Sarath’s golden boot
The SAARC Gold Cup football tournament held in Sri Lanka in 1995 is deeply etched in the memory of Sri Lankan football followers. The reason being that this was the first trophy won by Sri Lanka in the history of our football. At the group stage, Sri Lanka and India had drawn two all. The final proper went into extra time and Sampath Perera’s team were on the offensive. Roshan Perera crossed from the left extreme and a diving leader saw the ball crash into the back of the net.
The scorer of that golden goal was W.D. Sarath Wickremasinghe, a corporal in the Army. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant for his efforts.
Wickremasinghe, a product of St. Paul’s College Kandy played, in age group football for his school, and enlisted in the Army in 1987. He played as centre forward in the Army, Golden Stars, victory S.C., Kandy District, Central Province and Sri Lanka teams. He was part of the national team from 1994 to 1998.
His football exploits have taken him to a host of countries – India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, the Maldives, Vietnam and Dubai.
From 1988, he has served as coordinator cum coach of Central Province Soccer. Earlier he had followed a B & C Licence Course conducted by the Asian Football Federation held in Sri Lanka. He obtained his coaches licence in West Germany.
He recalls with a tinge of remorse the semi final of the SAF Gold Cup held in Nepal. Sri Lanka were leading, the Maldives 1-0 when they scored a last minute equalizer. The match went into extra time and the Maldivians scored. At this point, fisticuffs took over and the teams went for each other. A written explanation was called for by the Federation as to their unbecoming conduct. However, as usual, no punishment was meted out.
Sarath singles out Roshan Perera, Amanullah, Imtiaz Rahim, Mohamed Reza and goalie Lalith Weerasinghe as some of the better players he was fortunate to play with.
He feels that football in Kandy is in the doldrums. Tournaments are not organized properly. The federation has done their part. The President of the Kandy Football League finds the required funds, but sadly they are not used. For football in Kandy to improve, the game must be developed at school level. Coaches should be appointed. A, B and C division matches must be played, and clubs must receive some assistance.
Bogambara is the only venue for practices. But the costs are prohibitive. It costs Rs. 575 per practice hour and Rs. 3,500 for the use of the ground and dressing rooms for a match. If the pavilion is used, a further sum of Rs. 5,000 has to be paid.
The football federation hopes to make Sri Lanka gain entry into the top ten in Asia. This seems to be a fond hope as we are in the mid twenties at the moment.
Football fans in Kandy are longing for their players to scale the heights once reached by Kandy such as Mahinda Aluvihare, Tom Ossen and Tuan Amidon to name but a few.
Wickremasinghe feels that soccer administrators should be doing more in their efforts to recapture that golden era. - AK