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Royal Thomian Match Stories and memories of the greatest match ever

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Old 12-08-11, 06:17 PM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Win or lose we booze

Win or lose we booze

By Mithraka Fernando

When I was in Upper 3rd my parents finally had enough confidence to send me to the Royal Thomian cricket match. Until then I had to be content with sitting by the big radio at home listening to the incomparable commentaries by Bertie Wijesinha and Lucien de Zoysa. Waving a tiny blue black and blue flag at the Boy’s Tent the only recollection of my first Royal Thomian in 1973 was the antics of an old boy in ‘high spirits’ who while walking past the Boy’s Tent taunted us by repeating the slogan “win or lose WE booze” with the stressed word “we” accompanied by his forefinger vigorously pointing towards his chest.

Winning or losing at a Royal Thomian however was an experience my classmates in the “OL Class of 78” never experienced whilst at College. Every single big match during the period 1970 to 1981 ended in a draw. However it was not the spate of drawn matches but the fact that we were schoolboys which resulted in us not being able to booze, having to be content with Elephant House ice palams. These exotic red popsicles without the stick came in triangular green cardboard boxes, with two open ends through which the finger had to be inserted to push the iced bliss in to the mouth.

The fun and frolic leading to the Royal Thomian was part and parcel of the grand event. Around early February the seniors ruling the upstairs of the red CTB double decker school bus plying between Panadura and STC used to decree that only boys with college flags would be allowed to come upstairs. For over a month going to school and returning by bus was the much looked forward to highlight of the day. The fun filled carnival atmosphere with all the college flags fluttering and dancing in the breeze outside the windows of the double decker bus was indeed exhilarating. The lover’s seat and the rear portion of the bus would be the focal point for the vocals with unending songs backed by relentless clapping, drumming and a cacophony of sound adding to the thrilling effect.

Why do Thomians young and old and Royalists blue and gold return year after year presumably to witness the Royal Thomian? I am sure it is not to see 22 schoolboys hammering and chasing a ball around the park. Frankly I have to admit that sometimes I do not even know the name of the Thomian captain. If a survey is conducted among all old boys at the end of each day’s play to find out what the day’s score was, I am sure the results would indicate that the majority of those surveyed are either suffering from insomnia or that they do not know a ‘ball’ about cricket.

Different people are enamored by the Royal Thomian for different reasons. Boys in their teens and young old boys love the possibilities of romance which can be kindled at the match. This naïve segment of young bucks little realizes the imminent dangers. Catches may win matches in cricket but hatches at the match may well end up in marriage and its inevitable consequences. Girls in all shapes and sizes personified as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, girlfriends or friends undoubtedly add glamour and excitement but caveat emptor; the Royal Thomian may lead to marriage.

Why is the Royal Thomian so alluring to married men? It takes us back to happier times prior to tying the knot and losing our independence. Paradoxically the desire to celebrate the good times while at the same time to drown ones sorrows in liters of liquid are both possible to achieve simultaneously at a Royal Thomian. The opportunity to reminisce the good old days, speculating on the glorious “what ifs” in an atmosphere where exaggerations and outright lies are fair game might be one plausible reason for the avid consumption of rivers of alcohol that pour in to Maitland Crescent in mid March each year. When the Bard of Avon warned us to beware the Ides of March, was he thinking of the perils that generations of Thomians and Royalists would encounter at the Battle of the Blues? Your guess is as good as mine.

During my school days an old Thomian who had imbibed deeply from the well of knowledge at a prestigious British university and was a teacher at STC for a short while was rumoured to have attended the big match with a copy of “The History of the British Monarchy”. He had apparently read the book throughout the match pausing only to glance up when a boundary was scored or a wicket fell. I am sure this gentleman too would have had no idea of the score at the end of each day’s play.

The 100th Battle of the Blues in 1979 is remembered by many for the epic battle and heroics of Halangoda and Richards. As for me I remember the match for more reasons than one. My friends and I who had organized a truck for the historic occasion ended up at the Bambalapitiya police station bright and early. We had apparently fallen foul of the law for covering the number plate with a Thomian flag. All of us had to console ourselves by listening to the opening ceremony from a tiny transistor radio. This was the era before CDs, internet, mobile phones, iPods and even Walkmans.

As television was introduced to Sri Lanka only in 1978 it was still a novelty when the centenary match was played one year later. On the final day one of my dear friends came to the match sporting a trendy t-shirt which said ‘TV is not for Television but for a Thomian Victory. After lunch STC was in deep trouble with a resounding defeat looming in the horizon. During tea time my friend had somehow managed to cover his t-shirt with a borrowed denim jacket. Discretion they say is the better part of valour. However after Halan and Richards bravely defended the onslaught of the marauding Royalists and redeemed the match, my friend was once again parading around proudly with his TV for a Thomian Victory t-shirt now in full view. What a comeback!

As a young lad I must confess to being quite envious of the Royal battle cry R-O-Y-A-L – ROYAL for which we didn’t have a potent counter. Those days the term ‘Thora’ was used by Royalists as a form of insult: Thora Maalu (Seer fish) and the school by the sea. Amazingly ‘Thora’ has transformed itself from an insult to a resounding battle cry especially at rugby matches where you hear the incessant chant ‘Thora, Thora’ which can drown the ‘raw yell’ of Royalists any day. I may be obviously biased but I am convinced that our college song is streets ahead of the Royal anthem in terms of the gusto with which it can be sung.

The Royal Thomian nowadays is quite peaceful compared to a few decades ago when flicked flags, cheers and jeers frequently led to full scale brawls even between schoolboys. I remember a 3 meter high iron mesh separating the Royal and STC Boy’s Tents to keep the warring factions at bay. My group of friends once had a harrowing experience when we ran head-on in to a nasty Royal juggernaut at Independence Avenue. The result was a lost gold chain and a cracked brow on our side. We were hopelessly outnumbered 50 to 10, the same ratio prevalent in the Boy’s Tent. When it came to maintaining discipline at the big match the giant Police Inspector Gafoor was peerless. Love him or hate him Gafoor was able to maintain order and discipline merely by giving a stern stare or in extreme cases by physically lifting a schoolboy off his feet. Gafoor was particularly peeved with any obstinate brat who would take his own cool time to return to the tent when play had resumed.

The highlight of the match for many schoolboys as well as old boys is the walk around the grounds during the breaks. For the young this is an ideal opportunity to scout for talent and make the first move. For us it a time to catch up with old friend in different tents some of whom we meet only once a year at the big match. An added bonus once in a way is meeting an old flame or crush who is now someone else’s wife. The fact that many of our wives prefer shopping to the Royal Thomian gives us a small breather from the rigours of marriage. Lately however being held responsible by the dearly beloved for two Thomian sons at the big match has made my freedom a bit more restrictive.

The essence of the Battle of the Blues in my opinion is that regardless of what happens in the middle “being there” is what is important. Would you believe that the Royal Thomian in some years actually makes its faithful followers more religious? Whenever a match is poised to end on the second day, every imaginable god is approached and inundated with prayers, pleas and vows to intervene and allow even one ball to be bowled on the final day of the match. With apologies to the Bard of Avon “to be or not to be” is never a question asked by generations of old boys of both schools who would not miss a Royal Thomian for anything in the world. For ‘being there’ and having fun whether by imbibing in knowledge or otherwise, singing the college song for the hundredth time or meeting friends, renewing friendships and building lasting relationships is all that matters.

Esto Perpetua
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