Clifford Cup weeping, waiting to be resurrected | Sunday Observer

Clifford Cup weeping, waiting to be resurrected

11 July, 2021
The Clifford Cup
The Clifford Cup

The Clifford Cup the oldest rugby trophy in the country is waiting to mark 110 years of existence in 2021 and the chances are that it will not see the light of the day for obvious reasons while Kandy SC have grabbed it on 21 occasions the highest by any team since winning it for the first time in 1992.

Havelock SC and CR & FC have bagged it 14 times, Police SC on eight occasions, CH & FC seven times times, Army twice, Dimbulla A & CC twice and Air Force and Navy once each.

Originally, the Clifford Cup, was donated by Lady Clifford, wife of the then British Governor of Ceylon Sir Hugh Clifford, for a match on her birthday, August 26 to be awarded to the winners of the game between All Ceylon and United Services. And that was as far back as 1911. But that game took place a week after the donation of the Cup on September 2. The reason for overlooking the birthday request of the donor in the inaugural year was that the venue, Colombo Race Course was reserved for another sporting event.

After 15 years in 1926 the tournament was converted to a quadrangular with four teams, Low Country, Up Country, All Ceylon and United Services fighting for supremacy.

In the first outing United Services Kandy beat All Ceylon 25-0. In the following year 1912 on September 2 All Ceylon beat United Services Kandy 8-0 and in 1913 Kandy United Services again beat All Ceylon 3-0.

The Clifford Cup was suspended during the First World War and not restarted until 1926 when Low Country, Kandy United Services, Up-Country and All Ceylon contested.

Again in 1939 the Clifford Cup was cancelled with the start of the Second World War from 1939 to 1950.

A new strategy was planned and worked out in the Island’s one and only rugby tournament, the Clifford Cup tournament, which was the Blue Riband of the country’s rugby and was introduced to clubs for the first ever inter club championship in 1950. Thereafter year after year it created tremendous enthusiasm among the spectators, bringing surging crowds to watch the action and also thus creating healthy rivalry among the top contenders.

First winners of the Clifford Cup were Havelock SC led by Ian Labrooy. They went through the tournament without having their try-line crossed. Similarly, Dimbulla A & CC comprising some of the top players in the country, maintained an unbeaten record at their home ground, Radella, until the game against Havelock SC. It is said that it was the best match ever to be witnessed at Radella. By virtue of their 13 points to nil victory over Dimbulla A & CC, Havelock SC became the first inter club League champions and lifted Clifford Cup. At the end Havelock SC gained 14 points from seven outings, two points ahead of the nearest rival CH & FC.

In 1953 Dimbulla defeated the holders of the Cup, CR & FC at Radella 6-0 in the final and became the first club from the Up-Country to win the Clifford Cup.

In the inaugural year the tournament kicked off as a league competition. The first game was played on April 29 and the competition ended on July 29. The curtain raiser was between CR & FC and Dickoya MCC. This game was kicked off at Darawella ground. Dickoya led by D.A. Cook beat CR & FC led by Archibald Perera. In the inaugural year, CH & FC had the distinction of totaling the highest score of the season when they beat Dimbulla ACC by 41 points to nil in Colombo. The final placings of the league -(1) Havelock SC, (2) CH & FC, (3) CR & FC, (4) Dimbulla A & CC, (5) Kandy SC, (6) Uva, (7) Dickoya MCC, (8) Uva, (9) Kelani Valley.

The champion Havelock SC had players in the mould of Ian Labrooy (Captain), B.S. Hanricus, H. Aldons, F. Aldons, H.E.V. Metzelling, E. Aldons, S.B Pilapitiya, V. Kelly, A. Drienberg, R. Sourjah E. Mathaysz, I. Batholamuez, L.Ephraums, D. Ernest and D.K. Goonawardene.

In 1985 Sri Lanka’s premier League tournament was renamed and the SLRFU decided to award the Clifford Cup to the winners of a separate Knock-out tournament conducted among the ‘A’ Division clubs. Thereafter, in 1992, for the first time, the entire tournament was worked off outside Colombo and the venue was Nittawela in Kandy. That year Kandy SC emerged winners of the Clifford Cup for the first time when it registered a historic 22 points to 9 victory over Police SC in the final which was the first major Cup final to be played outside Colombo since 1957.