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The growth of football in Sri Lanka...

FOOTBALL: Football, like all other British games is a pastime linked up with the romance of colonial exploitation. From early days of British buccaneers football has followed the flag. After all football is the easiest and cheapest game. All that is required is two sets of goal posts and a patched vacant ground.

Sri Lanka instantly caught up with the game as it has some affinity with their own national game of today - cricket. Football, unlike cricket, has unchangeable rule to kick the ball. It was one of the earliest known rules of the game in England.

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 superiors of England in all its splendour and the English domination of the seven seas in full fury, the British Sailors carried the game of football to the lands they conquered.

It is not possible to say exactly when football was introduced to Ceylon, as we were then called, because here again, the origins are lost, literally in the midst of time. However, there is evidence of the game being played in the sprawling sandy stretches familiarly termed as Galle Face Green, by bare cheested British Servicemen stationed in and around Colombo in the 1890s.

The Service barracks grounds at Echelon Square (where the Galadari Meridien Hotel is presently housed) and the Army grounds (presently where the Taj Samudra Hotel is built) 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 services and the British planting community took the sport to the Central, Southern and Up-Country regions with equal zest and fervour. By early 1900 football as a competitive sport, was popular amongst the local youth. Though playing bare footed, 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 of Controlling

Bodies:

"The first ever attempt to organise and conduct Association Football in Ceylon was when the Colombo Association Football League was formed at a meeting held at 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 Dowbiggin as president and H. French as Chairman.

The Colombo Football League by now was gaining ground with more new clubs seeking affiliation. In 1924 Sir John Tarbat, 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 force 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 for the bare-foot players. The City Football League received a pavilion named Sir Edwin Hayward in 1929, which was refurbished 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 came for a national controlling body for football in Ceylon was clearly apparent.

The game had blossomed by the late 1920s and a few football Leagues had sprung up, both in Colombo and in the outstations. So, all attended the meeting of football enthusiasts, held on 20th August 1929 at the Grand Oriental Hotel, popularly known 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.

For more than one reason, 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, planting community, public service and the mercantile sector, at which the first national body for football was formed under the name 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 Donovan Andree as Treasurer. Then the Second World War was in full cry, and though involved directly, Ceylon was adopting precautionary measurers in almost every field of activity.

With the Second World War over and the debris cleared, 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 deities of local football. The game grew popular.

Local football clubs were formed, some of the earliest of these clubs in Colombo were: St. Michale's SC, Havelock's Football Club, Java Lane SC, Wekande SC, Moors FC and CH & FC, the last being exclusively an European mompolly. Harequins FC and Saunders SC soon joined. The principal tournaments of that era 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 popularise the sport. The first football club to be formed in South was the Galle Association Football Club in 1910.

Central Province

Kandy, the hill capital of Sri Lanka, had its baptism in football in 1925. During the second World War, British units were stationed in Kandy with the one time Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces in South East Asia, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten having his headquarters in the Kandy. Some of the first class British footballers displayed their versatility, representing the Kingsown and Queensown regiments, the Royal Artillery and also the East African Rifles, which had quite a few Negro stars in the side.

Some of the leading clubs at that time were Old Antoanins SC, Old Kingswoodians SC, Police SC, YMCA, YMMA Kandy, Greenfield SC, Rovers SC, Kandy Sports Club and Red Stars SC. They were called the Kandy District Football League. It served football in Matale, Gampola, Nawalapitya, Kurunegala and Kegalle. As years rolled by, these towns formed their own leagues. The Kandy Football Referees Association was formed in late 1940s.

Northern Province

Northern Province almost at the same time when the British planters, technocrats and civil servicemen were spreading the gospel of Football in the Western, Central and Southern Provinces, the North too, came under their spell with a flourish of football clubs. In fact on 8th November 1939 to be exact, the Jaffna Football Association was formed with W.G. Spencer, the District Judge as the Chairman.

North Central Province

Rajarata, the place of ancient kings and palaces, and of scenic beauty and tranquillity, was a province full of recreation with sport. Anuradhapura, in ancient Sri Lanka, is a centre of activity, both cultural and recreational, and football naturally took pride of place.

The origins of football in Sri Lanka in its undiluted form has a history of nearly over hundred years. Most of it has been in the form of an unorganised recreational sport. However, we as fans now are proud that football is in the good hands of a great promoter Manilal Fernando.

History will not be complete if appreciation is not recorded in the golden book of records of the encouragement and assistance extended to the sport by our Heads of State such as Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawela, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa who re-developed the Sugathadasa Stadium and President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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