JUDY PREENA generated high voltage electricity in his arms and feet. In my time the shock waves were not only felt by his opposing teams, but by the spectators and sports scribes like me, alike.

PREENA beloved to a school that richly deserved credit for producing star sportsmen and champion teams that sent shock waves when least expected and were a feared lot. Yes, in spite of not receiving their richly deserved share of publicity Zahira College, Maradana were undaunted.

Over the years they produced outstanding individuals and champion teams, especially in cricket and football.

One sportsman who generated shock waves to effect and made waves and made the local sporting public and world admire and applaud his versatility was JUDY PREENA. He went on to become a double international of rare class in football and rugby.

Natural talent

At a very early age at school he gave glimpses of his natural talent when he took to sport like a duck to water, first as a wrestler, then football and rugby.

In the good old days inter-school football was a craze. Some of the schools that produced individually brilliant players and champions teams were Zahira College, St.Benedict’s. St. Joseph’s, St. Anthony’s Wattala, St. Anthony’s Kandy, De. Mazenod, Kandana, St. Anne’s, Kurunegala, and Maradana Central.

Unlike now, in those days inter-school soccer matches were eagerly awaited, fiercely and keenly contested. Every match drew large crowds who soaked in the thrill-a-minute action and enjoyed every moment of it. And one remembers that referee of referees at that time T. M. Mantara who was also a draw where ever he blew the whistle.

Home and away

Fisticuffs between supporters were more the rule than the exception and it became home and away fisticuffs. Those good old days will never come again.

Talking of inter-school football reminds me of a story told to me by a former ‘Daily News’ staffer M. J. M. Zarook who was fondly called ‘Zorro’ because the Zorro films were doing the film circuit in those times.

The story went like this. Zahira were playing St Benedict’s in a soccer match and a ‘Daily News’ sports reporter had told the Editor, who was an Old Benedictine Clarence Fernando that they should send sports reporters to cover this game.

Inimitable style

Fernando in his own inimitable style had replied: ‘Not sports reporters, we must send crime reporters’ to much laughter because there were fisticuffs between supporters of both schools which at times required the Police to help keep the peace.

Back to our ‘Legend’ of the week JUDY PREENA and it must be said that he was one of the best strikers that the Maradana school produced. He made waves in schools soccer. His dribbling prowess was amazing. It came naturally to him.

When with ball at his feet, he was a dazzler. The magic of his dribbles would leave opposing defenders beaten all ends up as he weaved his way through to hit the net. Often he sent the goalkeeper moving the wrong way.

Many trophies

On leaving school he threw in his talents with Saunders Sports Club the ‘glamour boys’ of local football. This further improved his game and steered the club to winning many trophies one of which was the prestigious Football Association Cup, the Blue Riband of local soccer.

But the best of his glittering career shone when he joined the Police where he in addition to continuing with his prowess in football, he also glittered in rugby. He played as winger and had a sudden burst of speed with ball in hand to evade defenders and plant tries, some even under the posts with defenders left aghast.

It was in the 1970s that PREENA strode into the rugby scene and that was when the great Kavan Rambukwella, an illustrious Trinity, CR and Sri Lanka ruggerite was coach of the Police squad. He spotted PREENA’S speed and immediately rammed him on to the wing.

Kicking prowess

PREENA also using his football kicking prowess was a good place kicker and it is said that he would kick better than ‘king’ Charles Wijewardena who had no peer at that time. Police also had brilliant place kickers in Nizam Hajireen, Bagoos Sourjah and Nimal Abeysinghe.

PREENA’s entry into the Police rugby team came when regular winger Bandula Wijesinghe was injured. This gave him the opportunity to play for Police against Uva in 1975. He planted three tries in that game with his speed and that helped him cement his place in the Police team. He was later picked to play for the country in the Rugby Asiad under Irwin Howie

He played in the 1979 Police team under ‘king’ Charles Wijewardene and in 1980 under that outstanding sportsman that the Police were fortunate to have in Nimal Lewke. Police won the Clifford Cup for the first time under Anton Benedict in 1972.

Captained in 1981

PREENA captained Police in 1981 and although not enjoying the success Police enjoyed in the two previous years they gave all opposing teams a good run. Some of the players who played under him were Nimal Lewke, Sunil Sahabandu, Muruga Jayaratne, Dissanayake, Dharmakirthi, Marso, Premasiri, Dayaratne, Samarakoon, Chandrapalan and Upali Vithanage.

PREENA was an outstanding soccerite and ruggerite and national honours came his way in both sports which was quite remarkable. He was easy going and always gave of his expertise to all young and promising footballers and ruggerites who sought his help.

Talking of Zahira College and PREENA, the best cricketer they produced was arguably Muttiah Devaraja who was an extraordinary all round cricketer who was a stylish right hand and off spinner and had no peer as a cover fielder. As a cover fielder his throws to the wicket keeper was always just over the bails.

Scored heavily

Devaraja captained Zahira in the early 1950s and scored heavily in inter-school cricket, later for Tamil Union and then Nomads. He played for Ceylon against Pakistan in the early 70s.

Then there was that rugby winger Abdul Majeed who sported Police and national colours. When he gathered the ball on the wing he would dash to the line like a Jonna Lomu of New Zealand. He was unstoppable.

Another classy ruggerite who at that time played for Zahira and later Police, Ibrahim Hamid was tagged ‘tanker’. He was a top class prop forward and won representative honours. Majeed and Hamid excelled in their chosen positions.

Best defender

Then arguably the best defender the school, club Saunders and the country produced was M. A. Ameer. He was a fearless tough as nails defender and no striker found it easy to go past him. In addition he had a booming kick that would send the ball to the opposing half. Defenders of Ameer’s class don’t come now.

Then another cricketer who needs mentioning was Sylvester Dias. He was a terror on the matting with blinding speed as a right arm paceman and had a life threatening bouncer in days when helmets or body protectors were not heard of. He too played club and representative cricket.

That these are all players remembered decades later is a lasting tribute to their talent and sportsmanship. PREENA was one of those treasured gifts that remains a Legend.

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