A team of British service personnel after a game of football

A few forget the glorious moments of football in the past but remember the part played by the officials for the uplift of the game. The name of Manilal Fernando should never be forgotten for his contribution to football. It was due to his efforts the “Football House” with all the facilities, came in and also the   Baddegana project with a playground and hostel facilities. When the history of the sport is recorded, Manilal Fernando’s name will stand alongside the greatest administrators this country has seen. His style of leadership is different from the rest.

One should know how football came in here. To know and appreciate the growth and development of football in Sri Lanka, it is necessary that one should know even briefly the history of the game itself. 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 service barrack grounds at Echelon Square (where the Galadari Hotel is presently situated) and the Sports Club grounds (presently the Taj Samudra Hotel) were the popular football fields in the game’s formative years.

British service units such as the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and the Royal Garrison Command were the pioneers who promoted competitive football here. British administrative service and the British planting community took the sport to the Central, Up-country and Southern regions. By early 1900, football as a competitive sport was popular amongst the local youth.

Formation of controlling bodies –   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 April 4,1911. 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 under the amended name, Colombo Football League, with Herbert Dowbiggin as president and H. French as chairman and by 1924, Sir John Tarbat became the president and contributed immensely to the promotion of the game in the years that followed.

Southern Province-The sport had a fair impact on the masses, with the planting and administrative community leading in the promotion of the game in a big way. R. Brough, a British planter in Deniyaya, contributed much to the sport between1910 to 1920. The British servicemen from the Navy wireless station in Matara, also helped to popularize the sport, particularly in the southern schools. The first football club formed in the South was the Galle Association Football Club in 1910, with obviously a predominantly British membership. R. R. Brough was its first president and the club team was captained by A. C. Blair.

Central Province-Kandy had its baptism in football in the mid-1930s. During the Second World War, British units were stationed in Kandy, with the one-time Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in the South East Asia, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten who had his headquarters in the hill capital. Later on, Kandy Amateur Football League was formed with M. S. Jainudeen at the helm. It subsequently changed its name to Kandy District Football Association. It served football in Matale, Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Kurunegala and Kegalle.
Northern Province – Almost at the same time the British planters, technocrats and civil servicemen were spreading the gospel of football in the Western, Central and Southern Provinces. The North, too, came under their spell with a flourish of football activity amongst the local populace.  In fact, on November 8, 1939, the Jaffna Football Association was formed with W. G. Spencer, District Judge, as chairman. This historic meeting took place at the Jaffna YMCA with B. E. Rajanayagam as the elected secretary.

Football in the northern peninsula is as old as football in Sri Lanka. North Central Province – Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka, is a centre of activity, both cultural and recreational and football naturally taken pride of place. The origin of football in the North Central Province is no different to that of the rest of the country. The influence of the British civil servants had been at the base of its growth. These Britishers, with the assistance of the local youth, played football more as a recreation than in competition.