The Oldest and the Greatest: A reflection on the Bradby Shield and what it stands for

Image courtesy Trinity College website

History and tradition are great mentors. History assures us of who we are, and if we are brave enough, it can also teach us where we have failed or triumphed, behaved honourably or been disgraced. Tradition, for it to be useful, must be wisely chosen and morally crafted; because it is the conduit through which history’s best lessons flow down the ages. Great traditions are not always old, but the best ones are usually those that stand the test of time and like good wine, enhanced by age. Where it is not mistaken for blind ritual, tradition sets out an honour code on how we should behave as well as treat ourselves and others with dignity. As much as history and tradition helps chasten us and help preserve the integrity of our social fabric, they are also vulnerable to misinterpretation and exploitation. Sometimes, when history is ousted by myth and tradition is confused with petty ceremony, the manifest outcomes contradict every perception of who we really are and how we ought to behave.

There are historical facts that ground us in reality and historical fiction that deludes us. The often bandied about claim that the Bradby Shield encounter is the oldest schools rugby fixture in the world is – unfortunately – a delusion. In the possible absence of stronger contenders, the honour of playing the oldest rugby fixture – including alternating home and return legs – should belong to Edinburgh Academy and Merchiston Castle School in Scotland. Their claim to have played against each other annually without a break since 1857 remains unparalleled so far.

It should not sadden us Trinitians and Royalists however, to find out that our traditional encounter on the rugby field is not the oldest of its kind in the world, nor does it diminish the significance of the Bradby Shield in any way. Thanks to those who have worn the majestic red, gold & blue stripes and blue & yellow stripes with honour, we have a rightful claim to a proud history of playing the game and a great honour code associated with it.

A claim is also being made that the Bradby Shield is the “blue-ribbon event” in the Sri Lankan rugby circuit. Finding evidence for this claim is a much less strenuous undertaking. Even though each school is entitled to be proud of the long-standing sports fixtures they engage in against traditional rivals, perhaps none can match the fanfare and prestige associated with the Bradby Shield or the “Battle of the Blues” between Royal and S. Thomas’. With a return leg and two weeks of eager anticipation, jovial sledging and hype in between, perhaps the Bradby Shield edges out all others. I wonder whether it would take nothing short of a Cricket world-cup fixture to dislodge it from its pride of place in the entire Sri Lankan sports calendar!

Indeed every Royalist and Trinitian is entitled to a share of that pride and prestige, but it is important that we understand who has conferred that prestige to the event and what we have done – and must continue do – to be deserving partakers of it. It is not an honour that is inherent in the institutions we represent and to an even lesser extent in us as individuals. The prestige of the Bradby Shield that we share in – be it as players, school boys or alumni – is an honour bestowed on us by the sports loving public of Sri Lanka. Perhaps, over the years they have come to notice something special in the way we play the game, and the care with which Royalists and Trinitians have upheld the dignity of the event. They may have recognised in our traditions – values worth aspiring for and honouring. Therefore, as much as it gives us cause for great celebrations every year, taking part in the Bradby Shield also calls for some introspection and humility on our part.

We must understand that the pride of place occupied by the Bradby Shield encounter as a premier sports event in Sri Lanka is not ours to take for granted – but a privilege to be earned and renewed every year. In an era where games are broadcast to all corners of the country and indeed the globe on national television, the responsibility on players and spectators to uphold those values and to augment the traditions we all profess to honour have never been greater. Events that took place at the Royal Sports Complex two weeks ago and our collective response to it as Trinitians and Royalists so far – if they haven’t diminished the decorum that is associated with the event – have done little to preserve it.

Indeed the history of the event is strewn with many images and memories of noble sportsmanship. However, if we look closer and with rose-tinted glasses set aside, there has also been some measure of ignoble behaviour both on and off the field. There is no shame in acknowledging the truth – only cowardice in failing to do so. This week, we have a chance to mend what may have been strained and to reaffirm our commitment to upholding and handing on untarnished the better traditions of the great institutions we represent and love.

Dare I say that it is just a game after all! The result of this year’s Bradby cannot aspire to anything greater than being ‘memorable’. So it will be each year, as both camps fight it out for fresh memories of glory. There is glory in equal measure even in defeat as in victory. What draws us to the hallowed turf every year is something greater than the hope of a thrilling win. I am tempted to call it the spirit of the Bradby Shield, but I am afraid that any attempt to capture it in words would make it disappear altogether. There are some things that one man’s memory cannot contain. They can only exist in the collective memory and aspirations of a great crowd. I have heard it in the roaring echoes of Bogambara and felt it years ago, in the moving silence of supporters and rivals alike when a crucial kick at goal was lined up in the dying minutes of a game.

That long observed silence of even rival supporters when a kick is lined up has been a hallmark of the Bradby that set it apart from every other encounter in the season; but no more. Those were some of the treasures that were entrusted to us who bear the names of Trinity and Royal in our hearts. We may have squandered some, but let us resolve anew, to be worthy custodians of that legacy today, so that when the time comes for us to hand it on to the generations that follow, we may do so with competence and communicate to them without words, the great responsibility that comes attached to it. It is only then, and with the cheers that roll, that we may remember our own great days and jolly days with solemn pride.

  • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

    Actually, the title of the piece is misleading. The Bradby Shield isn’t even the oldest rugby fixture in Sri Lanka. It is the oldest concurrently held fixture. I believe oldest rugby fixture is for the LE Blaze Trophy between Wesley College, Colombo, and Kingswood College, Kandy.

    • Guest-Vihanga

      Dear Blacker, the Kingswood-Wesley fixture for the Blaze trophy was initiated in July 1986. The Bradby is older than the Blaze Trophy. Of course, Kingswood is the first school recorded as playing rugby in SL. According to Blaze’s records, the game was adopted in 1891. The first recorded inter-school fixture is recorded as being between Kingswood and Trinity in 1906.

  • ExRoyalist

    Cricket and rugby.. ah the passion, tradition and emotions. Colonials trying to live up to the standards and expectations of the empire. It’s not a story of pride, it’s a story of shameful aspiration, trying to be equal to or better than our ‘masters’. 60 years since independence, psychologically we still play to the tunes left behind by them. Come on guys, this is just a game, keep it if you want, just keep it in perspective.

    • http://citizenlk.wordpress.com citizen

      Every society and group needs an established value system ExRoyalist, and the Victorian values we have inherited from the British are very much part of our society – and will be for a long time to come – whether you and I like it or not.

      A significant fraction of those values are universal and one cannot wholly escape them, particularly if you are exposed to the English language. But yes, they are peculiarly ‘middle class’ values in Sri Lanka – probably because the middle class is almost entirely made up of those educated in any of the few ‘middle class’ schools such as Royal, S.thomas’, Trinity, St Josephs, St Peters, Ananda, Kingswood, Wesley, Bishops, Visakha, Ladies, HFC, SBC, Hillwood, Kandy Girls High School etc.

      If you are proposing that these ‘British’ values should be supplanted by an indigenous value system, you have to expend the intellectual effort of coherently defining what that alternative value system should be. Bashing the British and blaming our colonial past for present woes is just a lazy thing to do. As you say yourself, they left 60 years ago – get over it and get on with it!

      • ExRoyalist

        Dear citizen, I think you misunderstood. I was not bashing the British at all. They did a really good job of leaving behind a group of people aspiring to be British values – which was their intention. They did such a good job that we still look up to any ‘western’ foreigner, many people wear suits and ties in 40 degree heat and spend much time and effort on a sport where we will never be in the top 10 in the world.

        I don’t need to spell out an alternative value system – it has survived in Sri Lanka despite the aspiring middle classes. But I do think it is funny see people in a country with a 2500 year old history holding a 100 year old tradition introduced by foreigners in such high esteem. And it is not a cheap shot, I grew up in that environment with the same values.

      • http://citizenlk.wordpress.com citizen

        Fair point ExRoyalist. I thought you were advocating for ‘elle’ and ‘chak-gudu’ to replace Cricket and Rugby. Hmmmm…. (Between you and me though, I don’t think the Thomians will be much good for anything but ‘bada pinum’!)

        I don’t think we are Anglophiles all, but in as much as we think in words; those who speak English are influenced by the language and its literature. We are a mix and we have always been so even before colonial times. Even our names reflect this mix – the prevalence of Tamil, Sanskrit, Persian and Arabian names that we’ve made our own many centuries ago, and now we have Dutch and English. There is something in that mix which makes us Sri Lankans more cosmopolitan and culturally adaptive. We can choose to celebrate it. It is not so much that the British have left their baggage behind, but some of theirs have infused and cross pollinated and what we are left with is unique and quintessentially ours.

        Once we are at peace with this reality, and only then will we truly be free.

    • kadphises

      “… The colonised trying to live up to the standards and expectations of the empire….”

      Not only that. And failing missarably when the Bradby shield degenerates into the Stubbs shield! -a right royal punch up even those of us in Wanathamulla will be proud of. ..”Natives revert to type” as our masters used to say. Or “One can take the boy out of the bush but not the bush out of the boy..”

  • http://harendra.blogspot.com haren

    I am not the best at choosing titles David, but this was deliberatly chosen.

    ‘Oldest’ is a quantitative measure that is not so difficult to establish, and I have pointed out that the Bradby is not.

    ‘Greatest’ is a qualitative measure that can be contested, and the Bradby can aspire to be – if not remain.

    I am sure Wesley and Kingswood take pride in the fact you mentioned. Have any Trinitians laid claim to a share of that for the trophy being named after one of Trinity’s most illustrius students (the first University graduate that Trinity produced, who later founded Kingswood College)?

    • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

      Lol, Haren, why so prickly. I’m not trying to put down the Bradby or get into one of the usual [edited out]-measuring competitions over which school is better, that many Sri Lankans love ;) Just making an observation. I am quite aware that Blaze was an old Trinitian, and that the school he founded was the first to play rugby in this country.

    • siva nallaiah

      The words used “Blue-ribbon” to describe the imporatnce of the Bradby shield, I think is wrong. It is based on the term used to describe the most prestigious yacht or sail boat race which awards the winner the “Blue ribband” trophy.

      Siva N

      • http://harendra.blogspot.com haren

        Thanks for pointing that out Siva.
        However, if you check the Oxford dictionary, you will find that there is nothing wrong with the term as it is used in the article. :)

  • Bangsajaya

    What happened at RGC at the first leg was disgusting considering this was a Bradby.Being neither Royal nor Trinity I watcb rugby for what it . Trying to justify is the greatest insult.

  • Mithila Gunarata

    It does not matter whether or not, at the 1st Bradby the Refree was biased/TCK supporters alleglly got carried away/TCK Principal muttered audibly in Sinhala about his Team or BOTH SETS of supporters had fire under the belly after the match than before !

    What is important, is that at the Return Bradby and going forward the Rich & Time Honored Traditions of this “Great Rivalry “be played with the hearts out on the field AND the hearts and minds for each other BTW BOTH TEAMS & SUPPORTERS, WHICH I AM SURE MAY HAPPEN HOPEFULLY AS SANER COUNSEL MAY PREVAIL AGAINST THE THUGGERY DONE BY FEW & TARNISHING ALL .

    Long Live “The True Spirit Of Bradby” as exemplified before & hopefully not undone after the First and Totally Rejuvenated By The Return On & Off The Field !

  • shwimmer

    what happened at the 1st leg was unfortunate. It’s always ugly to see spectators get involved and it surely got out of hand which is pretty normal when you argue. And when your opposition counter argue, you get angry again which is quite normal. later things get heated up, the bigger, the stronger will get the best out of the other which is again quite normal if people surrounding them don’t try to break it off.

    Not only was the Referee “I support you hanky panky biased” he was a man on a mission.He removed the scrum half first, who obviously was the play maker and two heavy forwards which will reduce pack weight and gives his masters team a distinct advantage to play the brand of mauling Rugby they play best than anyone else on this island !

    This really did stretch me to think if interference was the way to handle the situation.. I guess YES !! It’s now or never they say….

    would you sit quiet when your school, your team, your son is being robbed of what they deserve in front of you.
    After all the sacrifices made,putting their tender bodies on line for years of practice sessions, coaching camps away from home loved ones even during school holidays, money spent on staff, equipment, stadiums.

    Would you let some scum-bag from no where, not from Royal or Trinity neither even from St Thomas come and destroy this Tradition we’ve kept alive for so long

    I THINK NOT !!

    • http://harendra.blogspot.com haren

      shwimmer, what kind of traditions are you fighting to ‘keep alive’?

  • http://msn Nugera

    The Trinity-Royal game is the oldest fixture, for a decade or so Royal gave up the game as they were not able to match Trinity, very few schools played rugby when Trinity was the lone school competing against clubs and University sides. When Royal returned to the game (following a successful tap-rugger game at Diyatalawa cadet competition) the ‘Bradby’ was awarded.

    Wesley started rugby much later and Kingswood gave it up a few years after starting, resurrected after so many dacades. Blaze was the man (teacher) who introduced the game to both Kingswood and Trinity. This is why the ‘Centenary game’ was played some years back between Trinity & Kingswood.

    Without Trinity, rugby would have died out in Sri Lanka as it would have remained one played by Europeans. It is also why we are the only South Asian country seriously following the game.

    Without Rugby school and very likely Webb Ellis (1823) there is no world rugby. So the oldest fixture has to involve Rugby school, UK.
    The first inter-school match was played between Cheltenham College and Rugby school, surprisingly the victors being Cheltenham College, still a prolific rugby school. Regardless of myth or fact, the ‘Webb Ellis Trophy’, is awarded at the ‘Rugby World Cup’.

    First played in 1864 the Clifton v Marlborough game lays claim to being the first inter-school Rugby fixture. The fixture continues today and the winning side is presented with the Governor’s Cup. The Cup was once a polo trophy of the Governor of Jamaica.

    Private schools (“public schools” in England and Wales) are widely credited with three key achievements in the creation of modern codes of football. First, the evidence suggests that, during the 16th century, they transformed the violent and chaotic but popular, “mob football” into organised team sports that were beneficial to schoolboys. Second, many early references to football in literature were recorded by people who had studied at these schools, showing they were familiar with the game. Finally, in the 19th century, former English public school students were the first to write down formal codes of rules in order to enable matches to be played between different schools. These versions of football rules were the basis of both the Cambridge Rules and subsequent rules of association football.

    The earliest specific reference to football (pila pedalis) at university comes in 1555 when it was outlawed at St John’s College, Oxford. Similar decrees followed shortly after at Cambridge University. During the early modern era students, former students and teachers at English public schools developed and wrote down the first codes of football, most notably the Eton College (1815) [1] and Aldenham school (1825)[1] football rules. The most well-known of these is Rugby football (1845). British public school football also directly influenced the rules of Association football. Thus, early ‘Football’ involved handling the ball. Football and Rugby split during 1890s.

  • http://citizenlk.wordpress.com citizen

    You are my adversary, but you are not my enemy.
    For your resistance gives me strength.
    Your will gives me courage.
    Your spirit ennobles me.
    And though I aim to defeat you,
    Should I succeed, I will not humiliate you.
    Instead, I will honour you.
    For without you, I am a lesser man.
    — “Opponent”, from Celebrate Humanity

  • http://msn Vikram Rajsingh

    Dear X-Royalist,

    But we are Venga boyz, from Lala land, with ‘Sinha’ myths.

    The Native has no place, now trying to hold on to the last patch of forest.

    So who are you to complain after going to Royal

    History is history, now is now, but we had great history way before; Ravan the great, Kuveni and her high-tech weaving…

    To be stuck at 2500 years is the ‘fair n lovely’ theory, the Aryan suremacy myth, cannot blame the Sudha for that.

    The problem is actually is with you fellows.

  • Dinesh Kulatunga.

    Dear David Blacker,I want to correct your comments…
    1)The oldest schools rugby encounter is between Trinity n Royal playing the game since year 1920 uninterrupted except the 2nd leg of 1971 in Kandy was not played due to youth insurgency.The sporting principal of Trinity the late Mr.Lionel Fernando handed over the coveted shield to Royal at Navarangahala due to Royal winning the 1st leg by 22-0.
    2)The oldest schools rugby encounter played for a shield or trophy is between Trinity n Royal playing the coveted Bradby shield since year 1945.
    3)The rugby was introduced to Kingswood in year 1893,the first school in Srilanka to do so and played the 1st schools game against Trinity in year 1906.After 1906 rugby at Kingswood had a sudden death and Kingswood played rugby again in 70’s or early 80’s.But they never played against more established schools like Trinity,Royal,St.Peters,St.Thomas,Joes,Wesley,SACK and Isipathana( Previously Greenlands college).Kingswood may have played in the ‘B’division.
    Trinity has been playing oval shape game since year 1906 uninterrupted and this is thier 106th year in the rugby field…
    4)The Glory years of Kingswood rugby commenced recently after year 2000 winning the Presidents trophy.
    5)Wesley took up the game in year 1956.
    6)The L.E.Blaze shield was introduced in year 1987 for the KCK vs.WC encounter.BUT alas it is not continued to date…In some years in between this encounter has not been played.
    7)So you can see L.E.Blaze shield was introduced much later 42-years after the coveted Bradby Shield was played in 1945.
    8)The greatest sport invented by the mankind was introduced to Srilankan schools as below with years.
    Kingswood-1893,
    Trinity-1906,
    Royal-1920,
    Zahira-1924,
    St.Peters-1932,
    St.Thomas’-1955,
    SJC-1956,
    Wesley-1956,
    SACK-Early Sixties,
    Isipathana( Then Greenlands college)-Early Sixties.

  • http://msn Nugera

    Well, them days when a Trinity player got assaulted they could not fight back; they get sacked or suspended.

    We even earned the admiration of some the rough n tough rugby schools.

    The last decades saw a few changes, when even the soldiers of Pallakalle Army were used by a past defense secretary’s son.

    However, considering the violence that had broken out in many leading school matches, some resulting even in death and cancellation of the fixture, this issue is not the norm, but something we all are trying to stamp out.

    The society’s values are no longer the same, and we emulate our leaders.

  • Don Quixote

    What a load of pompous balderdash and a whole lot of psuedo intellectuals trying to “add value” to this rubbish !

    • http://harendra.blogspot.com haren

      Welcome to the President’s Club Don Quixote. But I am sure you already feel quite at home!

  • Izza

    @Hare,Good write up Muchung!