Harbhajan Singh Loomba: Singapore’s hockey maestro

Singaporean Harbhajan SIngh has built a reputation as hockey player, national coach and international umpire

| Singapore | 16 Dec 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Harbhajan Singh Loomba

Dubbed the unbeatable hockey player, Mr Harbhajan Singh Loomba, even till today, is nostalgic about the moment when his last-gasped short-corner goal enabled Singapore to beat Negri Sembilan 1-0 and become the proud winner of the first-ever Tun Razak Cup in Kuala Lumpur in 1963. The victory was one of the many high points in the career of Harbhajan that made him a household name as a hockey player, national coach and international umpire.

The sports enthusiast was born on a land 4,620 kilometres away from Singapore – Sialkot District in modern-day Pakistan. There, the young Harbhajan witnessed the manufacturing of hockey sticks in a factory located just a few kilometres from his hometown. He fell in love with the sport and almost every hockey game in Sialkot had Harbhajan as part of the crowd.

Harbhajan moved to Singapore with his family in 1949 and spent most of his childhood at his home at Race Course Road, where he played in the veranda, regularly hitting the hockey ball against the wall to hone his skills. His inherent love for sports, whether hockey, football or cricket, developed during his schools days at Victoria School where he played enthusiastically in several school tournaments.

Upon completion of his GCE ‘O’ Levels, Harbhajan was at a crossroad. He had to decide if he wanted to further his studies or hop onto the career bandwagon. Persuaded by a close friend who was a school principal at that time, Harbhajan joined the education sector as a private school teacher for five years.

As his passion for teaching intensified, Harbhajan joined the Teachers’ Training College in 1960 and completed the Certificate in Education Programme in 1962. Thereafter, Harbhajan was posted to several schools, including Whitley Secondary School where his teaching career spanned over 40 long years. The dynamic individual took on unique and challenging roles as a Mathematics teacher, National Police Cadet Corps in-charge, hockey instructor and discipline master. Harbhajan brought immense joy to the classroom and field, forging inseparable bonds with every student – he attends birthdays and weddings of former students even till today.

Exceptional Skillls

When he was a student, Harbhajan would pack his school materials as soon as the school bell rang and put on his sports gear, excited as ever to hit the field. His exceptional hockey skills and dedication soon saw him being selected for the national hockey team when he was only in Secondary Four. He represented the national team at left-half position for 10 years. He made his international debut at the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962. This was followed by international tournaments in Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, including the unforgettable inaugural Tun Razak Cup.

Harbhajan was an active member of the Young Men Sikh Association which was set up for young men wanting to pursue the sport and the team played against multiracial teams across all divisions. Additionally, Harbhajan played for the Singapore Khalsa Association hockey team and received the Uttom Singh Memorial Cup from Mrs E W Barker in 1966. Harbhajan also played for the Indian Association and in tournaments such as the Nav Bharat Cup in Hong Kong, clinching the title on several occasions.

Harbhajan always had a strong determination to continually improve himself. When he was nearing the end of his playing career, he decided to attend a hockey coaching course in Karachi under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)  scheme so that he could make a move into coaching. Following an intense two-month coaching course, Harbhajan was well on his way to becoming a first class coach. He was soon appointed as the national coach for both the men and women hockey teams. He also served as a coach of the hockey teams of several schools and military organisations.

Harbhajan Singh Loomba, hockey player from Singapore Khalsa Association, accepting the Sardar Uttom Singh Memorial Cup from Mrs. Gloria Barker, wife of Mr. Edmund William Barker, Minister for Law (1964-1988) and National Development (1965-1975). Loomba was also the national hockey player and captain (1957-1966) and coach (1974-1978); and Member of the Sikh Advisory Board. – Singapore Khalsa Association, Published for The Association by Times Books International, 1988

In 1973, Harbhajan, together with Mr Hardial Singh from India, coached the Singapore national team during the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games in Singapore. Even before the team played its first match in the tournament, it was beset with several challenges. Firstly, those working in the private sector were not granted paid leave by their employers to play at the Games. The drinking habits of some of the player also hampered the team’s performance, compelling Harbhajan to put in place strict disciplinary measures at the expense of compromising the team’s overall strength. However, the coaches and the team performed admirably in the Games. The Jalan Besar Stadium erupted when as Singapore created history by beating Malaysia 1-0 to bag the gold medal in the hockey tournament.

Harbhajan was often deemed one of the most skilful left-half players in Singapore’s hockey. We won the Tun Abdul Razak Cup in the 1960s when his steely wrist slammed home the winning goal through a penalty corner. He brought national glory to Singapore. When Harbhajan became the national hockey coach, he achieved another milestone when he guided Singapore to the grand finals of the Junior World Cup when it held Asian champion, India, to a draw. It is a feat that has never been repeated. He is also a highly respected international umpire.
Away from hockey, Harbhajan still continues to serve the community in spite of being in retirement. I have known him to help the needy financially without expecting any thing in return.
Mr Kesavan Kupusamy Managing Director Kesavan Engineering & Construction Pte Ltd

Soon after, Harbhajan was entrusted with the mammoth task of preparing the national junior team for the Junior World Cup. In the qualifying rounds held in 1977, the Singapore team faced intense competition from stronger rival teams. In the final match of the qualifying round, the Singapore team faced the mighty Indian team. It needed a draw to qualify for the grand finals in France. Guided by Harbhajan on the side lines, the team shocked India by holding it to a draw, thereby emerging as one of the top four Asian teams to qualify for the grand finals. History was again created. Singapore has not been able to replicate the momentous achievement till today.

Apart from the men’s team, Harbhajan also coached the national women’s team, preparing it for several major tournaments, including the Women’s Regional Hockey Tournament in Hong Kong in 1984.

Some of the medals won by Harbhajan Singh Loomba in hockey – PHOTO / SG50 BOOK

From player to umpire

Harbhajan’s progress did not end with him moving from being a national hockey player to a national hockey coach. He wanted to do more with the sport he loved
so much. He decided to become an umpire. His real test came during the Asia Cup in Karachi in 1982. The President of the International Hockey Federation (IHF) and several renowned technical delegates critically assessed Harbhajan’s capabilities and skills on the hockey field in not one but three matches. Although the pressure was intense, Harbhajan did exceptionally well. He passed the test to attain the highest international coaching qualification, reaching another milestone in his hockey career. He was appointed an international Grade One umpire by the IHF. He umpired numerous international matches. Thereafter, Harbhajan served as a technical delegate at top matches in New Zealand and Malaysia, observing and assessing other umpires.

Passionate to promote his favourite sport in the local community, Harbhajan organised courses under the aegis of Singapore Sports Council for both men and women interested in taking on coaching responsibilities. His undying spirit inspired several individuals to pursue their dreams and perform at the national stage.

Today, Harbhajan is retired. However, his passion for hockey remains unabated. He has been representing Singapore in several veteran tournaments in Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong as well as playing locally from time to time.

Harbhajan’s passion often took him away from Singapore. However, he still found time to serve the community. For several years, Harbhajan served in the National Police Cadet Corps, conducted tuition classes at Singapore Indian Development Association and performed the role of a liaison officer in the Neighbourhood Watch Zone. He was recently presented with the Grand Award for Community Service, in appreciation of his 25 years of dedicated voluntary service to the community. Currently, Harbhajan sits on the Marine Parade Residents Committee and is actively involved in community development events and activities. He has also served on the Sikh Advisory Board, which oversees Sikh related issues, acting as a bridge between the government and the Sikh community.

Harbhajan attributes his success to his wife, daughter and God who lent him tremendous support and encouragement in achieving his dreams. His philosophy in life is simple: “Pursue your dreams, regardless of how unattainable they may seem at first glance. Do not be paralysed by fear. Do what you love best and where your heart lies.” Harbhajan did exactly that and he brought glory to country and self in international hockey.


final-sg50-book[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]


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