K. K. De Silva as compilar
Percy Abeysekera is unique. He has gained worldwide attention not for any prowess in cricket, but as a cheerleader for Sri Lanka & it was at St. Aloysius College, Galle, where he studied from 1947 to 1954 that he was initiated into this process.
Michael Roberts, writes as follows on his initiation in an article titled ‘Aloysian Identity’ in the Aloysian Centenary Souvenir, 1895-1995: “A big cricket match meant cheering parties. Big cheering parties, and sometimes ‘Bajau‘ afterwards. These cheering parties were boisterous, rumbustious, inspiring affairs — even when saddened at the end by our team’s effort.
The doyen of cheer leaders in our time [my pre-16 junior days] was Royle Barthelot. And among us learning the trade which has made him famous was Percy Abeysekera, Pissu Percy, as he is lovingly (and not always lovingly), called. It could be truly said that he is one of the most widely known Aloysians of our time, leaving such luminaries as Dr Cyril Ponnamperuma in the shade!
He has also been a good ambassador as I can attest from Australian crowd responses in Adelaide — where I had the privilege of watching a one-day match where, facing an imposing target of over 300, we [the two us] watched Roshan Mahanama and Arjuna Ranatunga lead a magnificent fight back after an initial collapse in a game which we — that is Sri Lanka — lost nobly.
This just goes to show that being Aloysian has been a building block towards being Sri Lankan.”
Percy was born on 30 July, 1936 & hails from a well-to-do & well-known family in Boossa, Galle. His father was a teacher & later a School Principal & his mother, a teacher & later a Headmistress, during British times. He has two brothers & two sisters. He married Meloney De Silva from Moratuwa in 1968 (she passed away on Sep. 24, 2010), & has two children, a son named Garfield (after Garfield Sobers) & a daughter. Stanley de Zoysa & M. P. De Z Siriwardena, former Ministers of State in Ceylon, were his uncles.
An extract in Percy’s own words about his education, employment & cheer-leading in club cricket appears at https://lanka364.rssing.com/chan-6979254/latest.php & is quoted below: “I went to Richmond College, Galle up to the 4th standard and then to St. Aloysius’ College, Galle up to the SSC Examination. Then I was admitted to Aquinas College, Colombo for the HSC Examination. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Tyronne Fernando and Kumar Ponnambalam were my contemporaries. Kumar was the opening bowler of our school’s cricket team then.
“It was ‘Economic History paper’ of the HSC examination; I skipped the paper and rushed to see the famous C. I. Gunasekera whacking a century against Tamil Nadu in a Gopalan Trophy match at the Oval (P. Saravanamuttu Stadium).
And when my father got to know this, he got me out of the school and put me on work at Associated Motorways in Kalutara. That was in 1961. In 1962 I have joined ACL, a subsidiary of the AMW, where I still work, as its Public Relations Officer.
I was the first to captain the AMW cricket team and managed to snatch the Mercantile Services tournament trophy beating the Lake House team in 1968.
It was for ‘Bloomfield’ Club that I have started cheering and it was I who introduced Bandula Warnapura and Lalith Kaluperuma to Bloomfield. I have been imprisoned on several occasions over various things I have done to cheer up our National Team facing defeat; those days I was not popular and no one knew it was me.”
Mervyn Weerasooriya, a loyal & devoted Aloysian & a former Commissioner General of Inland Revenue, was Percy’s classmate in the Junior Form. He recalls that Percy used to collect cricket pictures then & was a very good baila singer.
Tilak De Silva (2019) records that Percy was a handy right arm off spinner and a capable left-hand bat at St Aloysius Galle, & that he played for the under 13, 15 and 17 teams, & that he represented Standaert House. He also refers to the occasion when Percy watched the match against the Australians in 1948.
“His hobby was collecting cricket pictures and gradually got obsessed with cricket and when he was 12 years old his two elder brothers gave him a treat by taking him to watch the late Sir Donald Bradman’s all conquering Australians at the P. Sara Oval. It was a long and arduous journey noted Percy, they had to come in the train from Galle to Maradana and had to leg it all the way from Maradana to Wanathamulla which was quite a distance. It was a one-day match and the gate charges were 25 cents those who were watching the match from the trees also had a price structure and 5 cents for the lower branches and 10 cents for the upper branches. It was a full house Percy noted and when Sir Donald Bradman and Mahadevan Sathasivam walked out to toss, Bradman realised that something was wrong with the pitch length and asked the ground staff to measure it and they found out that it was 20 yards instead of 22 yards which is the standard length.
Percy reminisced that there was a word going around that this was done purposely to get Bradman out. Anyhow after the correction the match got underway. This match was in 1948, the year Sri Lanka got independence from the British. There were many Sri Lankan flags all over the ground to mark the independence. Hence, Percy also took a Sri Lankan flag to his hand and with the joy of independence he started waving the flag, and the flag has been a part and parcel all his life ever since then. If Percy remembers right the Australians were 240 for 7. Bradman got only 20 runs and he was caught by R.L. De Kretser off the bowling of late B.R.Heyn (father of David Heyn who played for Sri Lanka later on). After lunch Ceylon were 40 for 2 when the rains came and stopped the match and play was abandoned.”
His first job was at Associated Motorways Factory at Nagoda Kalutara, owned by Sir. Cyril de Zoysa, a close relative of his father, from 1961 to 1962. Thereafter, from 1962 to 1982 he worked for Associated Cables Ltd. Factory, a subsidiary of the AMW Group. The company changed hands in 1982, but the new owners retained Percy as a Public Relations Officer & later as Consultant & it is with the blessings of the new owners that he continued to engage in his cheer-leading activities. His employment career is a remarkable one in that he has been working for one institution throughout.
Although he was schooled in the art of cheer-leading since the 1950s, it was in 1979 that he came into international fame as evidenced by the following report of The Guardian Newspaper of 19 June 1979, quoted by Revatha S. Silva (2019). The day after the match, The Guardian remarked on Percy’s influence on the match by describing his heroics off the field that day, more than the match itself.
“Something to shout about”
Percy Abeysekera, a factory foreman from Matugama (sic), near Colombo and acknowledged to be the foremost cricket cheerleader in Sri Lanka, thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Old Trafford yesterday
. On a Cardus occasion of golden sun, Percy cheered as never before as Sri Lanka, having qualified as humble associate members, had their first win in the Prudential World Cup, beating India by 47 runs, which made the experience all the sweeter. While Sri Lanka’s tour captain, the injured Anura Tennekoon, expressed his delight with the result – “this is the first time we have got the better of a side in England, the home of cricket and it may help us get some recognition” – Percy and five compatriots, carrying their national flag of red, blue, and gold did a lap of honour and sang adaptations of Glory Glory Hallelujah and She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.” ……………………. By John Roberts at Old Trafford, The Guardian, 19 June 1979
Since then, Percy has continued his cheer-leading with his Lion Flag on behalf of Sri Lanka at almost every cricket match of national importance, locally & abroad over a period of over 40 years & in the process has been the recipient of a variety of bouquets & brickbats from international cricketers, cricket administrators, cricket commentators & writers, spectators, political leaders, police officers etc.
Cricket Commentator & Writer, Premasara Epasinghe (2004) pays the following compliment to Percy: “At a glittering cricketing event at the residence of the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, I met a person without whom, no cricketing event in Sri Lanka would be complete. If it is cricket, he will be there, whether it is the North Pole or South Pole, as long as Sri Lanka play the game there. He is a staple ingredient in the cricketing culture, not only of our country, but, in most other places, where cricket is known. This cricket character, I have chosen to feature this time, is none other than Walimuni Denham Percy Gimson Mendis Abeysekera – or Percy – The cheer master of Sri Lanka cricket. To him, cricket is life. He plays his role, as if divinely-ordained. The names Denham, Percy and Gimson were former Directors of Education in Ceylon. His father – a teacher by profession, named his son after them.”
“In the 1980s, young emerging star Mohammed Azharuddin, after three centuries in England was walking into bat, at the SSC, against Sri Lanka, when Percy said “Azar, you will only face three balls today”. His words become a reality. In a statement to the Press Trust of India (PTI) Azar said “Sri Lankan cheer-leader Percy is a charmer”. The Press gave this story wide publicity subsequently.
Percy became the un-official Mascot of Sri Lanka and its cricketing fans for over four decades. His present, charming and lovable personality willingly grabbed the hearts of the public, players and officials alike.
Cricketing greats such as Sir Garfield Sobers, Ritchie Benaud, Steve Waugh, Greg and Ian Chappell, Sir Richard Hadlee, Sunil Gavaskar, Javed Miandad, Martin Crowe were some of the prominent fans of legendary Percy. Once Benaud, queried from Percy, how he gets his stamina to run around the ground the whole day carrying the Sri Lankan National Flag. Instantly came the reply. (“The Breast Milk of my beloved mother (mowkiri) Parippu (dhal), Polsambal -Rice) for my brains, muscles and guts”.
“Percy is an unfailing entertainer. With him there is not a single dull moment. ” Cricket Writer Elmo Rodrigopulle (2018) writes about Percy as follows:
The Lion in the fluttering Sri Lanka Flag during Sri Lanka cricket matches comes alive and commands the attention of all fans. This LION speaks with an authoritative tone and becomes virtually the mascot for the Sri Lanka team. It has entered into Sri Lankan folk lore. This Lion by another name is Percy Abeysekera. Abeysekera is already a legend. When foreign teams started visiting the country and playing what was termed ‘whistle stop games’ because they were one-day hit abouts, a young guy started his cheering career, that has now reached, if one was to use cricketing parlance world class.
‘Whistle stop’ games
Those games were termed ‘whistle stops’ because unlike today when teams jet from country to country, in the good old days teams visited by ship, they broke journey and indulged in a game to stretch their sea weary legs. At the start of his now glittering cheering career that has spanned decades, Abeysekera has left a niche that no other country could produce a traveling cheer man of Abeysekera’s class to cheer and inspire their cricketers.
Opening his cheering innings, Abeysekara used to run round the Colombo Oval where most games were played shouting encouragement to local cricketers. He had a voice that would resonate and which inspired the local cricketers. But when the need arose, he would not hesitate to castigate the local players.
But he did not forget the international greats who played here. He cheered them too. But once the country attained the elusive Test portals which saw teams playing here regularly Abeysekara’s popularity began to grow.
But while shouting inspiration, he needed a partner and that partner came in the form of the Sri Lankan Lion Flag which has now become his cheering partner and like Mary and the little lamb everywhere that Abeysekara goes his flag was sure to go.
Clementine (2021) in an article entitled “On Those Men who will never get to the Hall of Fame” refers to Percy as follows: “Cricket fans overseas may not know some of the current players but you can be assured that one man that they will remember is Percy Abeysekara. Uncle Percy has travelled the world on his savings supporting the national cricket team for over half a century now. A former cricketer himself, he is well aware of the challenges and intricacies of the game. Excellent knowledge coupled with his wit and command of the language has made him a popular figure among cricket players here and overseas. ”
It may not be out of place to mention here a reference made by Clementine (2021) in the same article to another Aloysian, Nigel Kerner, who made an extremely generous contribution to the Cricket Board, as stated below:
“With Sri Lanka winning the hosting rights of the 1996 World Cup, the board was struggling to make ends meet as this event was going to cost them an arm and a leg. One of the urgent needs of the board at that time was a gymnasium. Nigel Kerner had come down to Colombo for a brief visit from England and while visiting the Cricket Board asked officials if he could be of any assistance. The board then informed him of a need for a gymnasium. Kerner agreed to donate the money needed for the state-of-the-art gym but on one condition. That his name should not be mentioned anywhere. More than 25 years later, the Board revealed the name of the person who donated the gymnasium and nobody, not even the players, had a clue until then. It was a secret kept by the Board President and Secretary until recently.”
Foreign Cricket correspondents too have commented on Percy & Nihal Koshie (2014) of the Indian Express sets down his impressions of Percy as follows: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”
This line was written by Grantland Rice, the American sports writer, but has been Percy Abeysekera’s life story over 18 years; ever since he watched Arjuna Ranatunga’s side win the 1996 World Cup title.
Since that glorious night, Percy, the most famous non-playing Sri Lankan at a cricket ground, has suffered heartbreaks at Bridgetown, Lord’s, Wankhede and Colombo as his team lost four of four finals at World Cups – 50 and 20 over cricket. But after his side broke the jinx by beating India in the final of the World T20 on Sunday, Percy had this to say: ‘Winning is not the only thing, it is everything’.
Effervescent despite being just short of an octogenarian, Sri Lankan’s most devout cheerleader has travelled great distances to wave the Lion Flag and cheer the cricketers (or berate them in equal measure) with his sharp wit and sharper tongue, which is flavoured with a rhymester’s way with words.”
More recently, on 24th July, 2022, AFP ‘s cricket correspondent in the New Indian Express referred to Percy as follows: “Cricket-obsessed Percy Abeysekera has been a constant presence at Sri Lanka matches since their first Test against England in 1982 — and even the country’s worst economic crisis cannot keep him away. Forty years ago, the man now fondly known as “Uncle Percy” escorted England batsman Chris Tavare on the pitch at the P Sara Oval in the capital Colombo while holding a Sri Lankan flag.Now 85, he has been a regular feature since, allowed on to the field by Sri Lanka’s cricket authorities to accompany the team off after every game, win or lose, still carrying his flag.
And while an avid supporter of his national side, he is known for the respect with which he treats the opposition — a far cry from the sledging employed by the fans of some teams, and even their players.
Naturally, he was at Galle earlier this month when hundreds of protesters climbed the walls of the ancient fort overlooking the ground during the second Test against Australia to demand the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”
“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game,” he says, quoting the American sportswriter Grantland Rice. “Play fair, cheer the victor and honour the loser.” *
*Comment by Michael Roberts Editor of ……….. https://cricketique.live/page/131/
This axiom was dinned into us Aloysians by our teachers and also by the cheerleaders at Aloysian matches when I was among the group of boys marshalled by Royle Barthelot and Percy Abeysekera during school matches at the Galle Esplanade – now a Test ground. PERCY is Aloysian through and through.
Percy has been entertaining cricketers & spectators not only as a cheerleader, but also with some witty & amusing parodies when the occasion demanded it. Cricket Writer Clementine (2012) refers to some of these parodies recited by Percy & these can be read here:
One such parody adorns the Home Page of Percy’s website: www.percyabeysekera.com :
W. Dahanayake, a former teacher at St. Aloysius College, Galle, former Member of Parliament for Galle, & a former Prime Minister of Ceylon used to recite similar parodies to enliven proceedings in Parliament & it is more than likely that Percy was inspired by him.
The Famous Sayings page on his website contain other examples of his well-known parodies & it also contains pages depicting his family history, comments made by others about him etc. A few such comments are reproduced below:
- T Sumathipala: ‘I saw Percy in action in 1976 at the WI vs SL match at CCC when I was schoolboy cricketer.’
- M Jayawardana: Cricket in Sri Lanka would just not be the same without Percy. He is an institution. He was waving his flag well before I made my Test debut back in 1997 and he was still waving it when I retired from Test cricket 17 years later. While he may have irritated a few of our opponents over the years, we have always respected him greatly and have been very appreciative of such loyal and passionate support. Thank you, Percy!
- Rohit Sharma: It’s truly been an honour knowing you since I first came to Sri Lanka in 2008. Your vast knowledge of cricket is incredible. You’re Sri Lankan cricket’s biggest supporter but you’re also an avid cricket fan. You love the game and that’s evident. There aren’t many people who can sit from morning till the last ball is bowled in support of your team no matter the situation on the field. Your songs and one liners keep the crowd and players entertained, specially me! Your zest for life is inspiring. May you continue to be like this for decades to come. The entire Indian team loves you.
- David Gower: Look after your voice – Sri Lanka needs it! Best wishes.
- Ian Smith: It is not whether you won or lost. But how much noise you made.
- Richard Hadlee: Many thanks for your support, friendship and fairness. (He gave his official tie to Percy as a Souvenir)
- Martin Crowe: To Percy Papadon (because he always makes noise); Sri Lanka on the bottom, New Zealand on top, Percy on sideline, says “whack it in, pop!!” Regards! you’re a beauty.(He gave two trophies to Percy as Souvenirs.)
- Rameez Raja: A great character and talker. Should stand for parliamentary elections. All the best!
- Sunil Gavaskar: the voice of Sri Lanka. May you continue to ‘boom’ and ‘bloom’ with Sri Lanka cricket . .
- Muttiah Muralitharan: Dearest Uncle Percy; Thank you for giving all the support for Sri Lankan cricket and all the best!
- Ravi Shastri: Dear Percy; Drink arrack. Look after the tone in your voice. Your country needs it better than you do.
Further information is also available here: https://www.facebook.com/PercyAbeysekera/
Percy’s antics on the field have sometimes caught the attention of the Police.
Cricket Writer Rex Clementine (2021) refers to an incident which took place in Tasmania: “Once Percy was arrested in Australia; for entering the field of play. Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist protested. ‘Don’t make this an international crisis,’”they warned. Percy has friends even in the Aussie dressing room.
Cops in Australia are hard-nosed. They apparently do not give too hoots about what their Prime Minister thinks when it comes to implementing the law. But the few hours that Percy spent with them made them realize that this was not an overenthusiastic cricket fan. This is someone who had seen Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey et al.
Percy then asked the cops whether they knew the best advice Vic Richardson, Australia’s former captain gave his grandson Ian Chappell. They said no. ‘If you ever get a chance to captain Australia, don’t do it like a Victorian.’ Now the arrest happened in the tiny city of Hobart in the small state of Tasmania. The cops actually were having a laugh that an outsider was taking a dig at a larger state. Percy knew the Aussie mentality.
He didn’t stop there. He quoted Shakespeare and Donne and the cops were overwhelmed. Not only was he let off without being charged, the cops were also seen taking pictures with Percy, an international icon.”
Cricket Writer, Elmo Rodrigopulle (2018) records an incident when Percy’s life was in danger: “There was a moment when Percy’s life was in danger. I was there at the Melbourne Cricket Ground covering the tour for the ‘Daily News’ and ‘Sunday Observer’. Percy led the cheering in Bay 13 with a packed Bay of Sri Lankan supporters, heckling Shane Warne and Mark Waugh who were alleged to have been involved in match fixing.
Unable to take the heckling the drunken Aussie louts in the adjoining Bay became furious and when things seemed to be getting out of hand the Police came up to Percy and escorted him out to prevent what could have been a nasty incident.
Revatha S. Silva describes an incident at the Colombo Oval in the 1970s: “Asitha Jayaweera, leading SL Under-19 against a touring Australian Under-19, was staging a fine match-saving knock in a three-dayer at the Oval. The Aussies by that time had earned the wrath of the cricket lovers here for sledging, calling the local players ‘short f…s’ and ‘black b….s.’
Percy, determined to teach a lesson to the unsavoury Aussies, made it to the middle to congratulate Jayaweera after he reached his fifty, and by doing so, intended to delay proceedings to help the hosts salvage a draw.
Unperturbed by a Police warning, maybe to enact the first-ever pitch invasion recorded at an international cricket match in Colombo, Percy played the fool in the middle for some minutes and then was caught by the Police and eventually ended in a cell at the Borella Police station, alongside notorious drug peddlers. He was bailed out by none other than the legendary Mahadevan Sathasivam. Percy was out of the Police station by eleven in the evening and he was accorded a hero’s welcome. Nearly a thousand had flocked to hail Percy outside the Police station for delaying the match, which the Lankan youths had eventually managed to draw with three wickets remaining.”
Percy Abeysekera’s love for cricket apparently began in 1948 as a 12-year old when he watched Donald Bradman & the Australian Team in action against an All Ceylon team. He followed this up by collecting pictures of well-known cricketers of the time which appeared in the daily papers, like other schoolboys of his age. He did play junior level cricket at school, but was also a part of the school’s cheering squad shouting slogans & encouraging the school’s senior team. However, he played cricket at mercantile level & captained the company cricket team. From there he continued his cheer-leading at club level & once Sri Lanka gained test status, he was able to unleash his full potential cheering the Sri Lankan team from then onwards up to now & carved out a niche for himself in the cricketing world. He has not failed to appreciate & applaud excellent performances by cricketers of opposing teams & thereby gained the goodwill of well-known cricketers of international repute.
Abeysekera Percy, Pitch Invasion
Clementine Rex, https://www.thepapare.com/on-those-men-who-will-never-get-to-the-hall-of-fame/
Clementine Rex, https://island.lk/uncle-percy-is-85-today/
De Silva Tilak, Reminiscing with Tilak,….
Epasinghe Premasara, Three Cheers for Cricket’s Percy,
Koshie Nihal, https://cricketique.live/2014/04/26/as-determined-as-sporting-as-fervent-an-indian-reading-of-sri-lankas-ardent-cheerleader-pissu-percy/