The Sunday Leader

Family Dynasties In Sri Lankan Rugby

By Emil van der Poorten

1960 Kandy Sports Club team photo which has two Madugalles, the Winter-descended Willie Winter, Dickie Hermon and yours truly, and the brothers A.R.M. Azain and A.R.M. Fahmy

The trio of presidential progeny representing the Sri Lanka Navy in recent tier 1 rugby competition brought to mind other family formations from the years of my dim distant youth and times even farther back.
Sharm de Alwis made mention of the Schokman clan in a recent piece – Norman, Herman and Vernon (“Pug”).  I don’t remember who was the eldest – Norman or Vernon – but I knew both Norman and Herman very well and the former’s youngest son, Lester who died tragically young of cancer, was a contemporary of mine at Trinity College, Kandy (TCK) from where he moved to S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia with his brothers, Larry and David.
The eldest of those siblings, Larry, had a distinguished rugby career at the highest level despite not having played the game in school, S. Thomas’ not, at that time, having rugby among its school sports.  Lester left for Australia at a relatively young age and didn’t, to my recollection, play club rugby in Sri Lanka though he did play for Aquinas University College, as it then was, together with the late C.V. (“Puggy”) Gooneratne and “Bolay” Phillips and yours truly, if my memory isn’t again playing  tricks!
But, back to the elder Schokmans.
I knew Norman and Herman, who were close friends and contemporaries of my father, very well. Vernon, I only met once when my dad introduced me to this man who had been a superb rugby player and captain and wicket-keeper of the All-Ceylon XI; an introduction that left me tongue-tied in awe!
All three brothers were police officers, with Herman and then Norman taking early retirement; the former to manage Colombo’s premier purveyor of hunting and fishing gear, Nimrods, and the latter to make a career planting in the Matale District on an estate owned by Dick Johnston who happened to be the husband of one of my mother’s sisters. A small world then (and now!).  Vernon was a life-time police officer and reached the upper echelons of that service prior to retirement.
My dad often joked about the Schokmans calling out to each other, “Norman,” “Herman,” or “Vernon” prior to passing or receiving the oval ball when playing for the CR & FC or the Ceylonese. Suffice it to say that no one knew or cared who their father was.
Herman captained the Kandy Sports Club many years before I had the same privilege.  I don’t believe that either Norman or Vernon played for that club.
As a teenager I spent time under canvas with Herman who’d accompany my father and me on fishing trips to the east coast and points north of Mannar, Illuppakadavai, if I remember right.  There was nothing “smarmy” about Herman who always “told it like it was,” even repeating stories that he admitted made his police career less than a stellar one.  I don’t recall him ever recounting tales of derring-do on the rugby field on any of the many evenings we spent round a camp fire or in similar circumstances.  That was, probably, indicative of the tenor of those times.
Herman was a “rough diamond” and, as is often the case with such people, readily accepted and liked by all who came in contact with him.  He liked the “sauce” and I remember him once recounting his rejoinder to elder brother Norman who’d sought to advice him about his alcohol consumption.  It went something like, “You’ve got your orchid collection and your other hobbies, Norman, leave me with my drink.” This would have been stated very matter-of-factly and without rancour and accepted in the same manner.  That was Herman Schokman.
Norman was more polished than Herman and was respected for his leadership qualities in mid-country planting circles of the day.  Again, I had the distinct pleasure of sharing space in little sport-fishing boats with him and receiving his always kindly advice tendered to the son of his friend and schoolmate.
Two other brothers with whom I had a fleeting acquaintance when they were about done with their distinguished club and national rugby playing careers were the Rodrigo brothers, Devaka and Mahes.
Their Trinity College mirror images were S. B. and T.B. Pilapitiya, the latter of whom I played against in several club rugby games.  Those two were most unlike each other, like chalk and cheese in fact, though they were both skilled players in their positions and went on to play representative rugby during their long and illustrious careers.
Havelocks Sports Club, during the same period, produced “Lecho” and Conrad Ephraums, the former playing as hooker for All Ceylon for several years.  I don’t remember whether Conrad played for All Ceylon, but I remember them in my first forays into club rugby when I played for the Havelocks 2nd XV while representing Aquinas at the same time.
Finally, members of a family with whom I was privileged to play for the Kandy Sports Club (KSC) in the late 1950’s and early 1960s – the Madugalle trio of Percy, T.B. and Dharmasiri, or “Galliya” as the youngest is, perhaps, better known.
In fact, my reintroduction to the KSC after a protracted absence from Sri Lanka can be attributed to Dharmasiri who, after a chance meeting at the Tea Museum, inveigled me into rejoining the rugby club of my youth!
Dharmasiri with whom I was acquainted from our school days at Trinity College was a superb natural athlete, excelling as a sprinter and as a member of the school’s cricket and rugby teams.  In fact he was so good a rugby three-quarter that C. E. Simithraaratchy, the Trinity Principal gave him a “special dispensation” to play for KSC while still in school, with the proviso that he would not participate in the club’s end-of-season group photograph!  Contrary to some recent claims, “Madu” was the only schoolboy afforded this privilege during the Simithraaratchy era at Trinity.
When Dharmasiri captained KSC in 1960, two of his siblings, T.B. and Percy, were persuaded to return to club rugby competition after a long time away from competitive rugby.  The latter had a brilliant sports career at his alma mater, Trinity and though, past his prime at 43 years of age, still provided ample evidence of his skill and ball sense whenever he played.  T.B., too, was no slouch and displayed considerable ability with his kicking foot, particularly.  It certainly was a treat playing with players of this ability and experience while being part of a lesser trio descended from the Winter family, the other two being my maternal uncle, Willie Winter, and a cousin, Dickie Hermon.
Also in that team were the brothers, A.R.M. Azain who went on to represent the country as a three quarter and his brother, A.R.M. Fahmy who was Kandy’s hooker for many years.  Their eldest half-brother, the late A.R.A. Mohamed (“Kajja”), captained Trinity and won his “Lion” and the next oldest, whose name escapes me at the moment, also represented TCK.
Rugby was very different then.  It was a simon-pure amateur pursuit which didn’t lack for skilled players whose sole motivation was enjoyment of the game and the privilege of representing a major club.  There was no thought of “advancement” or even the adulation of a national audience.  We practiced on a Wednesday and played a match on a Saturday, either “home” or “away.”  We drove or hitched rides to and from the “away” matches or over-nighted with friends in those districts and in turn, provided billets for our visitors when they came to town to play against us.  It was a game of camaraderie and goodwill, a good part of which appears to have disappeared with the new form that the sport has taken in both Sri Lanka and all over the world.
Oh well, time doesn’t stand still and one must learn to go with the flow. However, it does give pleasure to go down memory lane and visit players of the past, particularly when more than one member of the same family played during the same era, often for the same team.

1 Comment for “Family Dynasties In Sri Lankan Rugby”

  1. VRKA Muragedera

    A R A Mohamed or A R M Azwer or Kajja as he was known had many sons, one in particular M A M Fazari was Rugby Brilliance personified. Unfortunately he was of the same age as the scions of the Ratwatte clan. One in particular, Ashan competed for the same position as Fazari as scrum half. As it happens at TCK, family pedigree always gives way to talent. Fazari at 47 still plays for TCK old boys in Dubai.

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