A 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.

Harry, 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. Bladen.

Now 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

"My 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 rugby days.

Then 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".

Airmen 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.

Red Letter Day
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.

But 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.

"You 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".

"Two 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".

"On 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."

Then 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?".

Harry 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 (Isipatana).

Mustang Trophy
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".


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