By Subhani Hassimdeen It is not possible to say exactly when football was introduced to Sri Lanka because the origin is lost laterally in the mists of time. However, there is evidence of the game being played in the sprawling sandy stretches familiarly termed as the Galle Face Green in the 1880. The service barrack [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Armed Forces and Police still holding our football fort


By Subhani Hassimdeen

It is not possible to say exactly when football was introduced to Sri Lanka because the origin is lost laterally in the mists of time. However, there is evidence of the game being played in the sprawling sandy stretches familiarly termed as the Galle Face Green in the 1880.

The service barrack grounds at Echelon square (where the Galadari and Colombo Hilton Hotel are presently situated), the Sports ground and the Royal Navy ground (where Taj Samudra and the upcoming Shangri – La. Hotel) is now being build were the popular football fields in the game’s formative years. As a youth I had the opportunity of playing club Football in these grounds – in between 1955 – 1975.

Football is still played in most parts of the country due to active participation of Armed Forces as depicted in a match between Nandimithra and Army. - File pic

British service units such as the Royal Air force, Royal Navy, Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and the Royal Garrison Command were the pioneers who promoted competitive football in those grounds, later followed by the Ceylon Army, the Royal Ceylon Air Force, and the Royal Ceylon Navy. While the Royal Ceylon Air promoted football from the Katunayake air base, the police force did so from the Police Park situated in Bambalapitiya. By early 1900 football as a competitive sport was popular amongst the local youth. Though playing bare-feet initially lads had mastered the skills, got into football boots, and donned the services jersey as replacements in many exclusively white dominated teams. By mid 1950s the three Armed forces and the Police enlisted the local players to the regular force to represent their teams in the major tournaments conducted by the Ceylon Football Association. In addition, the armed forces organized their own Inter- Services Tournament annually on league basis playing home and away.

In 1953, for the first time police won the F.A Cup conducted by the Ceylon Football Association. Army was the winner in 1956. Some of the top players who represented the Police team – Somapala (Capt) , Fareed, Ahamath, Roy, Meedin, Naheem Hassimdeen, Nicholes, Samidon, Hussain, and Vandegert. For the Army – Christopher Ranasinghe (Capt) , Oska Wijethunga, Basheer Ahamed, T. Ramasamy, Joseph, Jaymon, Karunapala Fernando, Karunaratne and Jinadasa. Since 1953 up to date the Three Services and Police have given a good run to fancied clubs and leagues in various competitions and became winners on a number of occasions.

While playing in the prestige Inter-Club and Inter-League tournaments conducted by the Ceylon Football Association, the service top brass organized their own Inter-Services tournament annually, in which the Army, Air Force and Navy battled out with tuff and quality football. From the inception the strong army team dominated the game and won the champions continuously for ten years. Understandably due to their heavy recruitment and strength compared with the other two forces. However, the soccer loving former Air Force Commander Rohan Amarasekera had his own plain to break the domination of the Army. In 1965, he enlisted five school leavers namely Vithanage and Thahir from Kandy, A.R.A. Basheer Ratnapala and me from Colombo. He invited Albert Fernando — the former national football coach to handle the team with the support and assistance from Group Captain N.A. Rahim and Flt. Lt. Sangarapillai, the Air Force team led by Mahinda Aluvihare broke the 10 year hoodoo beating the star-studded Army team.

Royal Ceylon Air Force for the first time became champions at the Inter-Service Soccer Tournament in 1966. I had the privilege of playing for the RCyAF besides players in the calibre of Terrance Gunawardane – the former Air Force Commander, Mahinda Aluvihare, Preena, Sadikeen, Emmanuel, Duggy Fernando, Thirunayake, Hamilton, Vithanage and Thahir while Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Col C.S. Fernando Bucker brothers, S.P. de Silva, Amidon, Sadikeen, Rasiah and Darmadasa represented Army. Royal Ceylon Navy had a strong outfit with Halideen, Tudor Perera, Rajasingham and Ramanayake.

Since 1955 up to date, the three Armed Forces and Police have won the F.A. Cup and the Inter- League Championship on number of occasions, giving a good run to the fancied clubs and Leagues in the country, thereby kept the common man’s game football live and active. This is indeed, truly due to many administrators from the Services and Police who sacrificed their time and energy in the service of football. It is opportune to remember those who were at the administrative affairs in football for a number of years. Viz, Rear Admiral Royce De Mel, Air Vice Marshall Rohan Amarasekera, Lt. Cmdr. A.R.C. Fernando, Brig D. Ramanayake, Lt. Col. Kandiah, Major Amirthalingam, Group Capt N.A. Rahim, Snr. DIG Van Twest, ASP V.K. Arumugam and I.P. Premadasa. They were brilliant administrators who lacked nothing, be it knowledge or expertise. Their integrity was beyond question and they were thoroughly independent in outlook, they served without fear or favour and steadfastly committed for the betterment of the sports.

The national players whom they produced during their tenure of administration are from the Army – Christopher Ranasinghe, Joseph, Basheer Ahamed, T. Ramasamy, Jaymon, Karunapala Fernando , Karunaratne , Jinadasa , followed by Ananda Weerasekara , C.S. Fernando , Bucker brothers, S.P. De silva, Amidon and Sadikeen from the Air Force – Mahinda Aluvihara , Subhani Hassimdeen , Crowther, M.I. Muthalip and Nizardeen followed by Mahinda Palitha , Sampath Perera and Rafi from Navy – Tudor Perera, Halideen, Rajasingham and Balendran from Police – K.B. Pusella, A.B. Roy, Meedin, Naheem Hassimdeen, Ahmed, N.E. Nicolas, Bagoos Sourjah, followed by N. Hajireen, Harold Anthony, Wanigaratna, Sivaratnam, Judy Preena, Clement de Silva and Naugalage.

All those administrators have been of exceptional grain. We are as players indebted to them for their selfless commitment and service rendered to the common man’s sport -football which still exists due to the strong foundation laid a number of years ago by their commitment and competence.

We may never see these men of destiny anymore, but if selfish interests are cast aside, we may yet find enough quality men to guide the destiny of this sport in the near future as well.

Football is still played in most part of the country due to the active participation of the Three Services and Police, though its popularity and playing standard has dropped drastically.

The writer is a Former National Football Captain and National Coach.

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