It is not possible to say exactly when football was introduced to Ceylon, as it was then called because here again, the origins are lost, literally in the mists of time. However, there is evidence of the game being played in the sprawling sandy stretchesfamiliarly termed as the Galle Face Green, by bare chested British [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Footballers of the past who entertained the crowds


It is not possible to say exactly when football was introduced to Ceylon, as it was then called because here again, the origins are lost, literally in the mists of time. However, there is evidence of the game being played in the sprawling sandy stretchesfamiliarly termed as the Galle Face Green, by bare chested British Servicemen stationed in and around Colombo in the 1880 s.

The service barracks grounds at Echelon Square (where the Galadari Hotel is presently situated) the Sports Club grounds (presently the Taj Samudra Hotel) Government Services ground (presently Cinnamon Lake Side Hotel) and the City League grounds next to the Slave Island Police Barracks were the popular football fields in the game’s formative years.

Gathering of footballers of Yesteryear

Further the British planting community took the sport to the Southern, Central and Up Country regions. The British Marines introduced football to the costal belt in the North and East us well. These bare statistics are the background to a journey that began in 1880- the birth of football in this country and its growth and development of Association Football in 1939 – when the history of the game is recorded football in Sri Lanka would have had a hundred and thirty five years of uninterrupted existence and further to its credit Seventy Six years of Association Football, but to keep on playing the game with no signs of major disruption whatsoever’. Perhaps we were fortunate innot really experiencing the frontline disasters of the world war.

Mastered the skills
Though playing bare feet, our lads in the capital city and the out stations had mastered the skills and in fact, donned the Service Jerseys as replacements in many and exclusively white dominated teams. By early 1900 football as a competitive sport was popular amongst the local youths all over the island.By the late forties football in the capital city and in the outstations was on a strong footing with the game having a stable base in Kandy, Badulla, Trincomalee” Ratnapura, Jaffna, Bandarawela, Kurunegala, Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Batticaloa, Galle and Negombo were strongholds of the game and offered the elite of Colombo a goad run whenever they met on the field.

It was this juncture that the Ceylon Football Association quite prudently decided to introduce and Inter – District Competition, to bring the best of Colombo and outstation football to the open. Football Leagues under each district met to select their respective District teams amidst a truly competitive spirit.

The stage was set and the atmosphere was charged with feverish excitement, keenness and commitment, when finally the first Inter-Distract football tournament was kicked off in early 1950. The competition was on a two leg basis (home and away) and this gave both the Colombo and the outstation fans and the general public the opportunity not only to see the elite players in action, also to closely support and encourage one’s own team in its home ground.

Glorious clashes
Large crowd witnessed these glorious clashes in almost every principal town each successive year thereafter, made this particular tournament a football fiesta of quality. Outstation teams were not only making it hot under the collar for the Colombo teams, but endearing themselves to thousands of fans by their unsophisticated brand of simple and subtle football. These popular encounters made things easy for the National selectors to select the best national players to the team without any fear or favour.

It was the most exciting and absorbing tournaments ever to be conducted in the country, which so far had no equal in terms of popularity and technical excellence. In the circumstances, the abandoning of the inter-district championships was not only an error in decision making, but reflected total ignorance of technical perception.

Down the years, National tournaments have changed from one to another, except for the F. A Cup which in essence remained unchanged.  Most other National Tournaments hardly lasted more than a few years – the Mackie Shield, Times Cup, Inter Distract Championship, Premier Cup, Inter Distract Championship, Premier Cup, Bandaranaike Memorial Cup, Jana Raja Cup, Tarbet Shield, Mihiri Cup, Brazil Cup, Major’s Cup, Cup Winners Cup, Ranpandu tournament, to name a few. This feature in away, reflects the absence of endeavour and commitment on the part of those in authority, to cultivate the traditional values that exists in the continuity of competitions. In most countries which play Association Football, particularly national tournaments have had and uninterrupted continuity for over fifty years or more thus increasing the popularity and prestige of the tournament, a part from creating healthy tradition’s in the process. Another aspect of the successful tournament is the organizer’s foresight to introduce a fair competitive element in designing the competition with incentives and awards. No tournament, however prudently planned and methodically conducted could survive or blossom in to stable and exciting competition without the element of incentive or motivation. No crowd will pack the football fields to witness pedestrian standard of football which we very often see at present all over the country.These days when football values and standards have declined and there are so much bluff and bluster taking place in the field as real skills and techniques, it is refreshing to recall the high standards achieved and performed many decades ago. Back to the days between 1939 to 1970, before the present downward trend in local football there were several truly great players who dazzled and entertained lakhs of frenzied fans with their superb individual skills. Some of them had special individual skill which made them house hold names and treated them as their heroes.

Soccer sense
In a flash here goes some names taking into account their individual skills, soccer sense and performances nationally and internationally. The players during the period during 1939 to 1959: Goalkeepers-Akbar, Abid, Wilson, Sheriff, and Don Joseph others – M. A. Hassan, T. Johar, S. Sabreen, Dias brothers, Richard brothers, Munna, Poddiappuhamy, J. Deen, T. K. Buhar, T. H. Noor, T. H. Soono, Basheer Ahamad, E. Ramasamy, Marthelis, Dharmasena, Naheem Hassimdeen, Albert Fernando, Vipulsena, Chelliah, T. J. Azeez, Suhood, T. Bongso, Peter Ranasinghe, A. C. M. Khan, A. C. M. Junaid, K. A. Premadasa, Leo Cornelius, M. T. A. Ossen, Andrew Fernando, T. Jayman, Karunapala Fernando, A. R. Jainulabdeen, D. K. Somapala, T. O. M. Deen, N. B. Hemachandra, W. S. Boteju, M. P. B. Dissanayakae, M. Nizar, Christopher Ranasinghe, D. N. Panditha, Ratnapala Aluvihare, M. B. Saldin, M. Hussain, E.N. Nicholas, A. Vandergert, E. P. Solomon and to name a few.

Those classic players who shone during 1960 to 1970 were – (Goalkeepers) – M. M Hassimdeen, Piyadasa Perera, Lionel Peiris and Harold Anthony. Others:- M. A. Ammer, M. Hamzath, B Sourjah, T. S. Bucker, C. S. Fernando, Mahinda Aluvihare, P. D. Sirisena, Edward Wickremasuriya, A. Zainulabdeen, T. M. Aimdon, S. M. Noor, T. Halideen, Nizam Hajireen, Judy Preena and to name a few during the period of 1965 to 1970. I had the privilege of playing besides players in the calibre of the mentioned.
The period 1950 to 1970 was called as the golden era of Sri Lanka football due to following reasons:-

  • Football in the capital city and outstation was on a strong footing with the game having a stable base and popularity.
  • The first Inter-District tournament was held in 1950 with a football fiesta of rich quality.
  • In 1951 Ceylon Football Association organize an Asian Quadrangular Football Tournament between India, Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon.
  • Our first ever win (3-2) in 1954 against Burma and held the mighty India then, for a one all draw at the 3rd Asian Quadrangular held in Calcutta. The squad was captained by that brilliant Centre back Peter Ranasinghe.
  • Thereafter in 1965 Ceylon won their first International encounter in our soil beating the strong Pakistan 3-1 in Colombo. Ceylon was led by that mercurial M. M. Hassimdeen at goal.
  • In 1968 we enter the final of the prestigious Age Khan Gold Cup Competition held in Dacca, led by A. Zainulabdeen.
  • In 1970 under the Captainship of Edward Wickremasuriya Sri Lanka became unbeaten champion at the Quadrangular Football Tournament held in Colombo, beating Mysore, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in both legs. I was adjudged as the Best Player of the tournament
  • During the period 1955 of 1970 many top class teams from Switzerland, Sweden, Brazil, Russia, U. S. A., Germany and England toured our soil to play friendly encounters with our focal lads which not only help us to improve to playing standards, also gave a golden opportunity to our soccer loving fans to see exhilarating performances by world class stars, the like of which we have yet to see.

Nearly sixty years later, people still talk of this most fascinating performance such was the quality and character of football in our country played then. What is the position today? My guess is as good as yours. We May never see such quality players and quality football any longer, but if selfish interests are cast aside we could still make a change in the game.

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