Football arise and rejoice | Sunday Observer

Football arise and rejoice

15 November, 2020

Footballers past and present and officials past and present of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka will rejoice with the news that the Sugathadasa Outdoor Stadium is to be dedicated to the Football Federation of Sri Lanka as their home ground.

The FFSL never had a ground to call their own from the time the first kick was made in the history of the game in the country. Several former presidents made many attempts and pleas to all Sports Ministers to find them a playing field to call their own, but without success.

Finally good tidings comes from the youthful Minister of Sports who also captained the national rugby team , Namal Rajapaksa that he was going to dedicate the Sugathadasa Outdoor Stadium to the FFSL to call its own.

Not only has the minister undertaken to hand over the stadium, but has also promised to get the Ministry of Sport to look after and maintain the stadium. This may signal good tidings not only to the FFSL but to many other national sports bodies who may be in the running for similar concessions.

The Sports Minister is surely enthusiastic. Determined to help all sports and see that they attain a high standard and bring credit to the country in the sport they indulge in. Also to the credit of the youthful minister it must be said that after V.A.Sugathadasa and K.B.Ratnayake he has the promise of becoming the best thing to happen to sports administration .

To go down memory lane and a little history of how the Sugathadasa Stadium came into being will certainly be of interest to all sports people in the country.

When Dudley Senanayake formed his UNP Government in the early 1960s he made the MP for Colombo North V.A. Sugathadasa the first ever Minister of Sport in addition to saddling him with the ministry of Nationalized Services portfolio.

It will be of interest to recall and mention that Senanayake and Sugathadasa were good strikers for S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena in inter-school football.

In the good old days even the Ceylon F.A.Cup final was played at Prince of Wales Park with no way of controlling the large crowd that would throng the ground. Sugathadasa noticing the lack of grounds for the popular game of football to be played set about getting the Sugathadasa Stadium built. Even the Swiss Grasshoppers played at the Park.

It was no easy task for Sugathadasa. In the good old days where the imposing Sugathadasa International Stadium now stands, it was a rubbish dump, popularly called the ‘kunu molay’. He got the squatters and the rubbish cleared in quick time and set about building the Sugathadasa Stadium.

When the stadium was complete it was surrounded by tiers and just a pavilion and changing rooms for the players. It had no roof above the heads of the spectators. It must be mentioned that the Olympic soccer tie between Sri Lanka and India was played at this venue in 1963 with India winning the tie. The SS was a God send.

Many football tournaments with teams from India participating was played at the SS. If not for the SS it would not have been possible for the Lankan soccerites and soccer fans to watch foreign teams in action.

But after sometime the tiers in the stadium were crumbling and the pavilion too showed signs of collapse with no Sugathadasa alive to see to its renovation.

It was then that the writer coming from a school famous for football St. Benedict’s College and then Sports Editor of the ‘Times Group’ set about writing in my Sunday column ‘SPORTSCOPE’ every weekend calling upon the then Prime Minister and Minister of Local Government and a former footballer Ranasinghe Premadasa to help in renovating the stadium which was now beyond use.

Premadasa who himself was no mean footballer and who realized the value of a stadium for the poor man’s game football did not waste time in setting about redoing the stadium to international standard.

Not wanting to tax the government, Premadasa got his Media Secretary Evans Cooray to invite Chairmen and big bosses of the Mercantile sector for a meeting at the old SS and asked Cooray to have me as a special invitee and that I should be introduced to him after the meeting.

Premadasa explained his project to all present and asked the chairmen and bosses present to contribute lavishly for this worthy cause. In next to no time the collection amounted to over 15 million.

Premadasa immediately put his confidant Sirisena Cooray in charge of the redevelopment of the stadium to international standard and Cooray delivered. When completed the stadium looked a picture and still stands as a monument to Premadasa who maintained that it should remain the Sugathadasa Stadium.

On the day of the opening which saw a full house and 100s more unable to get in to watch a football game to mark the opening, Premdasa speaking in all three languages mentioned my name and thanked me for giving him the idea and coaxing him to rebuild the stadium. Since then Premadasa and the writer formed a close friendship that was to last until his cruel death by an LTTE suicide bomber.

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