Chandra Schaffter, responding to a request from The Editor, Thuppahi** …. with the highlighting being the latter’s imposition
For obvious reasons, my association with hockey was not so important although I was possibly a better hockey played at national level, than I was at cricket. I started playing hockey at the age of 8 or 9, on the road with my father’s walking stick. We could not afford buy a hockey stick at that time. However, when I got a bit older, in school we had access to hockey sticks; but then war intervened and for 5-6 years from ’41 until ’46, I had no hockey at all, never touching a hockey stick.
When I went back to St. Thomas’ in ’46, I started playing hockey again and somehow, even though I had little or no hockey for about five years, I was taken into the 1st team. I played regularly for St. Thomas’. I progressed rapidly and we had one of the best teams beating several clubs as well in the late ‘40s.
In 1948, we had the Madras Presidentcy side visiting us and we were the only side to beat them. So one of us said “Why don’t we go to India” and so we did. We got together a team – not everybody in the 1st eleven, as some dropped out. Lassie Abeywardene came with us and so did our hockey master Mr. Weerasinghe. In 1948, passports or visas were not required, we just bought our tickets from the Fort station, went by train to Talaimannar, by boat to Dhanushodi and then by train to Madras, where we played a few matches. We then came back to Trichi, and played another match. We came back to Colombo – all by train. It was a wonderful trip, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, especially in the Moor Market, where there were several Sri Lankans having shops. They had only recently come back to India owing to the restrictions on Indians.
As time went on, by the time I was 21 or 22, I was playing for the Tamil Union, as one of their frontline players and by the time I was 23, I was playing for Sri Lanka, and went on tour to Bangalore and Chennai. I also played against the Pakistani National team. Such visits were few and far between, and my work at Carson Cumberbatch, which was a taskmaster in regard to employment, made it difficult for me to practice or represent Sri Lanka in hockey.
I was Secretary of the Hockey Federation for several years, from 1959-63, and was responsible for revising their constitution. I was a national selector also in the ‘60s and was Chairman in 1967. In ’73 and ’74 also I was chairman and then resigned over the national Sports Act.
I represented Mercantile Hockey Association in the nationals for several years. I was Vice President of the Mercantile Hockey Association in 68–71, and from ‘72 –‘ 76 I was the Vice Patron. I was a national selector in ’60–’62 and ’66, where I was chairman. Then again from ’72–’73 and in ’74, I resigned.
I managed Sri Lankan Hockey team’s tour of South and North India in 1971 and that was in itself an epic event. I should really not have gone as Manager, as the convention was for the Secretary to go. But William Mollegoda, the President, forced it upon me and so I took the team. None of us were well off, and the Hockey Federation hardly had any money to give us. I think we got some assistance from the organisers of the Nehru Tournament for which we were going.
We went by train to India, played some matches in Madras then went to Delhi again by train, which was crowded and some of our players spread newspapers on the floor of the train and slept. I was quite willing to do that myself but the players would not hear of it. We were well treated in Delhi and to the best of their ability, we were put up in a school but we had been used to hardships. In fact when we landed in Madras, the Madras Hockey Association put us up at the Nehru Stadium where we had to sleep on the cement terraces, with no sheets or pillows, and water/toilets were nearly 200 yards away. The Nehru Stadium was next to the Moor Market at that time. We did well in the tournament although we did not end up as winners but we had done so well, that we were asked to stay back and play a few more matches in Delhi, and then the Rajasthan Hockey Association invited us.
Again we went by train another few hundred miles to Rajasthan, and played some hockey there. We then went back to Chennai, for a few more matches and then back to Colombo. This was a great tour because we did it on a shoestring budget – in fact, the shoe-string itself was very short. But those were the great things about the games we played in those days when we did not have the luxuries of today. Sadly hockey is not played as much as it could. It is a game we [sri Lankans] are good at but unfortunately, unscrupulous officials thought more of themselves than of the game and we are now in the doldrums.
I played for the University as well in the year I was there. We beat practically every club and just missed winning the championship. St. Thomas had had an excellent hockey team and every member of the university was a Thomian except for the goal keeper Bandu Weeraratne, and the Captain Brian Forbes. As I said, we did very well beating every club.
** A NOTE from Michael Roberts, 31 March 2023
Chandra has penned this account at my request and I am well-pleased because the place of hockey in our sporting calendar has been eclipsed in recent decades. A good mind located within the central arena of Colombo needs to study this issue and work out reasons for this process as a historical issue pf some interest.
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