Article courtesy the 133rd Battle of the Blues Souvnier
When a souvenir committee member asked me to pen my thoughts on the Royal-Thomian, I agreed at once, despite not having a clue what to write about.
My first recollection of the “Big Match” was in 1972, when my Visakian cousin kept telling me that Royal was getting thrashed. She was not allowed to go for the match that year so she took it out on me. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Despite not asking for details she told me that Thomian Captain had broken a record. Years later, that same Thomian Captain, Captained Sri Lanka and thrashed the legends like Sir Ian Botham all over the park at Lords, the home of cricket. Royal didn’t need to feel bad about being thrashed by him!
My first Royal – Thomian experience was in 1973. I was nine. My mother agreed to send me as my older cousin Easala (15) was there to look after me. My cousin was not happy, but agreed on his mother’s insistence. She probably wanted me there to ensure the older boys behaved themselves. They ‘behaved’ alright! I grew up in awe of Easala Aiya’s “Click”. They were all the same age, lived in the same area, and, all bar one (Pancho – a Thomian ruggerite) were Royalists. The prospect of being amongst them was exciting.
My mother packed sandwiches in a brown paper bag and gave me two rupees in change. She told me not to spend all of it. “In case you lose the Aiya’s at the match, keep some money to catch a bus home”. It was not unusual for nine-year olds to find their way home on their own those days.
What I did not know was that this was no ordinary ride to the grounds. Boys were going in a “Truck”. The first stop was Wellawatte to pick up Asoka, one of the movers and shakers of the group. I sat close to the cab, beside a blaring Papare band, struggling to keep my balance while clutching my sandwiches. The truck proceeded at an agonizingly slow pace. I watched in awe as the big boys danced vigorously on the truck. I was eager to get to the grounds, but the Aiya’s were in no hurry. At our first pit-stop in Wella, I finished the sandwiches. Much to my relief, the “Papare Band” stopped playing, and they started dancing to songs like “Mama Bohoma Baya Una”, very popular songs at that time by Maxwell Mendis. Music came from a record player which could be folded like a briefcase.
Needless to state, many of the group was not comfortable with me around, but Easala Aiya assured them I was cool. Some were not assured, and felt they had to ‘bribe’ the kid to keep him quiet. One by one they gave me coins and soon my kitty swelled to about five rupees. I had never had that much money at my disposal before!
The ride to the ground from Wellawatte was agonizingly slow (again), but I liked the attention people paid us. I even had one hand free to wave in case someone noticed. At the grounds I stuck to the “Click”. The first rush of adrenaline I felt within the first few hours is a memory that will stay with me for life.
First I was stunned by the crowd. Before that the biggest crowd I had seen was at the sports meet. This was much bigger, far more colourful, and far more noisy. For a noise magnet like me, this was tailor-made. Even for a nine year old it was exciting to see so many girls at a school function.
Then it was the cheering. Each time the stadium erupted saying “BOWLED”, whenever a batsman’s stumps were rattled, it gave me goose bumps. Even while watching highlights on TV today, where I know what’s coming next, I can’t help shouting “BOWLED”!
And the fisticuffs. Those days society was peaceful and the Royal-Thomian used to have it’s fair share of fisticuffs. Today’s society is far more violent but the Royal-Thomian is peaceful. It seems, we have learned of books and men, and learned to enjoy a match without fighting.
Any boy coming out of a movie in early 1970’s will definitely remember the number of fights in the movie. It was considered entertainment. What I saw at the match was for real. It was real people throwing real punches, where I could even hear fist against body. To me, it was frightening. Very, very frightening – certainly not entertaining.
Today we have private security firms in attendance, but back then it was the police, led by the-larger-than-life Cop Gaffer. The sight of him rolling along the boundary line, twirling his mustache, continuously rolling up his sleeves, was an icon at the Big Match.
Finally the cricket. Apart from serious diversion of attention caused by fights, I was glued to the match. Royal Captain that year (Ajitha Pasqual) had a permanent grin on his face. I thought he was happy to be the Captain. He must have been very happy, because he still wears the same grin after all these years!
Royal batted first and were bowled out for not too many runs. The Thomians came out guns blazing. I was seated in the front row of the boys’ tent. One Thomian hit the ball hard and high and the roar went up as the ball was heading towards the RC Boys Tent. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a fielder ran fast from my right to left along the boundary line, leapt up and caught the ball in mid air. I could even hear the thud of the ball on his palm. The Cheer from the Thora supporters anticipating a six gave way to a thunderous Royal roar. It was spectacular! It was Micheal Muller, the best fielder in the side. I was fascinated by that name. Muller like a Mala (flower).
Then came the cheering. “Come on Lawta – Bowl him out”. I was enjoying it. I cheered as loud as I could. I felt as if my volume of cheering was directly proportional to Royal performance. Royal slowly wrestled control as Thomians lost wickets at regular intervals. Lawta (S.S.G. Lawton – who Captained the following year) was the enforcer.
I was conscious of the biggest stash of pocket money I ever had with me. Since everybody was keen on watching the match, I didn’t want to give up my vantage point on the front row. My alternatives for spending my loot was limited to buying things from vendors passing by. Gunasiri Bulto, Murusi Annasi, Thala Guli, Thala Bola, Cadju Kali, Pol Toffee, Popsicles and an assortment of Wadai – Isso, Parippu or Ulundu of which only Parippu Wadai was even remotely appetizing. Price range was 5-25 cents. Of these goodies only Murusi Annasi (Pineapple – made world famous by Tony Greig) survived the test of time and is available at matches even today. Even the wooden spike to serve it has survived. Famous sales line of “Topy, shockalate, shoeing gum, pepperrrmeeeent” came many years later.
I could only manage to spend two rupees out of the five. I kept two with me for future investment and returned a rupee to my mother. She was thrilled. She kept telling everyone what a responsible boy I was to bring half the pocket money home. I didn’t want to spoil her happiness by telling her the truth!
As for my investors, the “Click”, I kept my end of the bargain. My lips are still sealed. However, if my son was to emulate the “Click” in three years time when he is 15, I’ll say my son knows how to have a good time.
As for the “Click”, they didn’t just fade away. They remain close to this day. Three of them got married to sisters of buddies who were on that truck. One of them was my cousin Easala. As a result I am in touch with most of them. Asoka (Siriwardena) went on to be a dazzling ruggerite of the 1977 team. Athula Munasinghe became Treasurer of the RCU.
Now, almost 40 years later, when they see me, I am reminded of my good conduct on that truck.
I can’t even remember whether I went on the second day or not, because my memory is completely blank of the second day. However, I’ll never forget my first day at the Royal – Thomian till I breathe my last.
Years rolled by and I attended all the matches until I left school and for the two years after that. There were a few highs and few lows. Highs were Madugalle’s rearguard innings of 1976, Charlies record breaking innings of 1980, and winning in 1983( I can’t remember Pradeep Maththew playing!). Lows were the inability to win in 1979, and being deprived of a chance to wish the captain after two grand cycle parades in 1978 and 1979.
It’s no wonder that the 1983 team won the Roy-Tho breaking a 14 year jinx. Starting from 1977 under Sivaharan Nithyanandan ( U14 Captain) this team won all the tournaments along the way. They beat a formidable Ananda U 14 side in 1977 Captained by Arjuna Ranatunge to win the title and never looked back.
A career in the Merchant Navy prevented me from being at a Royal-Thomian till 1999.
You see many laments by school boys who lament how sad they are as it is their last big match in whites…… Don’t worry Lads, if you think you are having fun now, I’ll say, ” You haven’t seen nothing yet!”. Experiencing the Royal-Thomian as an adult is a whole different saga. You will find that out in time to come. And those who already know, will have a knowing smile on their face!
Let’s look forward to a good contest. May the best side win. It doesn’t matter who wins, as long as the contest lasts the full three days.
Capt. Sopaka Karunasundera
Group of 81