Air gone off football in the country? | Sunday Observer

Air gone off football in the country?

We leave the field that is cricket which is the talk of the town today, and move on to the squared field of what is popularly called the game of the people-football.

We are forced to have our say on football having watched the lack of interest and the poor build up to the FA Cup final that was played on Friday under lights at Reid Avenue and won by Police after a penalty shootout.

To start with we need not tell those at the Football Federation that the FA Cup is the ultimate in the game with all other tournaments trailing far behind. In any governing body of the game the FA Cup is the most looked forward to and prestigious event.

In England, the Queen graces the FA Cup. That is because this Cup is the mother of all football Cups that is keenly contested by clubs vying for the most prestigious Cup. Even the early rounds of this tournament are keenly fought out with each team showing a fondness to play in the final.

But in recent times it has been sad to note that not only has the standard of football dropped alarmingly in Sri Lanka, but also the lack of interest in the game all round with even the avid football fans showing a lack of interest.

We would like to hark back to the 1960s and ‘70s when the game was at its best when energetic Presidents like Manilal Fernando, J.S.N. Ananandaraja, F.A.Yaseen, D.I.G. Bodhi Liyanage and Hurley Silveira ruled the roost. They were well supported by hard working secretaries such as Chrysantha Perera and Hafiz Marikar to mention just two of them who were very efficient. Marikar was the only footballer from Kandy to hold this post.

The writer, coming from a school that produced inter-school champions after champions in inter-school football St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena under the expert guidance of the only Brazil and German trained coach of that era Albert Fernando, covered the game for the ‘Times’ and ‘Sunday Times’ in the 1960s and ‘70s and can write with authority that the high standard and interest in the game then and the low levels it has now dropped to.

During the reign of the Presidents mentioned there were many foreign teams that visited the country and tested our game and players and soccer crazy fans used to pack the old Prince of Wales Park later turned into the Sugathadsa Stadium by first Sports Minister V.A.Sugathadasa who was a fine striker during his time to soak in the action.

When the Sugathadasa Stadium was going into rack and ruin it was President Ranasinghe Premadasa a champion footballer who played for Price Park who rebuilt the SS to international standard. Today the SS is one of the best in Asia.

Back to the Saunders-Police FA Cup final and it must be stated that the standard of football was not what was expected of a final of this standard. The standard was not what it was like in the ‘60s and ‘70s when some of the best footballers were oozing in the football circles. Saunders known as the ‘glamour boys’ were simply unbeatable when it came to finals. That was the era they had disciplined and ace footballer J.J.Sarangapany as President. Names of some of the players who made Saunders champions who come to mind are Eric Perera, T.J Azeez, Tom Deen, Basheer Ahmed, Petha Premadasa, Wilson, P.D. Sirisena, Ran Banda, Edward Wickremasuriya, M.A. Ameer, Piyadasa Perera and Lionel Peiris.

Saunders had a vast following and it is said that markets around Price Park would close early for the fans to watch their stars in action who seldom failed with winning trophies coming naturally to them with trophies and shields filling their cupboards at the club house.

Police who won the FA Cup after 12 long years had wonderful ball players during the golden era of the game and players whose names come to mind are Nithi Nicholas, K.B. Pussella and Harold Anthony, goalkeepers, A.B. Roy, Judy Preena, Nizam Hajireen and Bagoos Sourjah. Roy was a treat to watch when he took the throw-in when a ball was kicked out. He would stand on the line and throw the ball a long distance which no other player was capable of doing. Players and spectators stood and watched amazed at Roy’s rare ability. That was also the era when football in schools and Municipal Parks were at its best.

Today the football played in the schools and parks are well below standard, so much so that spectators have lost interest. Pity when one recalls the glorious past of the game and the interest it attracted. The game in the country reached its zenith when Sri Lanka beat a strong Indian team in a sudden death goal in the SAF final before a Sugathadasa Stadium bursting at the seams with spectators flooding to catch a glimpse of an exciting and a game that was not for the weak of heart. No other trophy has since been won. Sad.

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