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
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
"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
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
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.
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.
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
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.