I have known Leslie Claudius from the time I was a youngster. I have heard from my father (Dhyan Chand) and others what an uncompromising right-half he was. Although he was only around 5'6", due to his sheer class he always held his own.
My early recollection of him was from a
group photograph we had at our house. It had the captains -- Lal Bokhari (1932, Los Angeles), my father (1936, Berlin), Kishan Lal (1948, London), KD Singh 'Babu' (1952, Helsinki), Balbir Singh Sr (1956, Melbourne) and Leslie Claudius (1960, Rome.
As a budding player, it was a huge motivation to see all these great players in that picture and in person. I used to admire them on that picture as India was on top of the world in hockey during their time. I used to get inspired.
After 1970, when I came into national reckoning, I used to meet Leslie more often. He always came across as a very humble and nice person. He was very straightforward.
In 1978, I used to play for the Mohun Bagan club in Kolkata and he used to come to watch us play. It was great to meet Olympians and he used to praise me in the press, appreciate my game and tell him I was a selfless player who always distributed the ball.
He came as coach of the team for the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok. He was a disciplinarian at the ground but was very friendly off it.
He was always so polite. He used to tell us how play, motivate all my team mates.
It was great of him to stay on and play for India. He was an Anglo-Indian player and could have easily migrated but he preferred to stay on and brought so much glory to India, winning three Olympic gold and leading us to silver in Rome.
Last month, I was in Kolkata with other former players like Charles Cornelius, Aslam Sher Khan and Mohd Aziz. We heard he was hospitalised and we visited him.
I remember his peculiar smile, it is something I can't forget. I was very close to his son Bobby (Robert).
In fact, I saw him off in a flight to Kolkata and the next thing I hear is that he had died in a road accident. I know Leslie was shattered but he never showed that. He remained cheerful all the time.
He used to often be at the Kolkata Customs Club, for whom he had played. I pay homage to one of the greatest stars of Indian hockey.
Ashok Kumar was a member of the 1975 World Cup winning team.
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