The one and only one-man cheer squad for SL cricket is no more. His noble service to SL cricket I feel is taken for granted. No one knew his value until he passed away. I may take this opportunity to thank the founder Sports INFO – Thilan and the 96 World Cup winning captain and Roshan Mahanama for attending the funeral of beloved Percy Abeysekara. I had to live in Sri Lanka for 36 years to finally meet him and that was the day I joined ACL Cables as General Manager Marketing. The first thing he told me when I started by first day at work was that Chairman Upali Madanayaka is a proud Anandian, and that the Chairman and he were 82 years of age. All this brought back childhood memories of seeing a man on TV carrying a Sri Lankan flag, running from one end to the other end of the ground.
Ever since our first exchange, he made it a habit to meet me at least once a day, staying in my company for no less than five minutes sharing his golden memories. I quickly came to the conclusion that this tale ought to live to be 100 years old. I wanted to give him something special to wish him on his special day as his birthday drew near. On his birthday, I wanted to give this national icon a surprise. I was looking for someone to assist me in planning the surprise party. The current Managing Director of ACL Group, Suren Madanayaka, gladly agreed to my suggestion and gave it the go-ahead. I decided to take on the task of planning a surprise party devoid of booze as well as making sure Uncle Percy would truly be surprised on his birthday. On his 82nd birthday, we organized a surprise birthday party for him and I must thank the chairman ACL Cables – Mr. Gotabhaya Madanayaka, the first in Sri Lanka to begin cable manufacturing in 1962 where Percy was one of the first few employees.
Not forgetting to mention Suren Madanayaka, the current managing director of ACL Cables who supported me with my initiative. I owe a debt of gratitude to the world cup winning captain Arjuna Ranathunga, Roshan Manahana, Hashan Thilakarathna, Apasari Thilakarathna, Centigrade crew, Brandon Kuruppu, Sidath Weththamuni, Dinesh Chandimal, etc who joined with the ACL staff in tributing and felicitating Percy for his noble work. I vividly recall the imaginative memento from Anuradha Ceramics that said, "82 not out, go for 100." He always had an abundance of happiness and good health from everyone who had come to celebrate. In his trademark manner, Uncle Percy continued to reminisce about his fond memories of cricket and cricketing greats.
I was thrilled that he was moved by the Chairman, MD, Arjuna, and all of the other cricket players in addition to his family, which included his daughter Nadeesha Abeysekara and son Sampath Abeysekara. Sharing below are some of his authentic thoughts in his own words. I’m glad that I could bring a smile to this legend when he was alive along with his family and my friends. I’m sure he will be born back in Sri Lanka to carry the flag till Sri Lankan cricket gets back on its feet again. May this be a tribute to our unsung hero. Thoughts of a legend… I have long desired to tell my story of fun and fame, history and hysterics, legends and legacies without any compromise.
My story runs as far back as to the times of the British colonial era of the island. Sri Lanka, no doubt, is renowned for its Ceylon Tea, aromatic cinnamon, natural beauty and more so for its cricket. But little do many know the arduous uphill battle that finally placed the name of this beautiful island among the giants in the cricket world. The little island did not gain the fame for the game overnight. We have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Like a proud great grandfather, I have seen it all—Sri Lanka’s jubilant rise from zero to hero.
And perhaps it was a tug-war to claim the place Sri Lankan cricket rightfully deserved. It is such a privilege to be an eyewi tness to almost all the victories and defeats of Sri Lankan cricket. I was not a mere spectator, but part of a journey of many decades. I have been lucky enough to see and meet the cre?me de la cre?me of the cricket world, from Sir Don Bradman to Sanath Jayasuriya, from C I Gunesekara to Mahadevan Sathasivam, from the three Ws; Worrell, Weekes, Walcott to Ramadhin and Valentine. To date, I have watched more than a thousand matches live. Often times you have seen me as the man who fiercely waves the Lion flag and cheers our cricketers.
And some assume that I am a lunatic craving attention. Yes, Percy is cricket crazy, but how many of you really knew about the magnitude of my cricket craze? The struggles and hardships I went through all of this time to stand for my motherland? If not for my gut and ardour, I would not have withstood the formidable hurdles I faced throughout my cheering career—from death threats to jail sentences and gross slur. I did not want to just watch cricket, I wanted to connect with it. I have left everything behind and decided to live and breathe Sri Lankan cricket. In cricket, things do change with the flick of a finger. Win or lose, you have to embrace it graciously. Only a love of a lifetime could delicately hold the hand of the game until the daylight slowly streaks across the sky.
This mad love for cricket and my country, is a lifelong commitment. Even before I took the hand of Meloney, my late wife, I was already married to cricket—to have and to hold, for better or for worse. Invigorated by my unending love and unfading passion for cricket, I have travelled great distances across the world chasing the beloved bat and ball, from the humble Oval in rather scruffy Wanathamulla to the majestic Lord’s stadium— the mecca of cricket in the United Kingdom. Sometimes my voice became raspy from days of non-stop cheering. Long before my presence right next to the boundary line became an accepted and anticipated norm, I had to win many a war.
Not to mention the fact that I was a lightning rod for constant criticism. Decades ago, cheerleading was not a familiar spectacle at a cricket match. Even the English team’s Barmy Army came into existence years after I started my cheering career. All alone, I have redefined the art of cheerleading, which was otherwise dominated by the fairer sex with their charming performances on the side-line. I am happy to have inspired many fans world over. Pakistani cheerleader Sufi Abdul, famously known as Chacha Cricket, once said that he would like to be like me. I have cheered Sri Lanka for three decades without the flag and a further three decades with the flag. “Uncle Percy is the one man cheering squad”, they say.
But, I wish every Sri Lankan would come forth as one single nation in the name of Sri Lankan cricket to form a massive cheering squad not only to cheer on our lions, but also to cheer for a brighter and better Sri Lanka. At 83, I am a grand old man, as many say. But cheering never gets old for me. I still do and will continue to do the same as long as my body and limbs carry me to the grounds our boys play on. Today, my heart flutters with an enormous sense of pride and selfsatisfaction when I am called “Sri Lanka’s most devout cheer leader”, which is also the only gain of this rather unconventional profession of mine. So, here is my story beyond satirical jibes, anecdotes, hilarious ditties, daring pitch invasions and honour escorts.
My love for cricket will never die until my end. Play fair. Cheer the victor. Honour the vanquished!
July 30, 2019