Herbert Wijekoon - a hockey player par excellence
Herbert Wijekoon is the eldest from the famous Wijekoon hockey family
from Matale who left an indelible mark in the scene of hockey which is
very hard to emulate and this record may stand for a long time. Four
boys and two girls played for the national team. They all played at the
school level and later for the club teams at a time when girls and boys
thought twice before taking this game played with sticks and ball as the
risk of injury was greater unless one is skilled.
But the Wijekoon's were courageous and they had transfused hockey
blood in them. Their father David Wijekoon though a sportsman never
played hockey as hockey was not known then and was still in its infancy
and trying to cut its teeth. Late David Wijekoon played rugby for Kandy
Sports Club in the forties at a time the game was dominated by the
expatriate planters most of them from the ‘Old Blighty'.
When this writer met Herbert Wijekoon, he was only too happy to give
this interview. He said the present generation should be told of the
difficulties we under went to play the game.
The hockey sticks were expensive and there were very few shops
selling and at times we had to travel all the way to Colombo to purchase
a good hockey stick which had to be seasoned with linseed oil. My
parents were very supportive and they gave us all the encouragement and
also gave us the money to continue the game. There was no money in
hockey at that time, on most occasions we had to spend our own money.
When there were injuries, we had to depend on our parents for the
He said there was no astro-turf at that time and we had to play on
grass courts which were uneven and a hard drive could come up to you in
an unpredictable manner and wrong judgement and poor anticipation of the
ball coming upto you could end in blow or bleeding injury. You had to
use your skills to come to terms with the hard hits. There were no
protective equipment then.
Next you will have to avoid getting hit with the sticks in the normal
course of play. Even the goal keeper had to don pads to protect himself.
It was under these conditions we played the game which was in its
infancy, we played the game not only to provide entertainment to the
spectators but also to ensure that the game does die a natural death.
All these made Matale being dubbed as the ‘Cradle of hockey'.
Herbert Wijekoon now in his eighties sporting a beard was very agile
and fit as a fiddle and given the hockey stick he could still dribble
and drive or scoop. He was an epitome of fitness and one will not
believe that he had reached the four scores age and speaks very fluent
English being education in that medium.
He said that he took to hockey and played to St. Thomas’ College
Matale in 1949 and captained the school in 1950 – That was 62 years ago
and his age will have to be believed without calling for his birth
certificate to verify. He also played and captained the school's
cricket, soccer and athletic teams and was the RSM of the Cadet
He was an all-round sportsman who devoted his time on sports field.
His road to success was that he played for the Matale District and
Sri Lanka as a schoolboy. At the first senior Mens Hockey Nationals ever
conducted in Sri Lanka in 1956 Matale became Joint Champions with the
Mercantile Services and at the second hockey nationals played in Matale
at the newly constructed Edward Park which was made only for hockey with
the playing field about a foot lower Matale HA finished runners-up.
He represented Sri Lanka from 1951 to 1962 and captained the country
against Bhopal in South India. He also captained the Matale HA and
Colombo HA in the later years.
At that time there were very few clubs playing hockey in the
outstations and he was invited to play for Havelocks Sports Club. One of
the best matches he had ever played was between Havelocks Sports Club
and Tamil Union Club which had a galaxy of stars including the national
captain A Mailvaganam who was a hockey wizard in the mould of the India
hockey players who dominated the world scene then. It was difficult to
get past him, when he is in possession of the ball, you will have to be
on your guard.
He was such a fine player. But Havelocks Sports Club beat the star
studded Tamil Union Club 3-0 and the goal scorers were the Wijekoon
brothers Herbert, Ranjith and the late Douglas. There was a very large
number of spectators and there was rejoicing and were carried off the
field by the jubilant supporters.
With much reluctance he admitted that he was an exponent in using the
back stick or wrong stick which according to the laws of the game is in
infringement and a foul. But he managed to score goals.
He explained that hockey sticks being conventionally right handed and
if you play in the left flank, it is difficult to turn the ball and at
that this was also difficult. When in possession of the ball in the left
flank, he drove the ball with the back of the stick and not the usual
face. He was so quick that he got away with it. He had done this highest
These are pranks which he mastered as a schoolboy. The supporters
enjoyed it and at times it ended in goals.
His advice to the youngsters is that though the tournaments are
conducted during certain parts of the year, hockey has no season and it
could be played all throughout the year and you should be at it always.
It is then only you could develop your skills and get your eye which is
important as the ball comes at you at a terrific pace from a very short
distance. He also stint of coaching at St. Thomas’ College which saw the
emergence of this three younger brothers into the Sri Lanka team.