A tribute to a legend - Charles Wijewardena
On Sunday August 7, when I placed a wreath besides the coffin of our dear friend Charles Wijewardena, my memories took me back to the golden era of Police Rugby in the seventies and early eighties. Charlie and I were in the same team for nearly a decade and were equally close to being as families. The long years we spent in the Officers Mess during our playing days, gave us the opportunity to know each other very closely. Charlie was a humble, unassuming, pleasant, happy go lucky human being who was loved by everyone.

During our long association I hardly remember, a single occasion when Charlie was angry. He was a simple person, although a hero in our time, a brilliant ruggerite who was a household name in Sri Lanka during his days. He was any coach’s dream, who attended practices well in advance, prepared himself for training session and after the main training sessions was over, he would continue his individual training by kicking at goal from various angles and finally he will throw a challenge at us and bet us that he will kick at goal from 60 metres out. There" were many a times, practically every time, I have lost to him. Of course, the damage was only 5 Ice chocs.

Charlie can be identified as the best place kicker who graced the rugby fields of this country. I remember in 1978 how he put over a drop goal from 50 metres in the last few seconds against star studded Havelocks, to beat them 18-15. With the final whistle spectators invaded the field and Charlie was carried off on their shoulders straight to the Officers Mess bar counter where he was subjected to a cocktail bath.

The next day he received a personal note from the National Coach at that time, the late Mr. Kavan Rambukwella, stating that during his time he has never seen a Place Kicker of Charlie's ability and rated him as the finest place kicker this country has ever seen. He was identified as the man with magic in his boots. Some called him "King Charlie". No one has captured the imagination of the rugby public since his retirement. Although he was called by many names, for me as a team mate, he was "Mr. Reliable". But only we knew the difficulties he had to undergo to remain in the playing field. Because of his kicking ability, which was the nucleus of the Police team, every team that played against Police, their strategy was to try and maim Charlie. But he was too elusive to be imperiled by his opponents.

He was a very flexible player, whose skills were perfect. It is only we as team mates who knew as to why Charlie had to avoid tackles or being tackled. Charlie for most of his career carried a knee injury, which he sustained against the Army in the early seventies and you will be surprised to know that before every game, at least a bucket of fluid is drained out of his knee, as he had water in the knee, which was not cured until he retried from the game. Charlie was not a player who was scared of tackling or of being tackled, but it was very important to the Police team to keep Charlie out of contact as much as possible. For this the game plan was for the two wingers. Nazeeb and Preena to drop back and our third row of Rohan Gunaratne, Marasinghe Dharmakeerthi and myself to rush to Charlie in a flash whenever he was under pressure. But on this fateful day at Inuvil when the brutal murderers cornered this innocent man there was no one to help him.

Had I (STF) been around any where in the District, whatever the repercussions, we would have definitely rescued him. Charlie had proved beyond any doubt what a courageous and confident, committed person he was to have appeared before ruthless terrorists unarmed leaving his security personnel behind to de-escalate a volatile situation.

Charlie on and off the field was prepared to face any challenge without hesitation. On the field, whenever he placed the ball to kick at goal, majority of the spectators who support the opposition team, would make catcalls and continuously jeer, but Charlie had confidence in himself and with a simple touch of boot on ball he would perform some quite wondrous deeds for his team. He had this uncanny knack of kicking goals from almost anywhere in the playing field and to the team, sure as sunrise, he would post the points for them.

In the history of Sri Lanka Rugby, little have we realized that there isn't a player who has personally contributed over 1000 points for his team during his career. This is a unique record, which has gone unnoticed. Whatever his achievements, Charlie never spoke about his achievements and contribution to Police Rugby. Although he has sacrificed a lot for Police Sports except for the award as Police Sportsman of the year in 1979, the Department did not extend to him deserving recognition, unlike the present day Police sportsmen who are being lavishly rewarded with promotions, increments and cash rewards.
Charlie was an unsung hero of the Police.

He is one of the best or the most impact sportsmen Police has seen during the last century. His achievements are numerous, but the most important thing is how he conducted himself as a simple, unassuming person. Knowing Charlie for so long, the gruesome and cowardly murder of our amiable Charles Wijewardena will remain embedded with us forever. One wonders why a simple and innocent person like Charlie had to face such a brutal end to his colourful career.

Apart from a sportsman, Charlie was a very understanding lovable husband to Sriyani and a hero and idol to their children. Their family was a closely knitted unit and I personally know the difficult times that Sriyani had to undergo raising their family. Charlie was very humble, honest, loyal and a dedicated officer and his devotion towards his family was an example to many others in the Police Department.

- Nimal Lewke, Deputy Inspector General of Police and Commandant/STF


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