The Ceylon Sports Club (CSC) came into being in 1928, reconstituted from the Lanka Union founded by some Ceylonese students in 1920. The clubhouse was dynamited during World War II but was rebuilt after the war. Over the years, several renovations have been carried out and new services have been introduced to reach out to members.
Ceylonese Migration to Singapore
Turnbull (1977) wrote that Singapore’s rapidly expanding economy attracted a growing number of immigrants in the 19th century and among them were the Ceylonese. However, the Ceylonese migrated to Malaya, including Singapore, in good numbers only in the early 20th century. According to Raja Singam (1968), the number of Ceylonese in Singapore totalled 1,650 in 1931. This is one of the earliest population numbers obtained regarding the Ceylonese here.
Formation of Lanka Union
The Lanka Union was founded in January 1920 by a group of students from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) who were studying at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. They believed there was a need for a united Ceylonese body for the promotion of sport, in particular cricket and soccer. The word “Union” was adopted mainly because they wanted the name to stand for a united body of all groups of Ceylonese students in Singapore, namely, Burghers, Sinhalese, Tamils and Moors.
The Lanka Union had no official premises and used the Lanka Dispensary at Serangoon Road as its office. The main sports of the Union were cricket and soccer as many of the Ceylonese had a penchant for these two sports. The Union held their sporting events on the Padang until 1922, when it leased a piece of land at Balestier Plain at the junction of Balestier Road and Moulmein Road with the help of the Assistant Controller of Labour. Members erected a small shed which served as a clubhouse and the gardener’s quarters.
In 1924, a turf wicket and a practice pitch were laid with the help of a prominent Ceylonese cricketer, Dr J. A. Scharenguival. In spite of his fame and repute as a Malayan cricketer, Scharenguival preferred to associate himself with the Lanka Union. His association with the Union helped put it on the cricketing map of Singapore.
Establishment of Ceylon Sports Club
After some years, the members opined that Lanka Union was not necessarily the best name for the association. They then decided to dissolve the Union and reconstitute it into the Ceylon Sports Club. On 1 June 1928, the Ceylon Sports Club was registered.
The Club recognised the need for a new clubhouse as the shed was not a permanent structure. The whole of Balestier Plain was meant to be an emergency landing ground for aeroplanes and semi-permanent buildings like the shed were not allowed. So, funds were raised and a proper clubhouse was erected in April 1930.
World War II
In the second half of 1941, the British received news that the Japanese were advancing towards Singapore. The British army had stored drums of petrol in the CSC clubhouse and decided to destroy it as a defensive action. On 14 February 1942, the clubhouse was dynamited – a day before Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February.
During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese built their military barracks on the site and the entire field became overgrown with vegetables, tapioca, sweet potato, banana trees and other food plants to cope with the scarcity of food. After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, members returned to the site and restored the field as it was badly damaged. It took them four years until 1949 to make it conducive for sports once more.
By 1951, membership had increased and the Club was doing well at cricket and hockey. That year, it launched an ambitious funding campaign to rebuild the clubhouse. By the end of September 1951, more than $48,000 had been raised. On 13 October 1951, the first Prime Minister of Ceylon, D. S. Senanayake, laid the foundation stone. Two and a half years later, on 13 April 1954, the new permanent premises for the Club were finally completed and officially opened by then British Commissioner Sir Malcolm MacDonald. Until then, an attap shed had served as a temporary clubhouse. With the introduction of jackpot machines, the Club’s coffers improved substantially through to the 1960s.
Upgrading of Facilities and Services
The 1970s and 1980s witnessed several renovations to the clubhouse. In 1986/1987, a new tennis court was built and the entire clubhouse was renovated at a cost amounting to slightly less than $200,000. On 14 November 1987, a grand opening ceremony was held and S. Rajaratnam, then Senior Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, was the guest of honour.
In the 1990s, the Club expanded its services to reach out to its members, especially its younger members, with a new children’s playground, an Annual Scholarship Award and the Mentor Programme. It also introduced the CSC VISA Card and launched its own website (www.cscsingapore.org.sg). The aim of the website was to make the Club more accessible to members and all those who wanted to obtain information about the Club.