Brian Assey - striker par excellence no more

By Rangi Akbar

When the time comes all of us must leave this earth. It however saddens me that a person like Brian Assey, hockey coach extraordinary, was laid to rest on Tuesday (November 22) with hardly any of the hockey players that he coached and nurtured being there at his funeral at the Borella Cemetery.
For those who did not know Brian Assey let me refresh their memories. He was Sri Lanka’s hockey coach for several years. He started coaching St. Benedict’s and took the school and the Old Bens to great heights in the 60s.

Brian Assey GDL Ayupala Johnny Martin

I had the pleasure of accompanying the Sri Lanka hockey team’s 40 day tour to South India and Bangladesh in 1978. Sri Lanka had an unbeaten run in South India until they met the Madras HA team for the two Corera Cup games at the Nehru Stadium where Sri Lanka lost both outings.

In Bangladesh however Sri Lanka was unbeaten playing games in Mymensingh, Faridpur and Dhaka. The Sri Lanka team was captained by Sarath Serasinghe and included DGL Ayupala (Manager), Brian Assey (Coach), Stanley Fernando (Junior Coach), M. Jhan, Sarath Wimalasinghe, Mohammed Fowzie, Sarath Serasinghe (Capt), Ahmed Rafaideen (Goal), Rajah Selvakumar, Maurice Xavier, Mervyn Preena, ‘Batcho’ Hafis Preena, Johnny Martin (Goal), MHM Mulafer, MFM Laheer, Fauzul Razeen, Ishak Sahabdeen, K. Soundranayagam, W.J. Premachandra, MHM Muzammil, M. Kuthubdeen and Maurice ‘Buck’ Jones (Umpire).

It is however sad to note five members who made that tour are no longer with us having gone to the Great Beyond. They are DGL Ayupala, who managed the team, Stanley Fernando, Johnny Martin, MHM Muzammil and now Brian Assey.This was Sri Lanka’s first ever hockey tour of Bangladesh and they laid out the red carpet for us. Sri Lankan players were garlanded at every venue and the hockey dished out was relished by all concerned. However an umpiring decision in the second Test at Dhaka’s Bangarabandu Stadium made the crowd angry and it was only the timely intervention of the Dhaka Riot Police Squad who clicked their weapons on the ready that prevented any outburst.

Just for the record the hockey players who were present at the funeral last Tuesday (November 22) at the Kanatte included Dennis Rosayro, Tissa Ettipola, Selva Perumal, Marlene Machado, Bosco Fonseka, Denzil Perera who sang some of Brian’s favourites such as Eidel Weiss and the Old Bens die-hard hockey secretary Leslie Figurado. Brian Assey broke into the hockey scene in 1954 as coach of St. Benedict’s Kotahena when Dennis Rosayro captained the team.

MHM Muzammil Stanley Fernando

This association went on for nearly a decade and a half. Dennis went on to play for the Old Bens and Brian Assey as the side’s coach and took the side to great heights. Old Bens remained unbeaten for more that ten years winning the Andriesz and the Pioneer Shields on a platter.

Some of the Bens who were outstanding at that time were the Fernando brothers Homer, Subash and Stanley, Annesley Xavier, Maurice Xavier and goalie AD McIntyre to name a few.

The Andriesz Shield hockey clash between the Old Bens and the BRC was a classic fixture in the 60s. Old Bens bristled with classy players and BRC, not to be outdone had Freddie White at goal, M. Jhan, Mervyn and Otto Preena, Ian Geddes, Fazul Razeen, Derrick Harvie and a host of outstanding players. This clash always produced attractive hockey fare and was never short of spectators.

Brian Assey came to Sri Lanka from South India and so naturally hockey was in his blood. He came as a science teacher to De La Salle School. He was a science graduate and took up appointment at St. Mary’s Chilaw. He joined St. Benedict’s Kotahena in 1953. His association with hockey took him to India with Sri Lanka’s hockey team when Alfred Mylvaganam captained the team.

He himself was a fine player. In 1957 Brian coached the Sri Lanka team when Hugh Aldons captained the local side. He was Sri Lanka’s coach in 1959 and was coach even when Dennis Rosayro led the national team.

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