Kolkata: Hockey fraternity today mourned the death of legendary Leslie Claudius with players across all generations terming that the passing away of triple Olympic gold medallist marked the end of an era.
Parent body of Hockey in the country, Hockey India condoled the death of the Claudius. "We had the good fortune of being able to honour Leslie Claudius along with the other Golden Greats before the Olympic Games earlier this year. His death leaves a void that will be hard to fill," HI President Mariamma Koshy stated.
Olympian Dhanraj Pillay described Leslie Claudius as the "God of Indian hockey" while the hockey fraternity mourned the death of three-time Olympic gold medallist. "For me, he was the hockey God. It's difficult to imagine Indian hockey without him. He was not only a fine player but what stood him apart was his good nature," the former India captain and four-time Olympian told PTI.
"He was a very good human being and always soft-spoken, a quality through which he was always approachable. He never had any arrogance and encouraged the youngsters," the 44-year-old added.
"He's a legend as nobody could play the game like he did. I always met him whenever I came down to Kolkata. For every hockey player, he was a source of inspiration," Pillay paid glowing tributes to the man whose name is taken in the same breath as Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh Senior.
Star of 1970's and member of the World champion team Ashok Kumar recalled,"It was only a month ago, I visited Kolkata with other former Olympians as there was a friendly against BHA. We went to see him at the hospital. "He was full of energy. He had promised to take us to his club, Calcutta Customs, one evening. He was very hopeful of getting over the phase and he was responding well to the treatment as well."
Claudius's teammate at the 1948 Olympics, Keshav Dutt fondly remembered their great on-field rivalry while pitted against each other for Calcutta Port Trust and Mohun Bagan and great camaraderie while donning national colours.
"I first met him before the Partition in Bombay. I don't really remember the occasion but it was a brief meeting. Later on, we went on to play together at the Calcutta Port Trust. I was there for one year and he had joined before me. He went on to become my rival when I joined Mohun Bagan. But we became good friends off the field, an association that lasted till his death." Dutt is shocked that just when there were reports of him recovering comes this shock. "It's really a shock news for me especially when the morning newspapers said he's getting better. I was very glad to read the papers this morning.
"I wanted to meet him but when I called to inquire about his health this afternoon, I heard about the news. He was not only a very talented players but was always cheerful. I knew him for the longest period. It's really a sad day for me."
Another Olympic gold medallist and who played alongside Caludius briefly, Gurbux Singh said,"After I came to Kolkata, I joined Customs in 1957, where I first had the chance to meet Leslie. I'm lucky enough to have played with him or against him at all levels."
Gurbux recollected Claudius' amazing ability to dribble past number of players at will. "A frail figure, he was not muscular built and quite an unassuming character. A simpleton. But my respect for him grew, the more I got to know about him. But one would be amazed to see his dribbling skills, agility on the field. He was a crowd puller and was regularly appreciated."
Gurbux recollected that Claudius had great anticipation skills. "His greatest asset was his uncanny anticipation. He also distributed the ball well and went ahead with the forwards. Along with K D Singh Babu, Keshav Dutt, Udham Singh, Balbir Singh Senior, they had taken the legacy of Dhyan Chand forward."
"The Indian hockey was at its peak at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. It was our best ever team. At the club-level he was in the centre half while I played in the right flank, but for Bengal he was right half while I was right full back."
Gurbux recalled Caludius as a man with a soft-spoken nature. "We were became very good friend both on and off the field. Everybody would admire him for his soft-spoken attitude. Even while he was the captain, he never raised his voice and always sported a smiling face.
"I got a chance to lead him at the Customs when we jointly won the Beighton Cup along with Mohun Bagan in 1965. Indian hockey has so many legends, right from Dhyan Chand and Leslie is one of them."
Gurbux feels that Caludius used to get sad whenever he thought about the 1960 Rome Olympics final loss to Pakistan. "The 1960 final loss to Pakistan was a sad moment. He was heartbroken having missed a fourth gold. We were unlucky. It was our first loss to Pakistan. He held all the important positions, right from being captain to coach and later selector. He always backed youngsters."