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Saturday, 24 September 2011






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History of football in Sri Lanka

Football like all other British games and pastimes is intrinsically linked up with the romance of colonial "exploitation".

From early days of British buccaneers down the modern power-block football has followed the flag.

After all football is the easiest and cheapest game to introduce - a football and two sets of goal posts and a patched vacant ground are what is needed.

Sri Lanka instantly took to the game - as it has some affinity with their own national game of today "cricket" Football is not like cricket, it has an unchangeable rule - kick must only be aimed at the ball.

Indeed it was one of the earliest known rules of the game in England. In another aspect there is only one way of scoring goals in football. There is no ripping in this game.

Even Shakespeare didn't approve of it for in King Lear he says.

"I'll not be stricken my lord - Nor tripped neither, you base football player.

To know and appreciate the growth and development of football in Sri Lanka, it is necessary that one should know briefly, the history of the game itself.

A few countries have a claim to the origins of the game, namely, China, Greece, Italy and England. As early as 200 BC, the Chinese played a game with a leather ball, using both feet, mostly to keep the object under control.

The Greeks enjoyed a similar sport, which was called Episkyres, while the Romans used an improved ball in a game called Harpustum.

However, it is medieval England that gave the sport a methodical and meaningful outlook, though using the inflated bladder, as it is now called, had its beginnings in England.

With the Naval superiority of England in all its splendor and the English domination of the seven seas in full fury, the British Sailors carried the game of football to the lands they conquered, with almost national fervor.

A look at the origins of football in countries that today, show world class skills at the game, reveals the English influence at the source of development. It is the British who introduced the game to the America, Europe and Asia, through their battalions, regiments and brigades.

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 stretches familiarly termed as Galle Face, by bare chested British Servicemen stationed in and around Colombo in the 1890's.

The service barracks grounds at Echelon Square where the Galadari Meridian Hotel stands and the Army grounds (presently the Taj Samudra Hotels) were the popular football fields in the game's formative years.

British service units such as Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and the Royal Garrison Command were the pioneers who promoted competitive football in this country.

The British administrative service and the British planting community took the sport to the Central, Southern, and Up-Country regions with the equal zest and fervor.

By early 1900 football as a competitive sport, was popular amongst the local youth. Though playing bare feet, our lads had mastered the skills of the game, and in fact, donned the Services Jerseys as replacements or reserves in many an exclusively white dominated team.

Formation for Controlling Bodies - The first ever attempt to organize and conduct Association Football in Ceylon was when the Colombo Association Football League was formed at a meeting held in the Bristol Hotel, Colombo on 4th April 1911.

H. French was elected as President. and H.K. Croisskey as the Secretary. However, as a result of World War I in 1914, this body understandably became inactive and ineffective.

After a lapse of nine years, the Colombo Association Football League was revived and re-constituted in 1920 under the amended name, Colombo Football League, with Herbert Bowbiggin as President and H French as Chairman.

The Colombo Football League by now was gaining ground with the more new clubs seeking affiliation. In 1924 Sir John Tabrat, that evergreen sportsman, became its president and contributed immensely to the promotion of the game in the years that followed.

In 1918, the Colombo Mercantile Association Football League was formed and in 1920, the Government Services Football Association came into being as the parent body in the State Sector, which by then had adopted football as their main sport.

The City Football league was inaugurated in 1922, which primarily catered to barefoot players.

The City Football League received a pavilion named Sir Edwin Hayward in 1029, which was redeveloped a few years back by Manilal Fernando.

The Colombo Referees Football Association was inaugurated in 1929, and stood as the main body. Then the need was for a National Controlling Body for Football in Ceylon.

The game had blossomed by the late 1920's and a few football Leagues had sprung up both in Colombo and in the outstations. So, at all meetings of Football enthusiasts, held on 20th August 1929 at the Grand Oriental Hotel, and then known popularly as the GOH, a national steering committee headed by Sir John Tarbat as Chairman and R.H. Marks as Secretary, was formed to pursue this matter.

The formation of a National Body drifted away into oblivion, though the sport was daily gathering momentum as a lively and competitive recreation.

However, following a meeting held on 17th March, 1939, a Special General Meeting was convened on 3rd April, 1939 among representatives of Football Clubs, Service Units, the planting Community, the Public Service and the Mercantile Sector, at which the first National Body for football was formed under the name, the Ceylon Football Association.

This epoch-making meeting was held at the Galle Face Hotel and C.W.N. Makie Jnr was picked as President with J. C. Robinson, J. Borbes, S.C. Taill, R Brough and Lt. Col. Stanley Fernando, with R. Mackie as Secretary and Donavan Andree as Treasurer.

By this time the Second World War was on, and though involved directly, Ceylon was adopting precautionary measurers in almost every field of activity.

With the Second World War over The Ceylon Football Association was back on its feet by 1946 with Capt. W.T. Brindley as President, A. A. Perera Secretary and Cecil Bocks Treasurer.

In 1948 Dr.A.W.N.M. Waffran, a knowledgeable and keen follower of British football, took over as Secretary of the Ceylon Football Association and was followed by A.W.A. Musafer who re-shaped the destinies of local football.

The game grew popular, local football clubs were formed, Some of the earliest of these clubs in Colombo were St. Michael's SC, Havelock's Football Club, Java Lane SC, Wekande SC, Moors FC and CH & FC, the last being exclusively a European monopoly.

Harequins FC and Saunders SC soon joined, the principal tournaments of that era and the trophies on offer were the De Mel Shield and the Times of Ceylon Cup.

Southern Provence - the sport had a fair impact on the masses, with the planting and administrative community leading the promotion of the game in a big way. T R.Brough a British planter in Deniyaya contributed much to the game in the South between 1910-1920. The British Servicemen from the Navy wireless station in Matara also helped to popularize the sport.


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