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Sri Lanka's Soccer Greats:

"Petha" Premadasa was a player of steel

J.A. Premadasa was a "player of steel" and had the power and acceleration of a great goal scorer.

He earned the pet name of "PETHA" and must be rated among the most outstanding centre-forwards, who placed himself invisible to the opposing defence. He used his brain in a more subtle style at a time when most of the inside forwards, who piloted the attacking squad relied on weight and strength.

At the tender age of 12-13 years, promising Premadasa played first for De Mel Rows. He then had a short break with Victory S.C. His potential was spotted by the powers-that-be of Harlequins S.C. President Mad D. Kitchilan and indefatigable Secretary, late David Nanayakkara, among other club officials. From club level, Petha made the grade through the Colombo (Central) Colours' team in the All-Ceylon Inter District Tournament of the Ceylon Football Association. He played in big company with Peter Ranasinghe, Henry Fernando, Late T.H. Soono, "typhoon" T.J. Azeez, outside left Chelliah, Sabreen and goal-keeper Abid, who passed away in the prime of his football career.

Around the age 29 years, Premadasa graduated into the national team, when he played against visiting teams from Madurai, Trivandrum, Hyderabad etc.

Born in 1926 at Maligawatte, Premadasa is touching sixty years, Jogging his memory he narrated how he used to go to school with a tennis ball and on the way started kicking the ball around the Galle Face Green.

He remembers clearly, in his own words, late Harry Master and Rasheed Master, who had taught him how to kick a football. He also admits that it was after joining Harlequins' that he shot up to soccer fame. Harlequins S.C. was a close rival to the then leading clubs like Saunders S.C., Sunrise S.C., Maradana United S.C., Kotahena Rangers S.C. He had represented the Slave Island stars' side in the C.F.A. Cup, City F.L., De Mel F.L. and Abdul Rahuman Trophy Tournaments.

In 1950 he joined the Ceylon Navy, as a Civilian employee under Commodore Royce de Mel, who was the captain of the Navy and President of the Ceylon Football Association.

A dream came true when he played for the Ceylon team against the visiting Indian Football Federation team which won 1-0. The teams were:

India: Varadarajah, Taj Mohamed, S. Manna (Captain), Basheer, Shanmugam, Prasad, Vagiravelu, Abid Hussain, Danaraj Ahmed Khan and Raman.

Ceylon: Heath, Munna (Captain), T.M. Soono, R.R. Scott, M. Marthelis, Noor, Chelliah, V. Ganeshapillai (Trincomalee), J.A. Premadasa, Dharmasena and Rajadurai.

Petha's instinct for being in the right place as close to the goal as possible was one of the many soccer tactics, which enhanced his chances of winning matches for his team. He was a most gifted player with a superb shot, brisk control and high strategic flair.

He was described in the local press as: "Air borne", "Never-say-die". "Hard-to-beat", for his excellent performances and indeed, a popular footballer about three decades ago.

It is well worth remembering that "Petha" Premadasa was one of the brand of natural footballers, bare-footed and of course not lucky enough, to have been pampered like the present day lot.

More so, unfortunately, at that time there were no facilities for local players to participate in national and much less international tournaments. However, the City Football League team then had the reputation of not having been beaten by any visiting team, mostly from South India.



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