Colombo FC v Cooray SC, Saturday 10th March 2018, 4pm

Whilst the initial reason for the Sri Lanka trip had been the T20 international between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, there was no way that I could pass up an attempt to add to the list of countries where I’ve watched a football game.

The problem, however, was that the Sri Lanka Premier League season had finished a few weeks earlier. After a lot of effort, I managed to discover that a pre-season, or perhaps post-season, tournament known as the President Cup would have a fixture during our stay. The game between Colombo and Cooray was scheduled to take place at the City League football ground, a venue that wasn’t too far from our Fort area hotel.

Early that morning we went for a wander along the seafront with the intention of finding the ground. No such luck. We did however see a bit of wildlife and as we passed over a bridge we startled a three-foot long water monitor. It was just as well that we did startle it as it appeared to have plans for crossing a busy road. I see enough monitor corpses on the tarmac in Malaysia to know that they have as little road sense as a kid hearing ice cream chimes and our intervention probably extended its life by at least the ten minutes that we stood between it and the road.

We also saw pelicans that were perched, usually in pairs, on street lights. I know it’s not like seeing them in a nature reserve, but I suppose they will view it as their natural habitat.

Best of all though, were a couple of cobras. Sadly not just slithering around or spitting at passers-by but in a basket, craning their necks as a snake charmer piped them upwards. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing and before long Mr. Charmer was explaining that the snakes did not have any venom in them. I’ve no idea how that works, whether they are milked of their poison or whether there is a more permanent solution.

I probably don’t want to know either, I suppose, as I doubt it’s something that is in the best interest of the snakes. Anyway, we hung around long enough for him to produce a python from a sack which he draped around my neck and by doing so increased his tip to a fiver. You don’t see stuff like that at Seaton seafront.

As game time came around we decided to increase our chances of getting there by taking a tuk-tuk. The driver claimed to know the venue and despite my doubts as to his geographical knowledge or his ability to resist a detour to a magic carpet shop he successfully delivered us to the City League Ground in good time.

We went in at the gate next to the pavilion and were sold 200 rupee tickets for upstairs seats behind the goal. This was the posh section and as we wandered around it looked as if our ninety pence admission might also have got us a cup of tea and a chapati. The pavilion had been built, or at least paid for, by the chairperson of Basel FC as part of the tsunami relief effort.  That struck me as a very generous gesture and undoubted proof that there’s no such thing as karma, otherwise I’d have expected Massimo’s last minute header in that semi final to have been glanced wide rather than powered into the net

However, the view from the pavilion was through some wire fencing. Perhaps the posh people of Colombo have a fear of being struck by a Rochemback style free-kick. I’m happy to risk a smack in the chops though for a clearer view and so we gave up the chance of food and drink and moved to the 50 rupee seats along the side of the pitch where I could peer over the top of the fence.

The pitch was in a bad way after the mid-afternoon rain and kick-off was delayed by twenty minutes to enable kids to mop up puddles whilst other people re-painted the lines. A few fellas had large sponges which they would use to soak up the water before re-depositing it five yards away, no doubt for the next bloke to deal with.

Once this group-stage tie got underway Colombo, the current league champions, looked a little better than their opponents Cooray, although I’m not sure how many first teamers were on show. A couple of the subs looked to be lacking fitness, so perhaps this tournament was a chance for some squad rotation. The wife and daughter of one sub were sat next to us so I was pleased for them when he got on.

I wasn’t expecting the standards of play to be up to much, despite these both being teams from the top division in the country. However, everyone passed the ball well on an unfavourable surface and I think the clubs would probably do well against, say, Northern league teams. Neither side had the big stoppers that you tend to see in that league but with the ball rarely in the air being built like a brick shithouse may not have been much of an advantage.

Colombo took the lead in the first half and then doubled their lead with a penalty in the second. The twenty minute delay in starting due to the water mopping meant that we had to head off with ten minutes remaining to get to the cricket game we had lined up for that evening.

By the time we left it was very dark and with no floodlights available I doubt the ref would have played much additional time. A subsequent check to find out the score turned out to be a complete waste of time as it seems that the group stages of the President Cup isn’t remotely newsworthy in Sri Lanka.

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