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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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