Red riders CR marches on in centenary packed with passion | Sunday Observer

Red riders CR marches on in centenary packed with passion

2 October, 2022
Thisuri Yahampath (centre), an intern at SAGT presenting the token sponsorship cheque to Jehan Canagaretna (left) while the chairman Tournament Committee Dilroy Fernando looks on (Pictures by Wasitha Patabendige)
Thisuri Yahampath (centre), an intern at SAGT presenting the token sponsorship cheque to Jehan Canagaretna (left) while the chairman Tournament Committee Dilroy Fernando looks on (Pictures by Wasitha Patabendige)

There was an air of nostalgia as CR and FC began its centenary year celebrations last Sunday exactly 100 years to the day the country’s first Ceylonese rugby club was founded by Col. EH Joseph on September 25, 1922.

The momentous occasion was marked by the release of a limited edition publication of the club’s journey aptly titled ‘Tackling Change’ with CR and FC’s senior most captain, honorary life member, past president and one-time fastest man in Asia 97-year-old Summa Navaratnam receiving the first copy.

This event was preceded by the announcement by Centenary Committee Chairman Jehan Canagaretna of CR’s centenary year activities such as a Christmas Celebration on December 16, Centenary Sevens Tournament in April, Centenary Rock on musical festival in July, Sri Lanka rugby legends get together and their annual Scrum and Tackle Dinner Dance in September before the curtain comes down on September 24.

“It is a monumental day for the club to achieve and be a successful rugby club in all aspects, not only on the field of play,” said Canagaretna, a former Royal College and CR scrum half.

Former Isipathana and Sri Lanka fly-half Dilroy Fernando outlined details of the Centenary Sevens tournament involving 10 schools, eight clubs and women’s rugby with a couple of overseas teams from April 7 to 9. CR’s Centenary Sevens will be the highlight of the celebration and played in a carnival atmosphere.

“It’s a tremendous honour to be re-nominated and appointed as the president at the last AGM in June. Of course the centenary year runs from September to September next year and we have another AGM in-between. I would like to see that somebody else is able to step up and also share in the honour of the centenary year,” said CR and FC president Ted Muttiah speaking to the Sunday Observer on the sidelines of the Press conference.

At the outset, Muttiah paid a tribute to the vision of Col Joseph to dedicate a rugby club to the Ceylonese as people of Sri Lanka were called at the time. “It was at a time when Europeans held sway under British colonization. The membership was less than 100 but 100 years on the good Colonel’s fortitude has manifested itself as an icon of the community with a membership strength of over 1100 members, along the way forging a reputation as a pathfinder and trailblazer on the rugby field,” he recalled.

“Within the first five years we started seeing a lot of success. This is Sri Lankans playing in a club of their own without too many Europeans in the team but playing against European planters from Dimbula and Dickoya who were very strong,” he added.

Muttiah hopes the centenary year will serve as a catalyst to recapture their past glory having been the first club to win the prestigious Clifford Cup a record 14 times before being overtaken by Kandy SC.

“CR has not had a lot of joy in the trophy cabinet for quite some years. It’s not for not trying. Every season we have aspirations to be the top team. Let’s be fair. Right up to 1990 or thereabouts, the CR and FC was a proud club to have won the Clifford Cup the most number of times. We haven’t had too much success since of course,” said Muttiah who first donned the Kandy SC jersey as a schoolboy in 1982 before going on to represent CR and Sri Lanka.

“Of course there was never a doubt that I was always going to end up at CR and FC because of the family connections. It was really a request made by Dr CDL Fernando, the first Royal Bradby Shield captain of 1945 which they won who was a doctor in Kandy. In 1982, Kandy really was struggling financially and really couldn’t make it. I recall at that time I was using a Kandy jersey which was already three years old. And we didn’t have enough money to take the club team photograph at the end of the season. There were some wonderful schoolboys like Byron Fernando, TDK Senaratne, Ashan Ratwate that joined along with some experienced hands. We did beat CR in the knockout,” he recalled.

“Great to see Kandy SC as the only upcountry club today in the central province that is doing marvelously well. I think other teams have to buckle up and man up to it. You can’t bring others down to us, we have to step up,” said Muttiah who scored two tries against Malaysia on his Sri Lanka debut in the 1984 Fukuoka Asiad.

He was in a chivalrous mood acknowledging the bar set by arch rivals Havelocks before CR’s ascendancy when asked about those who inspired him. “Though begrudgingly we recognized Michael Jayasekera, Angelo Wickramaratne, PL Munasinghe, Frank Hubert, Sandy Hamid, Hanzil Samad to name a few because Havelocks we hated with a passion,” he said.

When it came to CR he recalled Reggie Bartholomeusz, John Rudra, CPP Abeygunawardena, Malik Samarawickrama, Sukumar, Iqbal Musafer, Dr Indrajith Coomaraswamy, Michael Muller, Dr Paramsody, Dr Maiya Gunasekera, and Jagath Fernando.

“But today that level of loyalty in the playing group is not the same. It is a job now. Just like we change jobs in our careers, rugby players change clubs. I think we need to recognize that. It’s not only about the money. I think we need to do what companies do. Salary is one thing which is a necessary item. We have to look after their welfare and develop individuals,” he said speaking with his corporate hat on.

So we are also focusing a lot more about beyond rugby. We have signed up some arrangements with some educational institutions. We got scholarships so that we can put our players through. When they are playing they can follow some course so in five or ten years when they have done their rugby, they have some life skills rather than just rugby,” said Muttiah who is Chief Commercial Officer of SAGT (South Asia Gateway Terminal).

He was pragmatic about club loyalty in the modern era. “We can’t blindly say this was a family at CR or Havies or whatever. It doesn’t work anymore. We got people coming from outstation or Kandy. They are coming for the job. So we need to treat it not only as a salary but beyond as we do. We have to develop them and give them a lot more than just simply playing rugby,” he added.

Asked whether CR will be able to attract the cream of schoolboy talent in their centenary year, he said: “I hope that the centenary year itself will uplift our team to go beyond. What they believe is their capabilities. I think we have some good talented youngsters coming through the ranks. We have some cool heads to balance it off. Our captain Kavindu de Costa has been with us for nearly 10 years. He is the captain and is doing a good job with man management.”

“I think these are the fundamental things you have to focus on rather than griping about salaries and people changing clubs. It is their right. We need to respect them. Do things to retain them beyond just a salary. We want them to enjoy being part of the club,” he reiterated.

Women’s rugby has a special place in CR which was the first rugby club to offer women membership, the first rugby club to grant women voting rights, the only civilian rugby club today to feature an A division women’s rugby team and the first rugby club which has a female on the general committee, according to Muttiah who felt much more needs to be done at grassroot level to promote women’s rugby.

“We are told that women’s rugby is the fastest growing sport in the world today. I watched Sri Lanka play Thailand in the past. We were much more competitive. Thailand was trying to play catch up. Today they have skipped ahead so far they will just blow us away. We need to have continuity and put frameworks in place from the grass root,” he said.

As Muttiah went back in time to recall the proud history of the club, he placed on record his appreciation to sponsors, the centenary celebration team and those who carried the torch before him. “The club’s rugby history is a tapestry of some of the most outstanding rugby talent produced in the country. Commencing with a caravan as its clubhouse in a location not too far away from where we are seated today, the club boasts facilities for close to a dozen sports today while remaining true to its founding charter of being a rugby club first and foremost. Member amenities offered are the envy of many other clubs,” he said.

“All this has been possible through the passionate support of members, the dedication of the various committees, loyal service of staff, the commitment of rugby players and ofcourse our sponsors and donors through the good and not so good years,” he said.

He thanked the sponsors (SAGT, NDB, Nawaloka School of Higher Education and Colombo Logistics) for stepping forward despite the tough economic times. “Without their support the schedule of events as part of the centenary year celebrations would not be possible,” he said.

“It is also timely to remember those members who had gone before us. The dedicated services on and off the field have contributed what the CR and FC is today,” he added.