It is only natural that the Capital city had the lion’s share of the game of football in its formative years. Even to this day Colombo’s hold on football is heavily loaded in its favour. Understandably, it is so due to the facilities and the technical know- how it is blessed with. However the contribution [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Impact on local soccer from footballers from outstations


It is only natural that the Capital city had the lion’s share of the game of football in its formative years. Even to this day Colombo’s hold on football is heavily loaded in its favour. Understandably, it is so due to the facilities and the technical know- how it is blessed with. However the contribution made for the promotion and development of the outstation football clubs and leagues have been indeed significant. If not for these clubs and leagues, the game would never have received the impetus it needed and the popular mass support for the very existence of the sport in the provinces.

Top league football games were taken to the outstations in the recent times - File pic

Football leagues and clubs from outstations did not play second fiddle to Colombo, in technical excellence. In fact a cursory glance at our National squads between the years 1945 – 1970 would show a strong representation from the outstations in both the Senior and Youth National teams. Such was the quality and character of football from outstation.

It was in the late nineteen forties, football in the outstations was on a strong footing with the game having a stable base. Kandy, Badulla, Trincomalee, Ratnapura, Jaffna, Galle, Bandarawela, Kurunegala, Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Hatton and Batticaloa were strongholds of the game and offered the elite of Colombo a good run whenever they met on the field. Outstation teams were not only making it hot under the collar for the Colombo teams but endearing themselves to thousands of fans by their unsophisticated brand of simple and subtle football. Some of the outstation teams were unfortunate to bow out in the semi-final stages by wafer thin margins, which gave a true indication of their technical advancement.

On a two leg basis (home and away) the competition organised by the Controlling Body, gave the outstation fans and the general public the opportunity not only to see the elite of Colombo and other outstation players in action, but also to closely support and encourage one’s own team in its home ground. Large crowds witnessed these glorious clashes in almost every principal town.

Some of the leading clubs from Kandy, the hill capital of Sri Lanka, had its baptism in football in the early 1920s. The pioneer clubs in the early 20s were the Old Antonians SC, Old Kingswoodians SC, Police SC, YMCA, Greenfields SC, Rovers SC and Red Stars SC. Later Dragons SC, Jolly Boys, Deiyannawala SC, Young Stars, Young Wanderers, Young Olympians, followed by Sunrise FC, Madyamalanka and Red Diamonds shone at Football. The maiden Association to control football in the Kandy district was formed as early as 1925, but it was in the mid 1940’s under that indefatigable M.S. Jainudeen the stable and sound Kandy Amateur Football League came into reckoning. It subsequently changed its name to Kandy District Football Association and still later to Kandy District Football League.

It served football in Matale, Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Kurunegala and Kegalle and later as the years rolled by these towns formed their own leagues. National caps produced by Kandy and Gampola had always been of fine grain. Some of the early caps were Tom Ossen, R. Wipulasena, S. Ekanayake, M. Nizar and R. Sirisena. Later Tom Deen, T.S. Jaymon, Oscar Wijetunga and Rasiah represented the country. Still later Mahinda Aluwihara, Ratnapala Aluwihara, T. Amidon, Ranbanda, G.S. Piyatissa, F. White, D.H. Vithanage, Shantha Kumar, M. Fazeer and Nausath wore the national jersey with distinction. Ratnapala and Mahinda Aluwihara being brothers equalled the feat of Peter and Christopher Ranasinghe, who as brothers first played together in the Senior National team. Amongst the galaxy of up-country, players Tom Ossen and Mahinda Aluwihara were like the moon amongst the stars. While Ossen had the longest and most colourful international career from 1951 to 1962, Mahinda was a picture of sheer brilliance in the pivotal position, which helped Ceylon to many an International victory.
In the green hills of in an around Uva, football was largely played in Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, Hatton, Dickoya and Maskeliya had a fair share of the game, but not so intensely as Badulla and Bandarawela. The Rangers FC and Uva FC were early in the fray, followed by the Public Services SC, the YMMA and the Dhutians SC. Badulla football shot in to prominence with the five Soysa brothers forming a fearsome forward line for a number of years which was equalled by three brothers Kabeer, Anees and Fuard who shone the National Jersey. Badulla the basin of Uva kept its traditional football glory undimished for a length of time. They produced some of the Country’s super stars in Khan, Junaid, Ibrahim, Laheer, Pathmanathan, Meedin and Karunapala followed later years Vendergert, Weerasinghe, Wickrematunge, P.H.S. Albert, M. Nizardeen, Thilak, Alponso, Pala Wijesekera, S.M. Raffie and Kasun Jayasuriya, shone in the national scene maintaining the healthy football tradition of Uva.
The Southern Province had a fair impact on the Messrs, with the planting and administrative community. The British Serviceman from the Navy wireless station in Matara also helped to popularise the sport particularly in the southern schools. The first football club to be formed in the south was the Galle Association Football Club in 1910. Later on clubs such as the Police SC, Gamini SC, Government Service SC and Southern SC. Galle in particular produced some stalwarts in the game, such as R.H.L. Austin (Bunny), S.A.S. Misso, B. Piyadasa de silva, Inspector Sourjah, Sgt. Hamid, Tennyson and B.E. Amendra, In later years Ben Feriera, Piyasena, Panditha brothers, Weeraduwage and Channa excelled.
Almost at the same time when the British planters, technocrats and civil servicemen were spreading the gospel of football in the Western, Central , Uva and Southern Provinces, the North too came under their spell with a flourish of football activity amongst the local populace. School leavers and young Government servants were grouping together to form football clubs, so early as the mid 1930s In fact on November 8, 1939 to be exact the Jaffna FA was formed with Mr. W.G. Spenser, District Judge as Chairman. The original football clubs that were members of this Association the YMCA, Police SC, Excise SC, Chundikuli SC, St. Joseph’s SC, Jaffna Abiviruthisangam, Jubilee SC, St. Anthony’s SC, Don Bosco SC, later followed by Victorious SC, Gurunagar SC, Orient SC, St. Mary’s SC, Shamrock SC, Ariyalai SC and Madura Bhavan SC. The Jaffna Football Association had changed its name to the Jaffna Football League which remains intact to this day. Some of the bright stars of the North who won national recognition in the last quarter century were S.Anthonypillai, M. Francis, R. Siritharan, M. Sivarathnam, S. Vadiweswaran, Gonsales. M. Dasan and T. Mariyadas.
Brilliant footballers in the calibre of S.M. Noor, Harold, Anthony, Clement de Silva and Rajasingam from Trincomalee, Nizan Hajireen from Batticaloa and Stainwall from Anuradapura who doned the National Jersey represented the famous club like Trinco Olympic, Singing Fish and Old Joes.
What then, is the position today? Gone are those vibrant clubs and football leagues which once served the sport so assiduously. While some are literally dead, many others are ineffective. This unfortunate phenomenon started in the mid nineteen seventies, with the quality of leadership and competence diminishing conspicuously in the Controlling Body. Persons with vested interest, eager to fan their ego, and through this great sport go up the social ladder, totally ruined the game. Football Leagues were planted with their yes – men and in turn they were given minor berths on foreign tours. In brief, the tour mania became an incurable cancer. All this was taking place while sadly, most of the prominent clubs and the leagues were for all purpose dead. To this day, the situation has not changed. The damage caused for the last three decades cannot be resurrected overnight. It will take at least two years of hard work and proper planning to achieve the lost glory and popularity of the sport.
The situation though grave, is not totally hopeless. If, only the Controlling Body re-activate its football leagues, as a top priority. Secondly to appoint a Technical Committee of men with technical competence to plan, promote and produce technical excellence in our football. This should come into force immediately. This committee should go into all technical aspect of collegiate, club, league and international football and its recommendation put into effect by the Controlling Body as a matter of urgency. In this way, there is hope for the sport in the years ahead, or else it will grind to a halt sooner or later. Reactivation of all football leagues in their full glory and splendour is mandatory on the Controlling Body, and this is the first step in the right direction.

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