Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills, the largest textile Mill with a work force of over 3500 was situated at Havelock road, Colombo, where the ‘Havelock City Complex’ now stands. During the period 1950s to 1970s it became so popular all over Sri Lanka not only because of the textile products, simply because of its invincible [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Wellawatte Spinning & Weaving Mills – a top notch soccer outfit


Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills, the largest textile Mill with a work force of over 3500 was situated at Havelock road, Colombo, where the ‘Havelock City Complex’ now stands. During the period 1950s to 1970s it became so popular all over Sri Lanka not only because of the textile products, simply because of its invincible football team.

For nearly two decades beginning 1958, the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills popularly known as the “Mills team” mesmerized local soccer fans with their brand of fast, open play and posed a formidable threat to all its opponents.

Unlike today’s sides, the Mills were invincible - File pic

Although the mills team is no more, a handful of people still speak about the achievements of this side which was coached by the famous national soccer coach, Neville Abeygunawardane who handled the team from its inception to the very end. He regarded the Mills side as one of the best teams he had coached during his career.

The three men who rendered great assistance and co-operated with Neville to discharge his duties – firstly, it was Mills Managing Director Arthur Allen Russell an Englishman who provided employment to the soccerites and gave his fullest patronage and looked after them as his own. Secondly, it was the Dyeing Master of the Mills, Raja Mennon, who was the livewire of the team. One who went to the extent of donating his entire salary for the promotion of the game. And the other was that energetic Personal Manager Kingsley Amarasekera, who was the manager of the side and the chief organiser throughout.

Neville after two year stay in England returned to the island, joined the Mills and took charge of the soccer team besides his other official duties. The Mills commenced its onward march under his guidance, playing first in the ‘C’ Division and were promoted to the ‘A’ Division due to the successes it achieved.

Mills side was the undisputed soccer champions of the mercantile sector from 1960 to 1972. They dethroned reigning giants like, Nestles, which had players like Andrew Fernando, T.O.M. Deen, Kirkman and Eric Perera. Cargills who boasted of K.D. Somapala, Wipulasena, Synoon and Walkers and Brown’s which too had a number of experienced and well-known players.

The Mills side had won the mercantile soccer ‘double’ on umpteen occasions, annexing both the leagues and the knockout titles and carrying away the Chamber of Commerce shield and the J.M. Burditt Trophy.

The golden year of Mills football would have been 1961 for; it was during this year that the coveted F.A. Cup virtually slipped from their hands.

They were well on the road to win the F.A. Cup, but unfortunately there was a sudden breakaway in the Controlling Body and the Mills side was ultimately suspended from the F.A. Cup competition for joining the mercantile wing and walking out in support of V.A. Sugathadasa. They had by then reached the final and were billed to meet ‘Saunders’.

The Mills had entered the final in spectacular fashion gaining astounding victories in the initial stages it had beaten Army sappers 3-0, Eleven Lions 3-0, to enter the quarter-final. The formidable Police XI was trounced 6-nil in the quarter-final.

The semi-final was against Gal Oya Board dubbed as the giant killer, the Gal Oya side boasted of two reputed players in Yogarajah and Sabreen.

Neville took a gamble by replacing their regular goal-keeper M.M. Hassimdeenwith Basnayake who had just joined the Mills from St. Anne’s, Kurunegala, in this vital encounter. This gamble clicked and the Mills romped home winners 4-0, with young Basnayake displaying a safe pair of hands.

The original Mills side of 1958 consisted of S. Ahmed at goal. Fullbacks – Jinadasa, Kitchil, Farouk, halves: Balasunderam, Ebert Peiris, M.M.A. Hemapala alias Yakadaya, Forwards: N.G. Hemachandra, Dharmasena – the two brothers manned the flanks, Bernard Shaw, Rajaratnam and J. Upali.

By 1960 M.M. Hassimdeen joined the Mills side. Players like T. Amidon, who later played for the Army, and that diminutive left extreme V.P. Siripala, too helped in no small measure towards the Mills progress to the F.A. Cup final.

The period 1965 to 1978 saw a number of new players representing the Mills team. During this time players of the calibre of Kamaldeen, Zainulabdeen, S.M. Noor, Denzil Walles , goalkeeper Piyadasa to name a few joined the Mills team.

I had the privilege of representing the Mills team from 1967 to 1975. The team which represented the mills regularly during the aforesaid period were goalkeepers : Lionel Perera, Neville Fernando (with M.M. Hassimdeen occasionally standing between the post but very often playing as full back) fullbacks: M.L.M. Lateef, D.R. Sumasena, halves: M.M.A. Hemapala, John Fernando, Pathmasena, K.K. Chandradasa, Elbert Peiris, R.P. Nandasiri. Forwards V.P. Siripala, K.M. Alahakoon, S.A. Nelson Perera, N.C. Sayakkara, D.A. Panditha (Jnr) , T.M. Noor, Dil Fowzeer and T.M. Falool.

The Mills side was largely responsible for the Army Sappers bowing out of “A” division soccer and a fine example of this fact was the defeat the Sappers suffered under the Mills outfit in the quarter final tie of the F.A. Cup in September, 1968. They were trounced on their own grounds at Galle Face by nine goals to nil, with a hat -trick scored by me, Dil Fowzeer (2) , Chandradasa (2), Noor and Siripala a goal each.

In the final of the Mercantile Knockout Tournament, the very next year the Mills side gained a convincing 9-2 win over Walkers with me banging in five goals while Dil Fowzeer (2) Falool and Alahakoon netted in the rest.

1972 was also a remarkable one for the Mills team where I led the side, completed the ‘Mercantile Double’ once again beating Cold Stores by 2 goals to 1 by scoring the winning goal in the final of the knockout tournament on 26.1.1978 at Police Park.

The Cold Store side included Keedin at goal (who was at his best at the time), my younger brother M.F. Hassimdeen, the Johar brothers, Ahamath, Haniffa, Chandrapala, Siripala, Alaffdeen and Thowfeek to name a few. On 17.12.1972 the Mills earned their third Trophy for the year by winning the coveted Bandaranayake Cup in its inaugural year. At the final against Ratnam, the Mills emerged worthy winners by 4 goals to one to win the Bandaranayake Trophy.

Alahakoon, M. Zaheer, Nelson Perera and I scored for the Mills. The Mills soccerites clad in white shirts and blue shorts faded out of the soccer scene just before 1980, after the factory and its training ground was acquired by the government for development purposes, stamping an indelible mark with their pattern of impressive soccer.

Before winding up the history of the Mills football team I wish to mention few bold comments made by coach Neville Abeygunawardena about M.M. Hassimdeen: In height and weight Hassim would have been smaller, but in technique and in reaching the ball in the air and diving, he was superior even to such English goalkeepers like Springett and Gordon Banks.

In technique and perfection no artist or sculptor can do justice to M.M. Hassimdeen concluded the Mills soccer coach Neville, the man who took the Mills side to fame.

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