Old hands in football Colombo Veterans faced the once powerful Victory Football Cup in a Division II football final after bashing out 14 other teams only to emerge champions of the knockout tournament conducted by the Colombo Football League (CFL). The game attracted thousands of football fans while the 16 teams which participated in the [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Saif Yusoof is happy with his contest and plans a Futsal competition next


Old hands in football Colombo Veterans faced the once powerful Victory Football Cup in a Division II football final after bashing out 14 other teams only to emerge champions of the knockout tournament conducted by the Colombo Football League (CFL). The game attracted thousands of football fans while the 16 teams which participated in the competition are in a pleased mood, for having a competition solely for lesser known sides. The happiest man above all for staging the Yusoof Cup Division II Knockout Football

Colombo FC, only played once in the Yusoof Cup

Championship is none other than its founder Saif Yusoof, who is also the owner of a premier football club, the Colombo Football Club.
Yusoof solely sponsors the entire tournament out of his personal money and his commitment has taken the Yusoof Cup to its fifth consecutive year. This competition was a revival of the one-off Yaseen Cup which gave life to the defunct knockout competition after many years. But the then sponsor’s unwillingness to continue its commitment had prompted Yusoof to come forward and take it over in 2008. Despite the continuation of the tournament without a break since 2008, the football fanatic explained that his inspiration was totally a different one.

“In 2008 when I first came into football, I formed the Colombo Football Club, which was brand new then. Then the Yaseen Cup was the competition that my club was featured for the first time. We played our first game against Maligawatte Youth and we lost by two goals to one. The competition turned out to be a one-off thing and from then onwards we had no tournaments to take part in. In addition the Yaseen Cup was not conducted in a proper manner and when I formed a team there was no competition to take part and others in line were getting late. With desperation I told the City Football League that I’m ready to sponsor a tournament, because win or lose I wanted my team to play. CFL official Mr. Premadasa then proposed to me if I had any keenness in sponsoring a Division II knockout tournament. It was a time when I really wanted my club to play some games. I paid for the tournament and gave all the requirements and I really didn’t know that it was named as the Yusoof Cup until the first day of the first competition. Since then it has just stayed that way,” Yusoof humbly recalled.

Interestingly Yusoof’s team Colombo FC was featured in the first edition of his very own Yusoof Cup, and went on to reach the final against Moragasmulla SC. Yusoof’s team lost the final after a thrilling battle and the very next season in 2010 to be precise, Colombo FC was promoted to the Division I segment of CFL. It was a huge break for a team that made their entry to football in 2008 according to Yusoof.

The rapid progress of Colombo FC was unexpected but was warmly welcomed, so was the growth of the Yusoof Cup, which has turned out to be an eagerly anticipated competition among Division II teams of CFL. At the beginning the Yusoof Cup competition became a huge platform for teams like Colombo FC, as lesser known teams from Division II had very little opportunities to display their skills. Despite attending an international school, being educated in the United States and employed in Singapore for many years, Yusoof grew up as a child in the neighbourhood of Slave Island, learning how important the game of football turned out to be for his townies. Being an ardent follower of the game since childhood Yusoof had already understood the impact that could be created among less privileged football players and fans of certain areas in Colombo itself.

Saif Yusoof, the live wire behind, Yusoof Cup

“Though I sponsored the tournament to have my team play we just played once in the whole of five years. But the fact that I was able to give those who are skilled in Colombo, especially in the areas of Slave Island, Maligawatte and Armour Street a platform to perform was evident. Many say skilled players come from outstations but my view is when you take football, the most aspiring individuals come from Colombo. So let the FFSL (Football Federation of Sri Lanka) take care of the development activities in the rural areas, I think it’s equally important to give some sort of platform for those skilled in Colombo. And that’s what it’s all about in this tournament,” Yusoof pointed out while adding that as long as the CFL is functioning and as long as he can fund it, the tournament will continue.
Coming back to his team’s progress Yusoof was highly contended that his team was able to make a huge impact in the concluded Dialog Champions League 2013, where 20 top football teams were featured in it. His Colombo FC was among tournament debutants along with Solid SC, Matara City, Upcountry Lions, Super Sun and Pelicans. Colombo FC topped the Group ‘A’ after 18 games and was one of the two newcomers to reach the quarterfinals along with Solid SC. According to Yusoof this was the true development that they longed to see despite their progress towards the championship final being barred in the quarterfinals after a fitting and thrilling game.

“Colombo FC had a crazy journey since being formed in 2008. It’s happy to see that we have reached the top in a short span of time. We owe much to Dickson Silva who was the first coach with Sampo. They helped me to form this club and we improved gradually. At the beginning we recruited boys with a great amount of passion. They were given a very small transport allowance. But today we have come a long way to become a top contender. When I first started, my main focus was to promote peace through football in general. Football is the only game that you will see whenever a team scores all huddle, hug and kiss each other; it’s another level of emotion. That’s a moment when people forget where they came from and celebrate with sheer joy, disrespect of their caste or race. Over the years the team blended and developed so well that it came to a point that everybody was attached to the other. Building a well bonded team was one of Dickson’s long standing aims and he did it. But unfortunately he could not last long and died of a heart attack while competing in an athletic event. Prior to that we played against much fancied clubs such as Saunders, where drew against them. It was a big thing for a Division III club. Today we have grown; more boys have joined the club. It’s the similar progress achieved at Yusoof Cup. Teams competing in it are keen on football, they love the game and evidently they have improved after each year.”

“The CFL has a good set of people and they work well when they are given the freedom to perform and they must be commended rightly for that. Unfortunately if we go to the extent of micromanaging the productivity will not be the same. Even the cost is not big. We have maintained standards, despite being a Division II tournament. We paid the match commissioners and the referees the same amount they are paid in Division I. It’s important to fund appropriately. As the organisers we took care of everything. Last thing I want to do is to organise a tournament and put the burden on the team. But in Division II you cannot expect the same quality. What we are expecting is the similar adherence in quality as Division I. Division II players also need a good platform to shine and they have the potential to be picked for better teams and even the national side. Sometimes you get good players but they are ignored. These players from Division II and III play their hearts out and we have to give them due recognition,” explained Yusoof who is looking forward to come out with a Futsal competition for clubs in the Colombo District this year.

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