Gampaha Sira — Best Dasher in South East Asia in the 1950s

‘Gahanna Aiya Pallena’ — Piyaratne

The date, month, year and time is still etched in my mind. It was 13th October, 1959, time 5.05 p.m. The venue of this unforgettable incident was the Government Services grounds, Parsons Road, now called Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha (adjoining the present People’s Bank, headquarters) and on the approach road to the Colombo Rowing Club.

I was covering the Indo-Sri Lanka Volleyball Test match for the ‘Dinamina’ and ‘Daily News’. While an undergraduate at the university, I was functioned as a freelance reporter. This was the best volleyball match I ever witnessed. It was electritying.

The entire ground, and the road adjoining the volleyball court was filled to capacity.

The Indo-Sri Lanka first volleyball Test began at 4.30 p.m. The chief guest was Ananda and University cricketer and the sports loving Lanka Samasamaja Party Leader, Dr. N. M. Perera.

The favourites, India, were given a good run by the Sri Lanka team. Undoubtedly, the most outstanding and energetic player was Sri Lankan skipper, W. L. Siriwardana. To assist him, (the passer), was his brother, W. L. Piyaratna. They were a fine combination.

From the start, it was a ding-dong battle.

There were three tall Indian players to cover the dash of W. L. Siriwardana. Cheering filled the air with shouts of "Hammer Sira," "Hammer Sira."

When Piyaratane passed the ball to his illustrious brother, he shouted "Gahanna Aiya Pallena." And whenever Sira got the opportunity of passing the ball to Piyaratne, he shouted; "Gahanna Malli Pallena."

Dr. N. M. Perera was really enjoying, cheering and seated on the edge of the seat and when Sira completed a powerful dash and scored, he jumped out of his seat, like a schoolboy and cheered.

In the first set, which was closely contested, India were leading 11-9. With the help of Jayasinghe, Piyaratne positioned the ball for Siriwardana. Sira went high up, like a rocket and positioned himself perfectly. With all his might, he hammered in a lightening dash. The Indian skipper, Bawa, did not have a ghost of a chance. Sira’s power-packed dash was venomous. The all powerful dash of Siriwardana hit Bawa in the face and he was floored. It was like a knock-out punch from Mohammed Ali. The Indian skipper was bleeding from his nose.

Bawa was rushed to hospital for medical treatment.

Volleyball is a game where opposing players hit a ball backwards and forwards over a high net, with their hands, without letting it touch the ground on their own side. It is a game beween two teams of six persons each.

Weliweriya Liyanage Siriwardana, (W. L. Siriwardana), who hails from the Gampaha District, is undoubtedly a household name in Sri Lanka. It is with gratitude that we mention that it was the late T. D. L. Charles, who made volleyball popular in the Gampaha District and elsewhere in the country. In short, during 1950-1970, Gampaha and volleyball were not two but one. Further, Charles, the ‘Volleyball Guru’, made volleyball the most popular sports discipline in the country. He captained the Sri Lanka volleyball team with distinction and brought credit, honour and glory to the country.

W. L. Siriwardana was born on June 19, 1938, at Ihalagama, Gampaha. His father was W. L. Carolis Perera and mother, K. A. Karalina. They had three children - Ariyawathie Perera, W. L. Siriwardana and W. L. Piyaratne. Both Sira and Piya had the distinction of captaining the Sri Lanka volleyball team, a rare feat.

W. L. Siriwardana studied at the Bandarwatta Parakrama Junior School. He started his volleyball career in the 1950s as a schoolboy. He was coached by K. A. Rajapaksa, a teacher attached to Bandarawatta Maha Vidyalaya. Under the captaincy of W. L. Siriwardana, they annexed the school championship title on two consecutive years. While he was playing for school, he represented a club named Nandana Volley Club in Ihalagama. While playing with the seniors, the ‘Maestro Charles’ saw him in action and he sent for Siriwardana through one of their ardent supporters, S. H. Jayatilake ‘Vedamahattaya’ of Gampaha. One day, he took Siriwardena to Charley and introduced him. "This is one of our boys." He was about 17 years at that time. He became a member of the Central Volleyball Club, Gampaha. The late Charles was Siriwardana’s mentor, philosopher and guide. He was a strict disciplinarian and he was a clerk attached to the Police Department.

Gampaha Central can be considered as a landmark in the history of volleyball in Sri Lanka. It was started in 1950 by T. D. L. Charles. Some of the inaugural members of the Central VBC were the famous J. P. Suriyapperuma, R. A. Abeyratne and ‘Setter’ H. C. Alfred. With the formation of the Gampaha Central Volleyball Club, volleyball become very popular in Sri Lanka in the 1950s.

W. L. Siriwardana won his ‘Ceylon Cap’ in 1954, when he played against an All-India volleyball Team. He was in his teens at that time. This match was played in Colombo. Sira was the baby of the side. He played alongside such famous players like L. A. D. Premaratne (John Bosco), Batho Dematagoda, Joe Rupasinghe (Kelani Valley), W. Wijesuriya, (Sinhala SC - Trincomalee), Camillus Anthony (Judella S.C.) Jayasekera (Lucky Six - Potupitiya), Lennie Jayakody, R. Ratnapala and Gamini Samarasinghe (Minuwangoda Central).

In the 1959 South East Asian Volleyball Championship held in Karachi, Pakistan, W. L. Siriwardana won the Best Player’s Award and the President Ayub Khan Gold medal for the Best Dasher.

The Sri Lanka team was skippered by T. D. L. Charles. The other members were Lennie Jayakody (Vice Captain), Jackson Senaratne (Sports Editor Janatha, Dawasa and Attha newspapers) V. H. Jayasekera and W. L. Siriwardane.

Undoubtedly, this unassuming, outstanding volleyball player W. L. Siriwardane is one of the best volleyball players that has Sri Lanka produced.

After retiring from the game, he became a volleyball administrator and a volleyball referee.

A gentleman to the core and a great player, Sira and Gampaha are inseparatable.

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