The Sunday Leader

Some Rugby Memories From Days Gone By

By Emil van der Poorten

First, I need to make a few follow-up comments with regard to last week’s column about family dynasties in Sri Lankan rugby.
Several readers called me with a whole slew of instances where more than one sibling in a family had played club rugby during the time when I was active in the sport.  I will repeat what I told them: we’d require, literally, a whole book to catalogue instances where more than one brother or fathers and sons had played at the highest level during the same period.  In fact, I’ve asked an old school-mate with a significantly better memory than I possess, to start putting down some notes and to encourage others of like mind to do the same.  At some future time, we can, we hope, pool our information and produce a volume of this kind of fascinating information with some colourful anecdotes that might provide even more entertainment to anyone interested in Sri Lankan rugby trivia.
One correction of a statement about a recipient of the coveted Trinity ‘Lion’ needs also to be recorded.  A.R.A. Mohamed (‘Kajja’) did not win a Lion and apparently, for one of the strangest reasons, if my informant was correct.  The year he captained a very successful Trinity team, he neglected to include his name in the list of those he sent up to the Principal: C. E. Simithraaratchy.  Whether this was an oversight or an indication of ‘Kajja’s’ innate modesty I really don’t know and he is no longer among us to seek confirmation of which it was.  So this fine player and Trinity captain only had ‘Rugby Colours’ to show for a superb school rugby career.
The other correction concerns Dharmasiri Madugalle. He was permitted to play for Kandy Sports Club while still in school at Trinity by Principal Norman Walter and not C. E. Simithraaratchy who was principal before Walter.
Having cleared that up, let me relate an anecdote from nearly a half century ago, when I had the privilege and unadulterated pleasure of playing club rugby. I hope it will provide the reader with an insight of the rugby culture of that time.
This anecdote concerns a very dear friend of mine who was the father of probably Sri Lanka’s finest writer.  For obvious reasons, I will refer to him only as Mr. X.
In the 1960s when club teams were lucky to have their immediate families and a few close friends watch them in action, Mr. X, his wife and two daughters came down to Nittawela to lend support to the Kandy Sports Club team on which I played at the time. At the end of the game, after downing the traditional beer shandies and having showered, several of us joined the die-hard club members and the few friends and family who were at the bar, having a few drinks prior to dinner and departure.
Shortly after I got into the bar area, a cousin of Mr. X who was a close friend of me and my father, called me over and told me that he thought we had a potential problem on our hands. Mr. X who was an alcoholic who sporadically spent time ‘on the wagon’ had apparently decided to leave that perch and go on a ‘bender’. He’d go up to the bar, pick up a drink and then amble around the bar space which, in those days, was a very small one indeed and by the time he’d reach the bar again had finished his drink. He would then pick up a refill and do the same again. This went on for several ’rounds’ and by the time Mr. X was ‘feeling no pain’, as the expression has it, he decided that he was going to drive his wife and family home to one of the larger towns in the Sabaragamuwa Province. I prevailed on a friend to whom I gave the car keys to get behind the wheel of X’s little Ford and to attempt to drive him and his family home.
We managed to persuade Mr. X to get in the back seat of his car but, no sooner he realised what was afoot, he reached forward and grabbed my friend by the back of his neck and lifted him up and almost into the back seat!  This might seem an impossible task until one realises that Mr. X weighed in the region of 300 pounds and my class-mate barely a third of that weight!
After relative peace was restored, Mr. X clambered out of his car and proceeded to demonstrate that he was totally incapable of standing up, ending up prostrate on the ground on the grass of Nittawela!
Having reached the end of my tether, I proceeded to berate X in a manner that would have been more appropriate if the roles had been reversed, he being old enough to be my father.  At the end of my tirade which concentrated on matters of responsible conduct when in the company of one’s wife and young children etc., he responded from his prone position on the grass in a crystal clear voice without a semblance of alcoholic blurring, “Emil, that was an excellent speech. Do you mind repeating it?” To say that I was fit to be tied would be an understatement!
The latter part of this saga unfolded long after the ‘witching hour’ and the stragglers had departed and the only people on the premises were my friend, his wife and two daughters, me and my wife at that time and the Kandy Sports Club’s sole employee at that time, Ratnayake.
An interesting side-bar to all of this was the solicitous Ratnayake carefully holding an umbrella over my head while all this was going on, telling me to be careful of the dew (Pinna) which was drenching everything in sight! I don’t know whether Ratnayake had his priorities right or whether I did. In any event, I didn’t come down with the pneumonia that Ratnayake kept warning me about and the episode had a happy ending, if such events can ever have happy endings.
When daybreak arrived, we could no longer resist X’s efforts to get behind the wheel and his loyal wife and children got in the car with him and they departed as did I and my wife after a night without any sleep. I learned soon afterward that X had found a source of alcohol supply on his way home, something very difficult in those days when liquor stores were not open on Sundays, and proceeded to continue his binge prior to and on arrival at home.
It was not long after this that I had the sad task of being part of a group that carried X’s coffin to his last resting place. He was certainly, literally and metaphorically, larger than life and I have so many other very fond memories of a kind and generous soul without equal in my experience.
X was but one of the many ‘characters’ that one encountered around Sri Lankan rugby night half a century ago. The periphery of the game was so much a part of the rugby culture of that time and even if the levels of fitness and skill have improved immeasurably in the intervening half century, I would suggest that those were certainly more colourful days in Sri Lankan rugby!

1 Comment for “Some Rugby Memories From Days Gone By”

  1. Emil has captured the sprit of the game of Rugby especially in the 1950s when it was played only for enjoyment, both before, during and after the game.

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