boast of. However, all that is history and Kolkata no longer has a hockey Olympian. Despite its pioneering role in the history of Indian hockey, Kolkata is the only major metropolis in India without an artificial turf. "How can you hope to produce international class players if you cannot give the players astroturf to play on?" asks Gurbux Singh, secretary of the Bengal Hockey Association. Leslie Claudius agreed that the absence of astroturf is responsible for this decline, but added: "Ours was a different era. We were successful, so the enthusiasm for the game was naturally high. How can you have that today? Even the educational institutions are not interested in hockey nowadays. But you can’t blame them. Young people don't find hockey exciting enough. Maybe if we can give them astroturf, the fast surface can lure them back into the game."
Leslie Claudius was the biggest name in Kolkata hockey; he played for Customs in Kolkata, and won 4 Olympic medals from 1948-1960 (3 gold, 1 silver).
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