It is sad when people forget the glorious past of football in Sri Lanka. Many years ago, officials worked with one goal in mind which was to uplift the game in the island. In this endeavour the name of Manilal Fernando should never be forgotten. His contribution to football is immense. It was he who got the “Football House” for the football fraternity in Sri Lanka. The football facility at Baddegana is also his brainchild. This facility has a playground and hostel. When the history of the football is recorded, Manilal Fernando’s name will be right on top. He is one of the greatest football administrators this country has seen. One should know how football started in the island. To appreciate football in Sri Lanka, it is necessary that one should know even briefly the history of the game.
A few countries stake a claim to where the game originated. These countries are namely China, Greece, Italy and England. As early as 200 BC, the Chinese played a game with a leather ball, using both feet, mostly to keep the object under control. The Greek enjoyed a similar sport.. However, it is medieval England that gave the sport a methodical and meaningful outlook. In fact Association Football, as it is now called, had its beginnings in England. It is the British who introduced the game to the Americas, Europe and Asia through their battalions, regiments and brigades.
It is not possible today to know exactly when football was introduced to Sri Lanka. However, there is evidence of the game being played on the Galle Face Green by bare-chested British Servicemen stationed in and around Colombo in the 1890s.
The first ever attempt to organize and conduct Association Football in Ceylon was when the Colombo Association Football League was formed at a meeting held in the Bristol Hotel, Colombo on the 4th day of April 1911. H. French was elected President with H.K. Crosskey as Secretary. However, as a result of the World War 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.
In the Southern Province the sport had a fair impact on the masses. The planting and administrative community led in the promotion of the game in a big way. R. Brough, a British planter in Deniyaya, contributed much to the sport in the South between 1910 to 1920. The first football club formed in the south was the Galle Association Football Club in 1910.
Kandy, the hill capital of Sri Lanka, had its baptism in football in the mid 1930s. During the Second World War, British units were stationed in Kandy, with the onetime Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces in South East Asia, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten having his headquarters in the hill capital. Later on Kandy Amateur Football League was formed with M. S. Jainudeen at the helm.
The North too came under the influence of British planters, technocrats and civil servicemen where football is concerned. The game was mainly played by locals. School leavers and young government servants grouped together to form football clubs. In the mid thirties, on the 8th of November 1939, to be exact, the Jaffna Football Association was formed. Football in the northern peninsula is as old as football in Sri Lanka. The sport remained active and vibrant until the outbreak of ethnic violence in 1983
North Central Province
Rajarata, the place of kings and palaces and a place of scenic beauty and tranquility, is also a province full of recreation and sport. The origin of football in the North Central Province is no different to that of the rest of the country.
History will not be complete if this writer doesn’t appreciation the encouragement and assistance extended to the sport by Heads of State D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kothalawela, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga. The contribution made to football by R. Premadasa needs no mention. The re-development of the Sugathadasa Stadium shall stand as a living monument to his unremitting devotion and sincere admiration of the common man’s sport.