Walk Down Memory Lane
AVM Harry led Airmen from front
By Bernie Wijesekera
Air Vice Marshal Harry Goonatilleke (Rtd. Commander Air Force) is
a battle-scarred officer and a gentleman. He was one of the finest
products from Royal who went through the rough and smooth in a sports
career spanning over 50 years.
has many firsts on and off the field for the Air Force. He joined
as a Cadet Officer, in 1951- the first batch (intake). At that time
run by the Royal Air Force came under Commander Group Capt. C.O.
in retirement, Harry leads a quiet life, at Elvitigala Flats. When
asked "You are the only Services Commander living in a flat
without a home of your own?". Harry's reply was "Yes.
Not only a house, even a vehicle of my own after retirement. I had
no place to go so I made a humble plea to late President R. Premadasa.
He was shocked to hear of my plight and gave me this abode on humanitarian
grounds. Today it belongs to me. Thanks to the late President".
First to Coach
first love was rugby at Royal. Won a half colour, but failed to
play in the prestigious Bradby Shield. The only Air Marshal to win
three colours in the SLAF- cricket, rugby and athletics. I've been
a player, referee and coach and also the President of the Referees'
Society for 2 years". said The Air Vice Marshal recalling his
explaining about his association with the Air Force sports development
Harry said "I and my colleagues slowly but surely groomed the
Air Force rugby and cricket teams to come of age. It was one of
my greatest moments in the 1964-'65 rugby season. We played in 'B'
division led by Jeff Rutnam".
won the 'B' division. Thanks to the unflagging enthusiasm of Air
Marshal Goonetilleke. Travelling to and from from Colombo to Katunayake.
He was first on the field with the whistle.
In 1965, it was a Red letter Day for rugby at the Air Force. After
winning the 'B' div., they were was eligible to play in the Clifford
Cup K.O. In the semi-finals had to play the high-riding Army team,
coached by amiable Denzil Kobbekaduwa. The soldiers packed with
stars, were expected to win over Air Force. But were hammered them
to a standstill, led by Jeff Rutnam - winning 3-0.
in the final playing under pressure against the star-studded CR
& FC with the likes of Sari de Sylva, Didacus Almedia, Mohan
Sahayam, Tony Sirimanne etc., lost 11-3. The Air Force rugby had
come of age.
have played a major role not for Air Force rugby, but also for the
promotion of the game in the country. Anything special as a coach
that you have achieved?. Was our next question. To this harry said
"I was Invited to coach, that well-knit Peterite team by that
lovable rugby legend. Archibald Periera "Archie" himself
was one of the best. Another instance, that lingers in my memory
is that when I was invited to be the Chief Guest at a Bradby Shield
match in the 70's".
years earlier I was invited by Summa Navaratnam to coach the Under-17
Royal team. The very team that I coached was going to win the Bradby
that year. At present Summa, is Rugby Consultant and Junior coach
at Royal. Rugby Union, president Sidney Zoysa, was there, but I
was invited to hand over the Bradby to Royal".
another' rare occasion. On mutual agreement, two old boys of the
respective schools were invited to referee the Bradby. I blew in
Kandy, while Denzil Kobbekaduwa in Colombo."
The Sunday Times asked him "With your rugby strategy you have
moulded many a future star at grassroots level, not only for the
Air Force, but also for the country. They have maintained the dignity
of the service on and off the field. You are a good reader of the
game who could spot talent?".
Goonatilleke replied to this question by saying "One must study
the player's habits must eschew from hard words and win their confidence.
Then they are prepared to learn. Jeff Rutnam from Thurstan served
from the base. Moulded him to an elusive runner - centre three quarter.
He came right and gave of his best, and later played and led the
national team. Up todate he's grateful to me. The other player was
Rohan Gunaratne a strongly- built basketball stalwart. As Chief
of Staff I drafted him to the Service. Taught him the rugby skills.
Played as a granite-hard No. 8 and led Sri Lanka. The other three
players possessed rugby skills and led the national teams. Mohan
Balasuriya and Tikiri Marambe (Trinity) 'Iron Man' Nalin de Silva
Speaking about the Royal Thomian encounters and the first Royal-Thomian
one-day Harry mused "Lanka de Silva a bridge partner of mine
played a dynamic role. Others in the committee were: Dennis Hapugalle,
Bunty Zoysa, Noel Fernando. Played at the CCC, marred by fickle
weather. Royal won on a faster run-rate".