It’s that time of the year again; for cricket, testosterone, drunken escapades, and adult males enjoying schoolboy behaviour a little too much.
The Big Match season is upon us and Sri Lanka’s most prominent boys’ schools are going head to head at cricket matches not a lot of the attendees will recall in a week’s time when all this is over. They will also consume unholy quantities of arrack, successfully meeting the alcohol quota for the annual gross domestic product (GDP).
We’ve all seen or heard the stories of history proudly learned and recited at any given opportunity, and amongst these proud sporting events is by far the most well known subculture of them all – the RoyTho, that is the annual cricket encounter between S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia and Royal College, Colombo.
The RoyTho is inescapable in a country where your school means a lot more than it actually should. Royalists and Thomians really take the cake as they ride their schools’ names to the ends of the earth. We’ve all met at least one insufferable Royalist or Thomian declaring their school’s undisputed greatness and how they, as the simple result of being from said school, are inarguably the best.
However, despite our somewhat amused take on school “boys” and their strange adoration of an alma mater they left decades – maybe 20 or even 50 years ago – amidst what we can excuse as schoolboy shenanigans, is of course deep-rooted traditions followed reverently by all and an unbreakable bond they all seem to share – that of loyalty, trust, and family.
While many an outsider has made the forage in to the mystical world of the RoyTho to explore its hidden depths, we could never truly feel the same experience a schoolboy or an old boy has at their big match; all that we can do is anthologise their experiences and hopefully shed some light on why this cricket match and annual get together means so much to these boys.
To begin with, we reached out to some old boys who actually played in the first 11. Mevantha De Silva from S. Thomas’, who played for his school in 2011, shared the experience of being a part of the team. According to Mevantha, once confirmed by their Royalist first 11 player Milan Abeysekera, the team players were not allowed to take part in one of the more public traditions of the Big Match – trucking.
And so, as was expected, some of the more fond memories came from the only occasions they were actually allowed to, i.e. just before they joined the team.
Mevantha said that contrary to popular belief, most of the girls’ schools were very welcoming of the “intrusion” and more often than not, the boys walk in (excluding Holy Family Convent [HFC] which he said is apparently a fortress), sing their school song, and maybe in the older days go from classroom to classroom for a hat collection and make an orderly exit through the back door, as the cops are waiting outside.
Milan, who played for the first 11 and was the Vice Captain in 2013 – the year so tenderly remembered by Royalists as the year they won after many, many years of drawing – shared a similar story expressing that the goal is ideally to go trucking in the morning, not get caught, and make it in time for the cycle parade later on.
However, Milan unfortunately was one of those who actually did get caught and he recalled, strangely in the fondest of ways, how he waited at the Cinnamon Gardens Police in remand for three hours until his father came to get him out.
About the cricket itself Milan shared that being in the team felt like something he could never truly put into words, and the feeling of winning was even more inexplicable. About the days leading up to their win, Milan said: “There was heavy rain in the first two days and everyone had already given up declaring it a draw, but the night before the final day, all 17 of us gathered at the top of the J.R. Jayewardene pavilion in school and had our final team meeting.” This meeting, he said, was where they resolved, while in tears, that under no circumstances whatsoever were they to accept defeat, and true to their promise, the group went on to win the match.
The boys remain close to this day, although they’ve lost Poorna Aluthge, who passed away in 2016; the team has continued to meet on 9 March to celebrate their win every year without fail.
This bond between brothers is something echoed by just about all the boys we spoke to.
“Once a Royalist, always a Royalist,” said Zimry, who shared that he experienced the Big Match once as an outsider and later as a schoolboy and the feeling he had was something he couldn’t explain. He said the welcoming nature of one’s schoolmates and the sense of camaraderie are incomparable.
He shared that one year after the match, he and a few of his batch mates went out for dinner and while at the restaurant, an old Royalist who happened to pass by ended up sponsoring their entire meal on a whim. “It’s more than a match; there’s this spirit there, where you feel that you are one unit,” he said.
Not everyone’s experiences are as wholesome of course, as there were some bat excrement-level insane stories shared by a few that we couldn’t possibly put into print.
However, a few mellower stories include an anonymous Thomian who shared that one time, while inebriated with a group the night before the Big Match, somebody had the bright idea of urinating into bags and hurling them at far-too-happy-looking Royalists heading to the match the next day. Although, the real kicker is that the genius who was throwing the bags got a little too excited and ended up chucking one out of the window of the vehicle in which they were travelling, only to find the window to be shut! The result? Stale urine bathing everyone inside and teaching them all a lesson in justice.
Most of the RoyTho stories tend to start with, “so we got totally hammered…”, considering that afterall, that’s when all the bright ideas flow through.
When you talk to these Royalists and Thomians, one feels quite envious of this experience they share, that we as outsiders would never have. However, that is the beauty of tradition and culture, and the RoyTho has carved for itself a small part of our world.
While for us as spectators, blue-gold flags against blue-black streaks and excessive levels of pageantry could be an unfortunate or maybe even fortunate by-product of boys’ schools in the month of March, it will always be a big part of some of these boys’ lives.