The Sunday Leader

Airmen Aim To Fly High This Season

By Hafiz Marikar

Roshan Goonatilake

Air Force Commander Air Vice Marshal Roshan Goonatilake, who witnessed the Kandy SC – Air Force SC game at Ratmalana on May 15 was seated along with me, Ex-Airmen Tikiri Marambe the former Trinity, CR & FC, Air Force and Sri Lanka rugby great and present selector and Air Force Rugby Chairman, Air Commodore N.H.V Gunaratne. The commander was a happy man after seeing his team push Kandy and said that Air Force Rugby is getting back to old standards. It was recalled how his late father revived Air Force Rugby; that it was late commander Harry Goonatilake who helped to develop the game and also recruited talented ruggerites for the airmen. He played for the air force and coached them for well over 25 years.

Now, his son Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonatilake has taken over and continues the good work done by his father. He heads the Air Force Sports Club with Grp. Capt. H R.S. Biyanwila as the secretary, Air Commodore N.H.V. Gunaratne as the rugby chairman, Wing Commander R.G.C. Deepthi as the rugby secretary, Sgt. D. Medagagedera as team manager and former Trinity, CR & FC, Kandy SC and Sri Lanka winger Imthi Marikar as the coach, assisted by U. Dharmapala and D.U.M. Jayatilake as the fitness trainer. Earlier, Air Commodore S. Rambukwella too did a lot when he was rugby chairman.
All these great rugby lovers with the backing of the Air Chief Marshal W.D.R.M.J. Goonetilake, are going all-out to bring Air Force Rugby back into the  scene and their main aim this season is to play in the second round. According to former captain and a live wire of Air Force Rugby, Air Commodore Harsha Fernando, the Chief giving the boys a pep talk before the game, gives the team a morale boost and with his support, airmen should  go in search of their past glory. The Commander a ruggerite himself played for St. Peter’s College and Air Force, so he knows the game well.
Air Force SC with a talented side are hoping to give a better display in the current inter-club ‘A’ Division Rugby Tournament.  In their third outing against Kandy SC on May 15 at Ratmalana, they did extremely well, to hold the mighty Kandy SC side by 6 points to 14. In the opening game they lost to the Sailors and beat Havies in the second game. Last Friday, they beat CH & FC 11-10 and yesterday (28) they played CR & FC at Longden Place.
The Air Force rugby history is one full of glamour and colour. In 1950, the Clifford Cup Tournament was introduced to clubs, where Havelocks SC, CR & FC, CH & FC, Kandy SC, Dimbulla  A & CC, Dickoya MCC, Uva and KV Club were the first to play. The Sri Lankan Air Force were then known as Royal Ceylon Air Force;  at that time only providing practice matches along with Police SC.
In 1950, on May Day, the Airmen played a friendly against CH & FC at Police Park – both sides packed with Whites – and had three points each; a drop from Airmen and a penalty at goal by CH & FC.
Airmen who took up rugby in the 1950s, when the Whites were managing the affairs of the force, and were once a major force in the rugby field. They were once of the top ‘A’ division clubs. In the past they produced great teams and thrice entered the cup finals —  in 1965 when they were in the ‘B’ division under the leadership of Jeff Ratnam,  then in 1975 when they lost the cup final to the Soldiers led by Saliya Udugama by 3 points to 4 and in 1977. In 1986 under Laksham Caldera, they beat Police to win the Clifford Cup for the first and last time.
The 1986 team had players like Tuan Miskin, Wasantha Ratnayake, Sudath Silva, Nilantha Tennakoon, Hector Kumarasinghe, Lofty Perera (Jnr), Sidath Nagahawatte, A. Dissanayake, R. Noordeen, Lawrence Silva,  Damika Sumanasekara, Rex Anthony, Tony Wimalsuriya, Tikiri Marambe and Nalin de Silva. Harsha Fernando is the man  who helped the Airmen to win the semifinals  against CH & FC. He intercepted a pass and fell over for the match winning try.  In this semifinal, the Airmen scored two tries (eight points) both by Harsha Fernando, to CH & FC’s four points.
Then in 1977, the Clifford Cup Tournament turned out to  be a three cornered affair, with table leadership changing hands between the Airmen and Cops almost to the end before Havies clinched supremacy from behind in grand style. The Airmen, led by Ronald Rodrigo, had to be satisfied with second position in the league.
Those really were the glorious days of Air Force Rugby. They produced some fine players; to name some Harry Goonatilake, Jeff Ratnam, Bertie Ekanayake, Gerad David, L.R.C. de Soysa, Viper Gunarathne Snr. (who led the side in 1969 and 1971), Asela Wewagama, Nihal Soyza, Tony Direckez, P. Segarajasekram, M. Mahsewaran, E.Y. Buell, C.R.A. Fernando, Dougie Perera, S.A. Gomes, Ignatius Perera, M. Hussain, G.H. Sela, T.M. Kalid, R.D. Paul, Ronald Rodrigo, Mohan Balasuriya, Shanthi Mendis, Nalin Silva, Tikiri Marambe ( played as scrum half, flanker, center-three-quarter and led the Air Force, Defence Services and Sri Lanka),  Russell Baptist, Mahesh Gunasekara, Ajward Miskin, Senaka Bowela, Tissa Nanayakkara, Beno Silva, Roshan Goonatilake, Sriyantha Rajapakse, Hazari Dole, Channa Gunaratne, Leslie Bogodawatte, Kumar Jayaratne, Charles Wijewardene, D.S. Wickremasinghe, Harsha Fernando, Roy Ibrahim,  Tony Wimalasuriya, R. Noordeen, Chandana Deepthi, Abeyrathne Dissanayake, Wasantha Rathnayake, Varuna  Senaratne, Sanjaya Fernando, Milroy Motha, Priyantha Halangoda, Ajith Prasanna and Roshan Jacob, are some of the names which come to  mind.
In 1965, Air Force led the ‘B’ division league and were promoted to  ‘A’ division in 1966. In 1966, Kandy Lake Club became ‘B’ division champions and were promoted to ‘A’ division in 1967. Then in 1967 Police SC became ‘B’ division champions and were promoted to ‘A’ division and in 1968 Peradeniya University became champs and were  promoted to ‘A’ division. Then in 1967, Air Force was demoted to ‘B’ division for being last in the league.  In the good old days, the controlling body was strict and they did the job well, unlike the present. Navy entered ‘A’ division rugby in 1975.
The Airmen were a force to be reckoned with in the rugby scene in the 1970s and 1980s, but in 1990s they had to withdraw from ‘A’ division rugby due to the war.  They returned in 1995 and did their best to clinch the ‘A’ division League Plate in 1977 and 1988.
Air Force, this time under the leadership of Dinesh Weeraratne, has former Sri Lanka link man Milinda Jayasinghe, Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, Chanak Chandimal, Saumya Silva, Milinda Jayasinghe, Shamir Fajudeen (a  former Royalist), Migara Wijeratne from Vidyartha College, former Sri Lanka and CR & FC wing-three-quarter Dinesh Kumar, Chanaka Chandimal, Pubudu Kodagoda, Charith Senavirathne, Radeesha Senavirathne, Wasamba Senerath and Buddhika Bandara.

1 Comment for “Airmen Aim To Fly High This Season”

  1. kurungurung

    Daily MIrror why do you photoshop to the effect that.. black guys like like white guys?

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