undoubtedly was the soccer hero of my generation.
As a player, Peter was just sensational. And he remained enormously popular as a gentleman who played the common man’s game, which was the most popular sport in the country during his time. Once he set his foot on the field the best of soccer was assured. Peter was rated as a think tank; playmaker, and importantly a match-winner.
Former national coach Neville Abeygunawardena once remarked: “All my life I had immense respect for Peter, who was blessed with two distinctly different superlative attributes which obviously attracted me – the finest football player in local history, and a supreme humanitarian in ordinary life.”
A few years back I was holidaying in Sydney when I was invited by former Josephian sportsman Michael Berman who represented St Joseph’s in cricket, rugby and athletics.
When Michael played for the college senior cricket team in 1957, I was a student in the lower kindergarten. The gap between his schooldays and mine wasn’t a barrier for us to reminisce our days at the Darley Road school. While our conversation meandered on and on – from our classroom memories to school players of yesteryear, inevitably the reminiscing drifted to Josephian soccer. And when you start talking about Josephian soccer, you can’t help but talk about one of its most famous soccer players, Peter Ranasinghe.
It was here at Michael Berman’s residence in Sydney, I was able to talk with my
childhood soccer hero Peter Ranasinghe Ace Josephian striker Peter Ranasinghe
MAN WITH THE GOAL-DEN BOOT over the phone – for the first time. We were in two separate states in Australia distanced by thousands of miles. But our mutual friend Michael Berman linked our telephone conversation as he knew Peter. Our phone conversation lasted only a few minutes, but nostalgic images of his sporting career that I was privileged to witness, are etched in my memory as if it all happened only the other day.
My earliest memory of him was the classic goal he scored for the Old Joes SC in the country’s first-ever inter-club floodlit soccer tourney, played at the Colombo Oval in 1961. I was not even 10 years old and also not old enough to go alone for a match, but certainly old enough to remember those tense moments and the names of the players.
The curtain-raiser of this historic tourney was between Army Sappers and the Old Joes SC. I was initially fascinated with the white-coloured football used for the competition. And also of those attacking moves created by Old Joes SC’s Calistus Pillai and Brian Buultjens, and the grand display between the posts by Army Sappers goalkeeper Freddie White. But it was Peter Ranasinghe’s goal off a kick from centre of the field – a well calculated thunderous kick – that had me gasping in disbelief. That was my first Peter Ranasinghe memory. Since then I followed him wherever he played and was not disappointed even once. He was in the bracket of those rare sportsmen known for their individual brilliance whatever the circumstances may be.
Once he set his foot on the field the best of soccer was assured. Peter was rated as a think tank; playmaker, and importantly a match-winner.
Eventually, the Old Joes SC entered the finals of this historic Gold Cup floodlit tourney. The decider played between Old Joes SC and Colpetty United on December 17, 1961, was perhaps one of the most memorable cup finals ever to be staged in Sri Lanka. The Ceylon Daily News commented: “Disputed goal and Gold Cup final is drawn. A disputed penalty awarded a minute before the final blast robbed Old Joes of their first Gold Cup victory. One all draw. Even ten minutes of extra time brought no result.” I could still recall the high-class goalkeeping of Piyadasa Perera (Colpetty United) and Sam Lovell (Old Joes) apart from the grand performance of Peter Ranasinghe, Durand Perera, Calistus Pillai, Thomas (who netted the solitary goal) and Saldin (Old Joes) and Wimalasena Perera, Bertipala Perera and Carl Weigan (Colpetty United). The newspaper report carried a special reference on Peter: “Ceylon skipper Peter Ranasinghe played his usual role.”
Peter was a natural footballer and showed his prowess even during his schooldays at St Joseph’s College. According to the “Blue and White” magazine of 1951: “Peter Ranasinghe, our centre forward, who played in the extreme right position last year, was the livewire of the forward line.” The curtain-raiser of the 1951 Josephian soccer season was against formidable De Mazenod College, Kandana. The Josephians won the match 2-0, and Peter Ranasinghe opened the season’s score by shooting the first goal! Then in the drawn match against St Aloysius Galle, once again it was Peter who shot the first goal for St Joseph’s.In the “Big Match” against St Benedict’s at Kotahena, the Blue & White magazine added: “At the 17th minute of the game Peter Ranasinghe placed a ‘class’ corner and Rahim drove it hard into the goal.” Once again Peter was instrumental in giving his team a memorable victory over the Benedictines when “he received the ball which he passed to Calnaido, who slipped it beautifully into the goal”
Leaving school Peter represented Old Joes SC and the University of Ceylon as a mid-fielder and almost immediately was summoned for national duty. Having represented the national team in the famous Quadrangular tournament held in Burma in 1953, he was picked to lead the country in the next edition of the tourney held in Calcutta in 1954. In the team profile, he was introduced as a player “reputed to be the best post-war product in Ceylon soccer.” It was on this tour that the Ceylon team stunned the Indian crowds when they held reigning Asian champs India to a one-all draw. Thereafter, they defeated Burma 2-1 to record the island’s first international soccer victory. At the end of the tourney, there was an exhibition match between the title-holder India and the Rest XI which produced “football of a very high standard” with “Peter Ranasinghe excelling for the Rest team”. In another press report on the 1954 Quadrangular tourney it is said: “Ranasinghe will be remembered in Quadrangular history as the man who held Pakistan player Fakhri, the most formidable outside left in the tournament.” It further added: “Today for the first time in the quadrangular, the flags of the four countries flew in the order in which they finished the tournament. Ceylon’s golden lion proudly fluttered in second place.”
When the team arrived from Calcutta, among the thousands of soccer fans assembled at the Ratmalana airport was Colombo Mayor Dr N.M. Perera and the team was accorded a rousing welcome.
Peter was at his brilliant best in the pre-Olympic soccer tie with India played in Colombo on December, 22, 1963. Two great players led the respective teams, Chuni Goswami (India) and Peter Ranasinghe (Ceylon). The other members of the Ceylon team were ace goalkeeper M. M. Hassimdeen, B. B. Sourjah, M. A. Ameer, P.H.S. Albert, B.H.H. Sally, Edward Wickramasuriya, A. Zainulabdeen, Mahinda Aluvihare, P. D. Sirisena, P. K. Kurukulasuriya and S. M. Noor. Among the Indians were well-known players such as renowned goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj, P. K. Banerjee, Yousuf Khan and Appalaraju. In a match review, The Times of Ceylon, in its 23 December 1963 issue, had the following banner headline: “India win 5-3 – Gallant Ceylon XI go down fighting – Peter Ranasinghe excels”. I remember watching the match at the Sugathadasa Stadium, under the hot sun in the first half and in pouring rain in the second session.
Peter led the national team in the Southern Pentangular tourney in 1963 which figured teams from Madras, Kerala, Mysore and Andhra Pradesh. It was a popular soccer annual in the 1960s and ’70s which attracted local enthusiasts. Under Peter’s leadership the national team defeated Kerala 5-2 in the curtain-raiser but unfortunately, he was injured during the match “after a collision with one of the Kerala players” and was not able to participate in the remaining matches.
In August 1964, at the Darley Road grounds, I was privileged to witness another soccer cracker. That was the day Old Joes SC held the mighty Saunders FC to a thrilling 2-all draw. As per a newspaper report, “Ceylon’s skipper Peter Ranasinghe, playing at his favourite position for Old Joes proved to be a tower of strength to their team.” The press report further added “Durand Perera and M B Saldin played a wonderful game whilst Brian Buultjens, Terence Kuruppu and Berchman de Alwis played well in the forward line.”
Peter Ranasinghe left the playing field many a decade ago, but he still remains as one of the most revered figures in Ceylon soccer.