Chandulal took aim to kick the football between the goalposts. The crowd was waiting to yell “wahwah”, hoping he’d score. But the ball sped to the left of the goalpost. The crowd sighed in despair.
We had just lost an inter-school match in 1937, since Chandulal would not pass the ball to a teammate. After the match, at the hand pump where we bathed, there was pin-drop silence. We would be the target of barbs for the next few weeks at school.
Our sports master, Choudhary Singh, joined us and asked Chandulal: “Why did you not pass the ball to Hukamchand? He had a clear shot at the goal. You were surrounded by three players from the opposition.” Chandulal was always admonished for wanting to shoot all goals himself.
“In football, you will win more by sharing than by keeping the ball,” counselled Choudhary Singh. We learnt the game as children by dribbling the ball on uneven fields behind our house after the harvest. We played in the lanes of Tandalianwala, later on in the school in Faisalabad, or in the parks of Lahore on holidays.
Footballs in our days were made different. We would take turns to fill the rubber bladder with air with a pump used to inflate bicycle tyres. Then a knot would be tied at the nozzle. The bladder was enclosed in a leather case, which was then closed with a thick string. We had no playing uniform except shorts, shirts and simple white canvas shoes that turned brown in no time.
Choudhary Singh had a burning passion for the game. “Understand your opponents. See how their feet move. Observe how their bodies turn. But more important, understand how their minds work,” he taught us.
He was always full of advice. “Play with rhythm. Your game should be like a melodious song, but resulting in a goal. Pass the ball to your teammates.” We listened to him but not adequately. In the heat of the moment, the temptation to monopolise the custody of the ball and put it into the goal post was irresistible.
A few decades after Partition, I bumped into Chandulal in Jalandhar. He owned a sports goods factory. I learnt he did little operational work himself but had people to manage his business. “You see, I have learnt to pass the ball finally,” he told me.