History of football in Sri Lanka | Daily News


History of football in Sri Lanka

To know and appreciate the growth and development of football in Sri Lanka, it is necessary that one should know briefly, the history of the game itself. A few countries have a claim to the origins of the game, namely, China, Greece, Italy and England.

As early as 200, the Chinese played a game with a leather ball, using both feet, mostly to keep the object under control. The Greeks enjoyed a similar sport, which was called Episkyres. While the Romans used an improved ball in a game called Harpustum.

Meaningful outlook

However, it is medieval England that gave the sport a methodical and meaningful outlook, though using the inflated bladder of an ox as the sphere, to being with. On fact, Association football, as it is now called, had its beginnings in England.

With the naval superiority the English domination of the seven seas in full fury, the British sailors carried the game of football to the lands they conquered, with almost national fervor. A look at the origins of football in countries that today, show world class skills at the game reveals the English influence at the source of development.


It is the British who introduced the game to the Americas, Europe and Asia, through their battalions, regiments and brigades.

It is not possible to say exactly, when football was introduced to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), as it was then called, because here again, the origins are lost, literally in the mists of time.

However, there is evidence of the game being played in the sprawling sandy stretches familiarly termed as the Galle Face Green, by bare chested British servicemen stationed in and around Colombo in the 1890’s.

The service barrack grounds at Echelon square (where the Galadari Meriden Hotel )is presently situated and Army Grounds earlier know as the Sports Club Grounds. (Presently the Taj Samudra Hotel) were the popular football fields in the game’s formative years. British Service units such as the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and the Royal Garrison Command were the pioneers who promoted competitive football in this country.

The British administrative service and the British planting community took the sport to the southern, central and up country regions with equal zest and fervor. By early 1900 football as a competitive sport, was popular amongst the local youth.

Though playing barefoot, our lads had mastered the skills, and in fact, donned the service jerseys as replacements or reserves in many an exclusively white dominated team.

The origins of football in Sri Lanka in its undiluted form had a history of nearly a hundred years. Most of it has been in the form of unorganized recreational sports. However, we can take immense pride in being able to organize, conduct and promote the sport for well over eighty years which in itself is an achievement by any human standard.


Football like all other British games and pastimes is intrinsically linked up with the romance of colonial "exploitation". From early days of British buccaneers down the modern power-block football has followed the flag.

After all football is the easiest and cheapest game to introduce - a football and two sets of goal posts and a patched vacant ground are what is needed. Sri Lanka instantly took to the game - as it has some affinity with their own national game of today "cricket" Football is not like cricket, it has an unchangeable rule - kick must only be aimed at the ball. Indeed it was one of the earliest known rules of the game in England.

In another aspect there is only one way of scoring goals in football. There is no ripping in this game. Next week this writer will present the formation of the Controlling Bodies starting with Colombo Association Football League. 

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