Havelock SC 2012: Rags To Riches
BETWEEN the match last Saturday at Havelock Park, the first there this season, and the game before, which was last season, the venue’s landscape has undergone a breathtaking revision.
The shabby, zinc-roofed spectators’ stand that ran alongside the BRC cricket field is now only a memory, as is the ugly chunk of concrete that was the players’ dorm, beside Isipathana MV. In their place are a gleaming white spectators stand, behind which is a line of glass-fronted, air-conditioned corporate boxes; across the playing field is the spanking new dressing room, its whiteness glinting in late evening’s soft sunshine last Saturday. The multitude of sundry advertising hoardings, which like cheap calendars on living room walls had long flawed the Park scenery, has been consigned to the scrap yard. Instead selected ads of big-name companies now gaze down on the green.
As well, the many dust-brown patches that once dotted the green have, like adolescent pimples, disappeared. Now, it’s a picture of such lush greenery that you’d be forgiven to think bulldozers were rolled in, the old playing field gouged and a new carpet of green laid out. The ground at the end of last season was in such a decrepit state that its restoration looked like a job for the bulldozers, really – a course of action that might’ve meant a season of no home-matches for the Havelocks.
But to stalwarts of the old club the prospect of a season without home-games was unthinkable. So, a group of old stalwarts, including the club’s one-time presidents Y C Chang and Gamini Fernando, put their heads together to find a way of preserving the age-old after-match delight of sitting on the club’s lawn, “having a beer, sharing a few laughs and talking of the old times.”
The consensus of the discussions among the stalwarts was to look for someone in the membership who might help redo the ground, and since the club’s roll had no qualified horticulturist, former tea planters, it was thought, might be of help.
If the job was to be done by planters, then Y C Chang, a one-time planter himself, knew just the right men: Mike de Alwis, former Havelocks, Dimbula and Sri Lanka hooker who had recently returned from a working stint in the tea estates of Indonesia, and Kumar Boralessa, one time curator at the CCC – both, apart from being former planters were members of the Havelocks from way back when. They agreed to do the job; on condition it was treated as service rendered on honorary terms.
The duo, together with Chang, agreed that all that was needed to restore the grass of at least three quarter of the playing field was regular watering, and watered not courtesy the weather gods, which had been the case as far as old members can remember; grass of the other quarter of the field, however, needed to be uprooted and planted anew. Thirty sprinklers were installed and tufts of new grass were purchased and planted. Problem solved: the old stalwarts breathed a collective sigh of relief at being able to rescue their delightful after-match tradition – and in celebration, promptly sat themselves down on the lawn and called for a round of drinks!
So, if you haven’t been to the Havelcoks since last season and decide to be there next Sunday for what promises to be a humdinger of an encounter against the Navy, you’ll find little of the old club you once knew. The change is of a Cinderella-ish flavour– a wave of a wand, and abracadabra, a pumpkin was transformed into a sparkling coach fit for royalty.
No wand and magician, though, transformed the old rundown club to its present splendour – but rather big cash and an investor: Rs.101 million and businessman Asanga Seneviratne respectively. For such generosity, you might assume that Seneviratne, present SLRFU President, has past affiliations with the Havelocks, perhaps as a player of the 80s/90s or an official after the turn of the century – Right? Wrong: he represented Havelocks’ arch foe, the CR&FC, during all his playing years, after which he served as selector, coach and vice president at Longden Place. And at the time he decided to invest in the Havelocks’ development plan last year, he wasn’t even a member of it.
So, why did he invest in the enemy club? “I don’t believe anyone would want to see a club approaching its hundredth year (in 2015) become extinct – which was the dire prospect facing Havelocks. It had fallen on such hard times that its future survival was in serious doubt. As president of the Union, I didn’t want to be the one presiding over the demise of an old and famous club – that would be like destructing living heritage. The consideration was not about my loyalty to the CR but the future of a once-great club and the game itself. Someone had to step in and save it,” said Seneviratne. “What you see now is Phase 1 of the development; Phase 2 will begin next year – so it’s not presumptuous to say the future of Havelocks is now safe.”
That, though, isn’t the entire story. There are other reasons why Seneviratne shifted his interests to the “enemy camp”. First, however, it must be stated that Senevirate’s love for rugby transcends club loyalty. He, after all, was coach of the Army for many seasons, a job he withdrew upon his appointment as National Sevens coach. So, it’s not as if his investment in the Havelocks was a betrayal of the CR.
“I don’t think the CR can complain about my involvement in the development of the Havelocks. After all, I presented to the CR a development plan similar to what’s being implemented at the Havelocks – but they weren’t interested,’’ said Seneviratne, who, frustrated by the rejection, could so easily have walked away from rugby administration never to return.
But “my dreams for the game” prevented him from walking out the door. He speaks passionately of fitting floodlights to all grounds (“We now live in far busier times and the appropriateness of a 4.30/4.45-start is no longer appropriate. Floodlit matches are a must if the game is to draw bigger audiences simply because a 5-30/6pm start is more spectator-friendly.”); of hosting international rugby tournaments; of being Asia’s no.1 and World Cup qualification – a kid’s wish list to Santa, if you like.
Through the development of the Havelocks he, one thinks, hopes to live out his dreams. The Havelocks obviously stands to benefit tremendously – but at a price. As the Havelocks goes up-market, it won’t likely be the club it used to be – the club, which even its rivals acknowledges use to host the best after-match socials. Its ambience had a sense of free spiritedness and camaraderie, noticeably absent in most other clubs.
“There used to be an old piano in the corner of the hallway, and if a member or guest was inclined to thump out a tune, no one objected. Rather members would gather round the piano – and it all ended in one big sing-song,’’ said Thusitha Peiris, one-time player and presently assistant coach. “That doesn’t happen now – a majority of the present-day members’ idea of fun and enjoyment is not the same as that of members of the 50s through to the 80s. I suppose it’s a reflection of the changing world we live in. So, you could say, the club going up-market is a logical progression.”
Of course, older members given to nostalgia would like the Havelocks to remain as it was, and hobble along, living by its motto: win-or-lose-we-booze. But the problem was, over the past decade of two, there’s been far fewer wins to drink to, and so, its identity as a rugby club was being eroded. And to its on-field woes add the critical state of its finances – and the writing of the obituary of this once-great club could not have been far away.
Enter Seneviratne, bags of money in hand. The upshot: Not only has the pumpkin become a Royal carriage, so has the team: woodenspoonists two seasons ago, no.4 in 2011 – and presently unbeaten and league leaders. It might be too early to order the champagne, but to be able to even catch a sniff of the bubbly is an achievement.