Ben Bowra: My Window to the World

Ben Bowra Riddle

During the second transfer window this year, we signed four new players—Tish, Yao, Ben, and Paeng. I’ve known Yao since 2012 because, once upon a time, we worked at Global, and it’s nice to have him on my team. Paeng graduated from our academy, while Paul introduced me to Tish when he arrived, so I’ve been made familiar with them. As for Ben, I’d seen him around when Coach Adam was still our coach—I would even call him Bearded Louis Clark in my head—but never got the chance to properly meet him in person. One match day, while I was texting Juani to find me at Rizal Memorial Stadium, I saw Bearded Louis and the real Louis in the stands. Louis introduced me to Bearded Louis, and as my favorite and now most hated cliché goes, the rest is history. I actually forgot that I was playing hide-and-seek with Juani. I hope he’s stopped looking for me!

If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that people here don’t know Ben Bowra the way I do. People don’t even know that we’re friends. Well, now you know! Unfortunately, Ben is not here in the Philippines anymore. He’s probably climbing mountains or moving them—or is back to playing football in England. This blog entry is not related to Kaya or work but instead is a proper tribute to Ben, my friend and my window to the world. People offer us windows into different worlds, and Ben brought glorious Technicolor to my dull-as-dishwater life. He showed me the world from his eyes so I would go out there, take risks, and explore the world through my own lens. I’ve written tributes in the past, and here I am again, back with another one.

In the two short months that I’d known Ben, every moment was an opportunity to learn something new from him about the world and myself. I guess it helps that he is a seasoned traveler and was a teacher, and I was hungry for stories and adventures. He’s been to different places and countries. He said the number of countries he’s been to (currently 34 or 36) should always be higher than his age (currently 28). Not to compare or make myself feel bad, but I can still count the countries I’ve been to with just one hand. I usually read books and rely on my imagination to take me somewhere else without leaving where I am. Ben reads books, sure, but he doesn’t need to read about extraordinary people or exciting places because he always finds them. He creates excitement for himself. But believe it or not, football, our stories, and our obvious differences connected us. I want to share the top three things I learned from Ben.

Acceptance. I would always give Ben a disclaimer about myself because people are sometimes taken aback, but he would never put me down or judge me. For instance, I told him I’m not spontaneous and I plan everything, but he said, “Don’t be silly. I like it!” I was taken aback! It was always like that with Ben. I’d tell him something people often find weird about me, but he never criticized me. It’s quite refreshing to know someone who shows you that you can be strong in your own skin. Someone who sees the light in you as if that is all he can see. If some people can accept us for who we are, then we should learn to accept our flaws and imperfections. We should always be ourselves, but we could all be Bens! Haha.

Ben Bowra Quote too

Communication. I love technology. Video games taught me how to read, solve puzzles, and think out of the box. I played my first video game and got my first video game console when I was three, finished my first RPG when I was seven, and got my first computer when I was nine. Technology changed my life and probably affected the way I interact with others. Ben has a different view on technology, which is admirable. I like how he only got a laptop and a smartphone when he was in his 20s. Technology is useful. For instance, we can now stay in touch with others wherever they are in the world. But we can’t rely on technology alone to create unforgettable memories and fun moments. Don’t just document fun things. Experience them. Whenever we would have lunch, he would always remind me to put my phone down. He wants to talk the way people should be talking. No texting, tweeting, or posting status updates—just the two of you and, occasionally, some riddles to solve. A proper conversation that does not involve texting breaks or mirroring your opinions but always moves the discussion forward. Trust me, it’s not always sensible and not at all deep, but it doesn’t paralyze the discussion. Here are some snippets of our random conversations (don’t judge us):

Ben: I got robbed at knifepoint …
Me: OMG. You almost died. Did you get his name? We need to report him.
Ben: We didn’t get that far.

Ben: We watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and DodgeBall … been a very lazy day!
Me: I love The Boy in the Striped Pajamas! Shmuel made me cry! He reminded me of myself, not that I was ever part of a Nazi camp or accused of stealing cake.
Ben: Were you not?!

Me: Looks can be deceiving! I look friendly, but I’m not. You look like a sleepy British Gerard Pique from afar, but you’re not. But not always deceiving … for example, I look annoying because I am. You look posh because you are. OK, running out of good examples here!
Ben: That made me chuckle! I have had the Pique comparison a few times, actually. (Although, unfortunately, only ever regarding appearance.)

Me: The things I do for you should be a crime.
Ben: What are friends for …
Me: For breaking rules?!
Ben: At times!
Me: Wait, let me find you your perfect partner in crime!
Ben: What do you mean “find”? You are it!

Ben: I’m not that unreliable.
Me: Not questioning your reliableness. I’m sure I can count on you to kill someone for me.
Ben: Yep, known for my contract killing!
Me: We really are partners in crime, then.
Ben: Truly!

Me: I’m grooming you to be the next Gary Neville!
Ben: Works for me!
Me: I’ll try my best. Otherwise, you can groom yourself. All you need is a razor.
Ben: Look at you with all the jokes today, Miji! No razor.

Thinking big and moving mountains. Ben would encourage me to travel and explore the world. He asked me how I would know that I like something if I’ve never done it. Very true. It’s a big world out there, and here I am, clueless about what the world can offer. Sometimes I would tell him things that I want to do or want to be, and then I would negate myself because I don’t think I can do it. But Ben would always remind me that I can do it or be it, that I should take my dreams and passions to heart instead of suppressing my inner voices just because I don’t want to leave my comfort zone. Ben somehow made me think and rethink things—I can do whatever I want, but it requires taking action and facing my fears. It’s all down to me. “Believe it. Achieve it,” he would often tell me. But like I told him before he left, “Someday, I want to be everything that you think I can be!” But not today …

Not trying to be soppy, hammy, and overly sentimental here, but I hope I was able to give you a clear picture of Ben from my point of view. He is a truly a great friend. If Coach Graeme was the grandfather I never had and Coach Reid was the cool uncle who would defend me and laugh with me in good times and in bad, Ben would probably be the best friend or brother I wish I had. In a lifetime’s journey in football, we inevitably meet some people who teach us a thing or two (three, in this case) not just about the sport per se but also life in general. If interviewing Paul Scholes was my highlight of 2014, this year’s highlight would be learning from Ben, my window to the world. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Perhaps you can say it’s a window that must close. After all, real adventure awaits right outside my window.

Ben Bowra Quote

One-on-One with Rob Gier: The Forgotten Interview

Rob Gier, as you all know, is the captain of the Philippine national football team (Azkals), but working in the football industry for a few years now, I got to know Rob as more than a player, and you should too. I hope that this lengthy feature, albeit a belated one, will renew your appreciation for another Azkal that changed the landscape of Philippine football. Let’s travel back in time to 2013 and relive a “bygone” era through this forgotten interview with Rob Gier. I hope it’s not too late.

One on One with Rob Gier

I’ve had the privilege of working with Rob Gier before, and I can truly say that he is a genuine gentleman with a wonderful personality and a winning mentality. On my first day at work, he sent me an e-mail—not to outline what I needed to do, thank goodness, but to personally introduce himself and tell me that he was looking forward to working with me, among other gentlemanly things. Probably the only one I know who has ever been thrilled to meet me! (BRB, going to cry!)

Over the course of my tenure at my previous job, I noticed that he always displayed the utmost familiarity with the team from the inside out. He was involved every step of the way, and it was, and still is, inspiring. You don’t have to see him on a regular basis to know that he possesses such a great attitude toward the game, his teammates, the staff, and the fans. You will inevitably look up to Rob.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said, “I admire people who show you their emotions. It shows you they care.” First footballer in mind: Rob. Not saying he’s emotional or sensitive, but he is always true to himself. He always shows that he cares, and that doesn’t make him less of a man. And a worrywart like me wants nothing more than a happy emoji, a bag of Maoams, and the assurance that everything will be OK! Always a good listener or reader, Rob is a regular recipient of my novel-length text messages. This Vine video basically sums up our relationship:

Sorry for my lengthy introduction. I just had to set the tone and get you in Gier mode.

In 2013, I interviewed Rob, but we never got the chance to publish it …

Well, the wait is over! A lot has happened since 2013 in Philippine football—where do we even begin?—but the interview some of you have been googling since 2013 is now out. Is it worth the wait? (Say yes!) See for yourselves!

Below is my previously unreleased interview. This also includes questions from some football fans who sent me their questions. I published the fans’ names so you know that we didn’t forget you (and thank you).

My Questions First

HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU STARTED PLAYING FOOTBALL? WHO TAUGHT YOU?

I started playing football as soon as I could walk as my dad has always been a big football fan. I used to enjoy kicking the ball around with him and my friends when I was very young, but I didn’t start playing in a team until I was about 9 or 10 years old. My dad taught me the basics, which were then developed when I started playing for my first club, Ascot United.

WHILE GROWING UP, WERE THERE ASPECTS OF PHILIPPINE CULTURE THAT WERE PRESENT IN YOUR CHILDHOOD OR HOUSEHOLD PRACTICES?

There was always a strong Filipino influence in the house. Religion, strong family values, and of course, Filipino food was always being served at home, and we were always visiting my mum’s Filipino friends and their families. I first visited the Philippines when I was five years old.

WHAT PART, ASPECT, OR FEATURE OF YOURS COULD YOU SAY IS VERY REPRESENTATIVE OF A PINOY?

I would like to think that my strong relationships with my family and my family values were born out of being a Filipino.

WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD AMBITION? DID YOU ALWAYS DREAM OF BECOMING A FOOTBALLER?

I always wanted to be a footballer, often telling teachers, family doctors, and friends that I would one day be a professional footballer. Sometimes they would laugh and say that it was unlikely, but I always believed in myself.

DID YOU SPEND YOUR YOUTH CAREER AT ASCOT UNITED? HOW DID YOU END UP AT WIMBLEDON?

Yes, I started playing with Ascot. Playing football as a youngster is all about enjoying the game, and I can truly say that I loved every second of my childhood football days. I eventually got spotted whilst playing for Ascot and got asked to have a trial at Wimbledon; I think I was about 13 or 14 years old. The trial was successful, and I progressed through the youth ranks and eventually onto the first team. I was lucky to have been educated at Wimbledon as their youth policy at the time was one of the best around.

Rob Gier Ascot United

WHY DID YOU MOVE TO RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS? DID YOU REALLY LEAVE THE CLUB IN 2006 BECAUSE IT WAS RELEGATED?

In my last season at Wimbledon, we were relegated out of the Championship, and I was a casualty as a result. The budget had to be cut, and the manager wanted to make changes to the squad. I thought I deserved to stay on at Wimbledon, but you soon realize that you don’t always get what you deserve in football.

AT THE START OF THE 2007–08 SEASON, YOU PLAYED FOR ALDERSHOT TOWN AND HAD 38 APPEARANCES? HOW WAS IT?

I first went to Aldershot on trial as a right back, and after a successful preseason, they offered me a one-year contract. I always had a good feeling about that club, and I loved my time there. We dominated the league and cup competitions with a great bunch of players, and I think I actually played more games than 38. It was nearer to 50. We won the league and got promoted back into the football league, which is what I had been striving for a few years. However, this was another case of not getting what you deserve in football. Even though I played the majority of the games during that campaign, I was the only one of the regular players not to be offered a contract extension. Why didn’t they offer me a contract? I honestly have no idea; you would have to ask the coaching staff. I was devastated, and it actually hit me really hard. It still irks me to this day, although I now look back at my time there with fondness for what we achieved.

ON MAY 22, 2008, YOU SIGNED A ONE-YEAR CONTRACT WITH GRAYS ATHLETIC. ANYTHING WORTH SHARING ABOUT THE CLUB OR YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I have nothing good to say about that year other than I met some great people. The club, however …

ARE YOU STILL PLAYING FOR ASCOT UNITED?

Yes, I’m still there and still enjoying my football. After the disappointment of Aldershot and Grays, I just wanted time away from football. After a break away from the game, a good friend of mine then asked me if I fancied having a kickabout with the Ascot boys, and I really enjoyed it. I played a few games, and it was nice to play football with freedom and because I wanted to play and not because I had to earn a living. I have gone full circle and will probably end my career at the club I started with.

HOW WAS IT PLAYING IN DIFFERENT LEAGUES? WHICH ONE WAS THE BEST LEAGUE AND BEST TEAM YOU’VE PLAYED FOR?

Each league is very different. The quality of football, the players, the styles of play are all very different. Obviously, the best league in terms of quality was with Wimbledon in the Championship. Saying that, I really enjoyed my time at Rushden and at Aldershot, and I would say that in relative terms that Aldershot was the best domestic team I played for.

ANY PLAYERS YOU PLAYED WITH OR AGAINST BEFORE WHO BECAME FAMOUS?

I have been lucky enough to play against some very good players, especially whilst at Wimbledon, but I don’t like to name-drop.

FROM WHAT PLACE OR PROVINCE IN THE COUNTRY IS YOUR MOM OR HER FAMILY FROM? DO YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH THAT SIDE OF YOUR FAMILY? HAVE YOU EVEN VISITED YOUR FAMILY HERE?

My mum is from Dagami in Leyte. We visited them a few times when I was younger and when the Azkals had a camp in Tacloban before the 2010 Suzuki Cup. I actually met my auntie and cousin for the first time in about 12 years! Some of my relatives live in Manila, so I see them quite frequently, and they come to most of the home games.

HAD YOU VISITED THE PHILIPPINES BEFORE YOU BECAME PART OF THE NATIONAL TEAM?

Yes, twice. Once when I was 5 and then again when I was 12.

YOU STARTED PLAYING FOR THE AZKALS IN 2009. WHO DISCOVERED YOU AND ENCOURAGED YOU TO PLAY FOR THE PHILIPPINES?

My mum was always the one saying I should get in touch with the PFF, but I thought that if they wanted me, then they would get in touch with me. It wasn’t until my mum was pestering me so much that I actually sent the PFF a message through Facebook in which I explained who I was, where I had played throughout my career, and asked if they would be interested in my services. I didn’t think I would hear back and wasn’t even sure if there was a team as there wasn’t any real website with any information about the team. I didn’t hear anything for a few months, then all of a sudden, I got a call from Mr. Martinez (then president of the PFF) asking if I would like to be part of the team for the upcoming Challenge Cup qualifiers in the Maldives. I jumped at the chance, and the rest is history.

DO YOU NOTE DIFFERENCES IN PLAYING STYLE OR DISCIPLINE OF PLAYERS FROM VARIOUS EUROPEAN COUNTRIES?

The English game is built around its pace and physicality. The Spanish guys tend to be technically better but have a slower pace of playing the game, and the Germans are a mixture of the two. Let’s not forget all the other footballing cultures, and I think having all these different components in our team is a big positive for us.

BEST EXPERIENCE WITH THE AZKALS, IF ANY? AND WHY?

Without question the magical 2010 Suzuki Cup run. That wasn’t just my best Azkal experience but the best experience I have had throughout my whole football career. It really was a fairy-tale story.

Rob Gier 2010 Suzuki Cup

Other great experiences include our first game back in the Philippines after the Suzuki Cup tournament in Bacolod, where we beat Mongolia, 2–0. The two World Cup qualifying games that were held in Manila, where the crowds were amazing, and on a personal note, leading the team out in Manila for the first semifinal of the 2012 Suzuki Cup against Singapore was a big deal for me.

WORST EXPERIENCE, IF ANY? AND WHY?

Losing the semifinal in 2012 against Singapore was a tough moment. I really thought we had a good chance of reaching the final, and to get so close was devastating.

HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN A DEFENDER? HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN YOUR PREFERRED POSITION?

I’ve always been a defender. I’ve played right back and center half in my career, but I think my best position is at center half.

BEING THE CAPTAIN OF THE NATIONAL TEAM, IS THERE A BIT OF PRESSURE IN TERMS OF BEING MORE CONNECTED TO THE COUNTRY? LIKE LEARNING MORE ABOUT THE CULTURE, THE LANGUAGE, AND THE PEOPLE BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO SHOW A MORE PATRIOTIC SIDE TO THE COUNTRY YOU ARE REPRESENTING?

Being captain of the team does bring with it a little bit more pressure, but it is something I enjoy. I think that pressure is only on the playing side of things, and I don’t feel any added pressure on the external aspect of things.

WHAT ROLE IN PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL, IF ANY, DO YOU ENVISAGE FOR YOURSELF AFTER YOU RETIRE AS A PLAYER? ARE YOU TAKING YOUR COACHING BADGES? AND IF NOT FOOTBALL, WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO?

I think I will always be involved in football in some capacity. I am currently taking my coaching badges and am constantly trying to improve my knowledge of the game. I particularly like the analytical aspect of the game. I enjoy analyzing opponents’, our own strengths and weaknesses as well as gathering information and statistics and interpreting that to help the team improve.

I have been doing the opponent team analysis reports for the team for two years now, and it is something I very much enjoy, and I like to think the players are appreciative of this too.

DO YOU SEE YOURSELF PURSUING OTHER MORE SERIOUS CAREERS IN THE INDUSTRY LIKE MATCH REPORTING/ANALYSIS OR FULL-TIME RECRUITING?

Yes, that is something that very much interests me.

FAVORITE QUOTE/MAXIM/MOTTO?

“No regrets.”

FAVORITE FILIPINO FOOD?

Pork adobo made by my mum.

SKILLS YOU STILL WANT TO LEARN?

When I retire, I would like to take up rock climbing. Random, I know, but always fancied it.

FAVORITE TEAMS AND PLAYERS?

Childhood team is Reading FC.

Premier League team is Arsenal FC. All my wife’s family support Arsenal, so I have a soft spot for them too.

Team I most admire is Barcelona.

Favorite player has to be the best player that ever lived—Messi!

DO YOU KNOW WHAT AN AZKAL IS? AND HAVE YOU ACTUALLY EVEN SEEN ONE?

Azkal—street dog. Seen plenty of those in my time. I think the nickname perfectly represents the national team, especially in the pre–2010 Suzuki Cup days.

ANY MESSAGE TO THE FANS?

Thank you for all the support you have shown to myself and the team over the past few years. I want to give a special mention to all the GierFriends. You guys are the best.

Support local football!

Fan questions

FROM CARMEN: HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR TIME BETWEEN YOUR FAMILY, BUSINESS, PLAYING CLUB FOOTBALL IN THE UK, AND EVEN PLAYING FOR THE PHILIPPINE NT AND EVEN DOING SOME RESEARCH ON THE COMPETITORS WHEN YOU PLAY INTERNATIONAL GAMES? THAT’S A WHOLE LOT!

Family always comes first, but during a competition year such as 2012, it can be difficult as we have a lot of preparation games and camps. I am lucky that I work from home, so I get to see the family more than most when I’m in the country, but there is no doubt time away from them is very difficult. I just make sure that family time is just that, with no distractions.

FROM ERASMO MALLILLIN: HI, ROB! I AM ONE OF YOUR ENTHUSIASTIC SUPPORTERS, AND THANK YOU FOR ALL THE HARD WORK AND EXCITING TIMES WITH THE PHILIPPINE AZKALS. HOW HARD IS IT FOR THE AZKALS TO WIN AFC CHALLENGE CUP 2014?

I honestly think that winning the tournament is achievable. We are now blessed with a very talented squad that goes beyond the starting 11. Having good talented players that can come off the bench with the ability to change games is vitally important in these types of competitions.

FROM MIA BLEZA NARVAS: CAN YOU SHARE THE FUNNIEST STORY/MOMENT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED WITH THE TEAM DURING ONE OF YOUR TRAINING CAMPS OR TOURNAMENTS?

We always have a laugh with each other, so there are a lot of good memories. A particularly funny tournament was the 2012 Challenge Cup, where my partner in crime was Ray Jónsson. We played a lot of pranks on that trip, which Ray still has on video. The best involved Denis Wolf! Oh, and growing mustaches during that tournament was also funny.

FROM PATRICIA JOY BONGATO: HI, ROB. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT SHOULD BE DONE FOR PHILIPPINE FOOTBALL TO FURTHER PROGRESS?

Obviously, our performances on the pitch will be hugely important to help maintain the interest as well as the continued support from the governing bodies (PFF, UFL, etc.).

But the most important aspect for football to continue and progress is to get the kids involved as much as possible. It must be kept enjoyable as that’s what football is all about—having fun. The kids must also be educated, and that’s where the grassroots programs and coaches become so important. I’m glad there is now a UFL youth league, and there are a lot of people doing great things to help develop the game.

FROM LULU MATHEWS: HAVE YOU SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED COACHING AS A PROFESSION AFTER YOU RETIRE AS A PLAYER (WHICH I HOPE IS NOT FOR A WHILE YET)?

Yes, coaching is something that I have been thinking about more and more. I have been lucky enough to have had a good career and gained valuable experience and knowledge of the game, so helping out others and giving my experiences to those who want it is something that drives me. I am actually in the process of obtaining my coaching badges, so watch this space …

FROM DARLENE LATORILLA: NAME ONE THING THAT YOU COULD NEVER GROW TIRED OF.

Sweets!

FROM CARMEN CATEQUISTA: ONE FOOTBALL MOMENT YOU CAN NEVER FORGET.

That’s a tough question as there are many moments in my career that I will never forget. Scoring my first goal will always be a special moment for me as I don’t actually score that many. Captaining the team in the semifinals of the 2012 Suzuki Cup will live long in my memory

But if I had to choose, I’d have to go for the whole 2010 Suzuki Cup experience. That was a very special time that was spent with an amazing group of people and will be something I will never forget.

FROM CARMEN CATEQUISTA: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HEAR CHEERS OF SUPPORTERS?

This is something that any player will never get tired of hearing. Playing in front of your home supporters is an absolute privilege. Thinking about the noise from the crowd when Schröcky scored his goal against Kuwait in the World Cup qualifiers or when Chieffy scored the goal in Bacolod against Mongolia still gives me goose bumps and puts a huge smile on my face.

FROM RODA MAY CABALHIN: IF YOU WEREN’T A FOOTBALL PLAYER, WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING, OR WHAT WILL BE YOUR WORK?

Truthfully, I have no idea. I would have probably gone to university and found my path that way. I think it would have been something that kept me physically active, and I love being outdoors, but other than that, I have no idea.

FROM MINETTE TORTAL: YOU WALK ALONG AN ALLEY AND FIND AN ELDERLY WOMAN. SHE SMILES AT YOU AND ASK “IF I GAVE YOU THE CHANCE TO LIVE THE LIFE OF A FOOTBALL STAR FOR A DAY, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?” WHO WOULD BE YOUR ANSWER?

Firstly, I would probably be a bit scared of the old lady and think she may be a bit crazy. Haha. But after careful consideration, I would have to say Messi. I would love to see how he views football, and to feel his ability would be great.

FROM IVY NICANOR: GROWING UP, WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE THAT YOU REALLY WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER?

In the UK, football is built into everyday life. It is something most boys enjoy with their fathers, who will regularly take them to watch a football game as well as have a kickabout together.

It is something all young boys in the UK want to be when they grow up, so as soon as I knew I had a talent for football, it was something I wanted more than ever.

FROM IVY NICANOR: IF YOU WERE TO CHANGE ONE THING IN YOUR ENTIRE CAREER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Everything in my career has led me to this point, and I am thoroughly enjoying the moment. Yes, there are things I wish went differently, but I don’t think I would change them. They made me the person I am today, and I am really enjoying things right now.

FROM IZADORA GRACE SABALLA: GOOD DAY, SIR ROB! HOW HAS BEING A FATHER CHANGED YOUR PERSPECTIVE AS A PLAYER, MOST IMPORTANTLY AS THE TEAM’S CAPTAIN? AND WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON OF BEING THE TEAM’S CAPTAIN THAT YOU CAN SHARE TO US?

Becoming a father changes every aspect of your life. She is now the most important thing in the world to me, and everything I do is for her or my family. I want her to be proud of her daddy and hopefully take some inspiration from my career and the way I have tried to conduct it.

When I was made captain, I felt that I had an extra responsibility to inspire the guys and motivate them through my example. That might have been a reason why I had a good 2012 Suzuki Cup.

FROM JIN JE: WHAT’S YOUR NORMAL DIET? ON A CHEAT DAY, WHAT DO YOU OFTEN HAVE? WHAT’S ONE THING, FOOD/DRINK, YOU REALLY LOVE THAT’S VERY HARD FOR YOU TO AVOID/CONTROL EATING (IF THERE’S ANY)?

I don’t really have a specific diet. I just try to watch what I eat and make sure that it is mostly healthy. I do have a weak spot for a good burger, though.

FROM JIN JE: WHEN HE’S NO LONGER PLAYING FOOTBALL PROFESSIONALLY, WHAT WOULD HE BE DOING BY THEN?

I hope to still be involved in football in some capacity, whether that be in coaching, consultancy, or analysis. I’m not sure, but football will always be close to my heart.

FROM JIN JE: IF HE’S NOT A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER TODAY, WHAT WOULD HE BE DOING INSTEAD?

I have no idea where life would have taken me. I was quite academic, so I would have probably gone to university and seen where that path would have taken me.

FROM JIN JE: WHERE AND HOW HE MET HIS LOVELY WIFE, EMMA?

Emma and I actually went to the same high school, and she was in the same tutor (class) as me. We didn’t get together until we finished high school, but we have been together ever since. We started dating when we were 16! So you could say we are childhood sweethearts.

FROM JIN JE: WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN A COUNTRY WHERE FOOTBALL IS VERY MUCH COMPETITIVE? DID YOU STRUGGLE TO BE WHERE YOU ARE?

Football is a tough business to make it in, and to have had 12 years as a professional and to have had the experiences I have had is a big achievement. I know a lot of good players that never quite made the grade for various reasons, so I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

FROM JIN JE: WHAT WAS THE FIRST THING YOU BOUGHT FROM YOUR SALARY AS A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER?

The first big thing would probably have been a new car.

FROM JIN JE: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FILM/MUSIC GENRE AS WELL AS MOVIE/SONG? ANY SIGNIFICANCE?

I like a good action movie, but one of the best films I’ve seen for a long time was Senna, a film about the life of F1 driver Ayrton Senna.

Music, I’m a big Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder fan, but the spectrum of music I like is quite broad.

FROM JIN JE: IF YOU’RE GIVEN A CHANCE TO HAVE SUPERPOWERS, JUST LIKE IN THE AMERICAN TV SHOW HEROES, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?

Being able to fly would be pretty cool.

FROM JIN JE: IF YOU’RE GIVEN THE CHANCE TO MODIFY ANY PART OF HISTORY, YOUR OWN OR THE WORLD AS A WHOLE, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?

Wow, there is a lot of responsibility right there. I think I’ll let the big man upstairs take care of those matters.

FROM JIN JE: WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR PHILIPPINE FOOTBALL?

I want there to be longevity. We will probably not see the results from our grassroots programs for a few years yet, and I just hope that people are long-sighted enough to be able to see this and not drop it and forget it after only a short period.

As long as there are children playing football, then I think everything will be OK.

Obviously, continued improvement of all our national teams is important, with the ultimate goal being qualification for all the major tournaments.

Further development of the UFL and continued support from sponsors and fans are again very important for the future of the sport.

Present Rob Gier

After that 2013 interview, various friendlies were played, and how can we forget Germany’s winning the 2014 World Cup! As for Rob, let’s see … well, he is still playing for the Philippine national football team. He is still the captain, but the coach is now Thomas Dooley. They reached the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup final against Palestine but lost, 1–0. As if the heartbreak wasn’t enough, in September 2014, the defending Peace Cup champions succumbed to Myanmar in the final of the Philippine Peace Cup, which they had won in 2012 and 2013. They also lost to Thailand in the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals. Oops, sorry for the disheartening updates! On a positive note, we made history in the Suzuki Cup when, in the group stage, we won against Indonesia after 80 years. We made history!

Hm, so what else has Rob been up to since 2013? Aside from national team duties, Rob has also been preoccupied with his newest venture—Zenith Soccer Tours. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, Rappler and Pinoyfootball have written about it in detail, but you can also visit the official website for more info at zenith-soccertours.co.uk.

Committed, hardworking, and passionate have always been three of Rob’s hallmarks. As the person behind Zenith Soccer Tours, he brings the same attitude, which, along with his experience as a player and team captain, will surely give the youth a different footballing opportunity that no one has ever experienced. He knows what youngsters need, and Zenith Soccer Tours will be his avenue to give that to young footballers.

I am also pleased to say that we at Kaya FC Academy have partnered with him for the 2015 UK tour. It’s not just any tour—it’s the real deal, the premier football tour that we have lovingly designed for our students. You can read more about our collaboration at kayafcacademy.com/zenithsoccertours.

So after almost two years, I interviewed Rob again, but this time to ask him a few questions about Zenith Soccer Tours. And this time, there’s no waiting involved.

WHEN WAS ZENITH SOCCER TOURS CREATED? IS THIS YOUR BRAINCHILD? IF SO, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THE COMPANY?

I first had the idea to start up Zenith Soccer Tours after I visited the Little Azkals on their UK tours back in 2013. I could instantly see how much the boys loved the program, and their coaches were telling me so many positive things regarding not only of their footballing development but also the social and individual advances that happened to the group over their three-week camp.

I wanted to be able to offer this experience to other kids, and that is why I started Zenith Soccer Tours. My aim is to give these youngsters some memories they will never forget. Football has helped mold me as an individual, and I am a firm believer that experiences like our camp and exposure to different environments and cultures at a young age will help develop and shape these children to become more well-rounded individuals, helping to give them confidence to really express who they want to be.

WHY IS IT CALLED ZENITH SOCCER? I THOUGHT THE BRITISH DISLIKE THE WORD SOCCER AND PREFER TO USE FOOTBALL.

Haha, yes, in my household, football is football and definitely not soccer; however, to reach out to as many different markets as possible, soccer was used. I guess you could say that it is a more universal term.

WHAT IS YOUR LONG-TERM GOAL FOR ZENITH SOCCER TOURS?

I want the Zenith Soccer Tours trips to be a permanent fixture in the Philippines’ youth footballing calendar, something that is anticipated year on year with much excitement. I plan to open the age-groups further in 2016 as well as add girls’ camps, and I want to add different destinations and events to our portfolio too.

DO YOU THINK EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NO LONGER PLAYING FOR THE NATIONAL TEAM, YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF PHILIPPINE FOOTBALL?

In a way, I believe that our program will not only help the individuals participating, but it will also help grassroots football in the Philippines. We must continue to inspire the younger generation of footballers and football fans because, ultimately, they are the generation that the success of the game in the Philippines depends on.

If I can help contribute to the development of football in the Philippines, either through coaching or through my soccer tours, then I will be a happy man. I’m not quite ready to hang up my boots just yet, though!

Zenith Soccer Tours Info

Unraveling Chris Greatwich

Unraveling Chris Greatwich

The first time I saw Chris Greatwich play was on Star Sports in December 2010. My family and I were attentively watching the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup … and patiently wishing for someone to score a goal. I told them to watch out for Chris Greatwich. I still don’t know why I said that. Was he noticeably motivated to make the best of himself, the opportunity, and his talent? I think all of them were! While my sister was busy figuring out whether Chris’s front teeth reminded her of Anna Paquin’s or Ronaldo’s, Chris managed to score an injury-time equalizer. Obviously, the rest, as they say, is forgotten history—which I’ve retold from Chris’s perspective, by the way.

Looking back, I still can’t believe I’m now working closely with Chris, the guy we were watching on TV four years ago. It’s amazing how one thing leads to another. I know I’ve been blogging about Chris since 2011, but I hope people will know more about him through my two-part feature. It’s the lengthiest feature I’ve ever done, but definitely worth reading and sharing. His story unfolded like a dream. While taking a stroll down memory lane, Chris walked me through his life. Of course, the banter was inevitable, but from his narration, I gained a renewed appreciation for Chris and his achievements. A newfound respect for the midfielder and coach. If I were a kid, I probably want to grow up to be just like him (and Rob Gier).

I’ve written a bonus feature on Chris (Q&A type) and it’s now on my blog (see below). This will also be included in “As Told by Chris Greatwich, Part 2,” which will be out this month at http://www.kayafc.com. Please check it out!

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF BEING A FOOTBALL PLAYER?

Advantages: You get to do something that most people love for a living. Not many people get to do that, and not many people get to do something that they enjoy doing for a living and get paid for it.

Disadvantages: The amount of time consumed by traveling, especially with the national team. You have to spend so much time traveling, waiting at the airport, and staying in hotels. A lot of people think it’s glamorous. It’s not. It’s very difficult to manage your time.

SOME YOUNG PLAYERS FEEL LIKE THEY’VE ALREADY MADE IT ONCE THEY PLAY ON THE FIRST TEAM. AT WHAT MOMENT DID YOU THINK YOU’D MADE IT AS A FOOTBALLER?

I think the moment you think you’ve made it as a footballer is the moment you should give up. Winning one cap is great, but it’s better to win ten caps, twenty caps, fifty caps, and a hundred caps. It’s easier to forget the struggles that everyone went through. There is no defining moment in my career because there’s always another challenge.

WHAT WAS THE FIRST THING YOU BOUGHT WITH YOUR SALARY AS A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER?

When I was sixteen, two of my teammates and I went up to London, and we blew it all there—shopping spree!

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE RULE IN FOOTBALL, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I would implement a challenge system like what they have in tennis, where a coach gets to challenge the decisions that referees make, and a video analysis will determine whether or not the right call was made 

BEST MATES IN FOOTBALL?

Everyone at Kaya. Within the national team, most of us get along pretty well. There’s a running joke that the Brits all stick together. Rob, Neil, Phil, James, my brother—we’re all quite close. I think that’s because we all share the same humor. Ray is quite close with us also. We’re not exclusive to only the British guys. I guess I just like hanging out with people who are fun and want to have a good time. It just happens to be the British guys.

DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL ROUTINE OR SUPERSTITION BEFORE YOU PLAY A BIG GAME?

None.

IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE CHANCE TO LIVE THE LIFE OF A FOOTBALL STAR FOR A DAY, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY? 

Paul Scholes. He doesn’t get caught up in all the bull——. He played football for a great club, had a great career, made his money, and goes home and spends it with his family. Perfect.

Scholes and Chris Greatwich

WHO IS THE BEST MIDFIELDER YOU’VE SEEN PLAY THE GAME?

Zidane is good. I like him. Well-balanced player. I used to like strikers growing up, so Gary Lineker was my first real idol. He used to play for England. And Paul Gascoigne. Then I used to like Michael Owen a lot. As I got older, I started to appreciate certain players like Zidane and Paul Scholes, one of my favorite midfield players. Xavi, probably.

WHO IS OWEN GILL? WHY DOES OWEN HAVE A SPECIAL MENTION ON YOUR WIKIPEDIA PROFILE?

My former manager, and he just wrote that. He was joking around. He definitely wasn’t my mentor.

IF YOU WERE TO CHANGE ONE THING IN YOUR ENTIRE CAREER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I would have played in the final (2014 AFC Challenge Cup), and I would have scored an overhead kick winner at the Challenge Cup. Change that—I would score the equalizer, and at extra time, I would have scored the winner.

HOW HAS BEING A FATHER CHANGED YOUR PERSPECTIVE AS A PLAYER?

I haven’t really changed as a player. In terms of as a person, I have started thinking of the future now. You can’t just be thinking about things on a day-to-day basis. You have to think about the decisions that you make based on your future and what’s best for you and your whole family.

DO YOU SEE YOURSELF PURSUING OTHER MORE SERIOUS CAREERS IN THE INDUSTRY LIKE BEING A SPORTS COMMENTATOR OR TV HOST?

I don’t really like the media thing. I don’t mind doing it from time to time. I don’t wanna be in front of the camera with a microphone.

DO YOU KEEP VIDEO COPIES OF YOUR GOALS IN A SECRET FOLDER ON YOUR COMPUTER THAT YOU WATCH WHEN YOU’RE BORED?

No. I wrote a list of goals I wanted to achieve when I was a young kid. I don’t document my seasonal goals.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED ON YOUR JOURNEY?

I just learned to enjoy football. You never know when it’s gonna stop. You never know when your last game is going to be. You never know when you’ll get injured. I just want to enjoy playing my football, and right now, I’m doing that, so that’s the most important thing to remember every day when I go training, when I go to games. I just enjoy myself. One day, it’s all gonna be gone. You’ll never get to play again.

WHAT ARE YOUR REMAINING CAREER AMBITIONS?

For me, personally, to try to play at the highest level I can for as many years as I can. It would be nice to continue with the national team and to win the league or cup. To continue to play, to enjoy it, and to have fun.

AWAY FROM FOOTBALL, WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO? WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES?

I got a dog, Marley, my beagle. I like walking my dog. My wife and I love spending time with him. We also like watching TV series. Boring stuff. Going out to eat at restaurants and bars.

NAME THREE THINGS YOU WANTED AS A CHILD BUT NEVER GOT.

We never had any video games growing up. Maybe that was one. Never had that. I can only name one.

WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD OR READ ABOUT YOURSELF? 

One time, I went to an event with my wife, and they said that I was Mark Hartmann and she was Mark’s girlfriend. That was the funniest one. The weird thing was that I was with my brother, and they got his name right.

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HAVE YOU EVER FAKED AN AMERICAN ACCENT?

I have faked it, but my brothers and I are quite good at impressions. My Brian Reid is really good, but my Leigh Manson is better than my Brian Reid.

WHAT’S THE MOST MIND-BOGGLING FILIPINO HABIT YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED?

I don’t get the driving. I don’t understand the driving situation. What’s that all about? There are just no rules.

IF YOU COULD HAVE ONE SUPERPOWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Constant flying, so the ability to fly. Or the ability to turn invisible, but it could be a bit creepy, though. Couldn’t it?

HOW ABOUT TELEPORTATION? 

Teleportation would be a good one!

FAVORITE PLAYER? 

None. I don’t have a favorite player anymore. When I was younger, I used to have favorite players.

FAVORITE TEAM?

Tottenham because Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne both played for them when I was a kid. 

MOVIES? 

The Shawshank Redemption.

TV SERIES?

The Wire.

ARTIST? SINGER? BAND?

I like a lot of music. If I could see one band in concert, it would probably be Daft Punk.

ACTOR?

Denzel Washington.

ACTRESS?

Helen Mirren.

FINISH THE SENTENCE! I PLAY LIKE … 

Frank Lampard.

I SPEND MY MONEY ON …

My wife.

BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE GIVEN OR BEEN GIVEN?

What’s done in the dark comes out in the light. It’s one of the phrases I coined.

DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.

“Funny,” “serious,” “competitive,” “goofy,” and “late.”

———–

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

“As Told by Chris Greatwich, Part 1” at http://goo.gl/mQKVdY

Dreams are for real!

Dreams are for real

When the Clear Dream Match 3 was announced, I knew that at least one Manchester United player would come to the Philippines, but I didn’t know it would be Paul Scholes. Did I freak out? Yes. And that was only the announcement that Scholesy will be participating in the last Clear Dream Match. So when David Milan asked me to interview Paul Scholes and Andy Cole, I almost passed out. Dreams are for real!

Scholesy is one of my football heroes. I grew up seeing him play on television or reading about him everywhere. I found him interesting as a player—and after the interview, I guess I still do—because he didn’t have time to waste on words during his career. He did his talking on the pitch! Never mind if he is the third most booked player in Premier League history. His pinpoint passes and touches are world class—present tense because we witnessed at the Clear Dream Match that he still has it! His love for football and Manchester United is so genuine that he retired twice in his career. I even blogged about his first retirement back in 2011 and stressed the importance of a midfielder’s role.

As a massive Manchester United fan, it only took me a few minutes to prepare hundreds of questions. I only submitted around 20 plus questions, though, and the Manchester United staff had to screen them a few days before the interview.

Thinking of questions was easy-peasy, but interviewing would be the problem as always. I get nervous whenever I meet my heroes! And Phil Younghusband would know. I gave him a heads up!

Fast forward to June 6, the day of the interview, I woke up all thrilled, and yes, with the usual raging butterflies in my stomach. When I arrived at the venue, a guy handed me the approved questions and they were like thirteen left. I was like, “Why did you remove the juicy stuff?” He laughed and said they didn’t want anything controversial. To be honest, I wasn’t planning to cause a stir; I was just being a curious fan. Of course, I wanted to ask about Sir Alex, David Moyes, and the World Cup! It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ll never see Scholesy again.

Interviewing Paul Scholes and Andy Cole

When I was summoned to the room, a nice British lady told me she had to reduce my questions. I felt bad and disappointed, but I had no choice. There was even a United employee beside me the whole time. I think he was there to make sure that I would only ask the approved questions. I was able to sneak in one, though! I’m sneaky like that.

Paul Scholes, Manchester United staff, Younghusband brothers

After the interview, I told Phil Younghusband that I wrote a letter to Paul Scholes. I sort of asked him to give it to Scholesy, but I ended up going with Phil. I was so embarrassed when Phil handed him the letter. I wanted to jump off the building! Everyone said “awww!” in chorus so I did the honest thing and clarified that it wasn’t a love letter. They all laughed. I guess they didn’t believe me.

Asking Scholes

When I left the hotel, I saw James Younghusband and his friend, and we crossed the street together. “You did well,” said James Younghusband, but I honestly couldn’t tell because I was so nervous the whole time. I was so starstruck! My palms were cold, sweaty, and shaking. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest! Interviewing Paul Scholes is obviously the highlight of my year—or my life! He is my hero and will always be. What a legend! He was radiating with calmness and valor at the same time. Even while sipping tea, he seemed so badass and sharp.

Paul Scholes, Andy Cole, and Younghusband brothers

Anyway, below is the extended version of my article on Paul Scholes and Andy Cole. You may also read the actual article that Supreme published HERE.


A week before the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Brazil, the Philippines got a visit from Paul Scholes and Andy Cole, two former professional English footballers who both played for the England national football team and, of course, Manchester United. Together with Phil Younghusband, James Younghusband, and the country’s top footballers, the Manchester United legends were part of the third and final installment of the Clear Dream Match at the University of Makati on June 7.

Last year, Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro and former Chelsea player Dennis Wise were the stars of the Clear Dream Match. This year, two legendary Red Devils were here to give the fans a footballgasm!

Paul Scholes, fondly called Scholesy or the Ginger Prince by the fans, is a straight-up Manchester United legend! Born and bred in Manchester, Scholesy is part of the Class of ’92, the golden generation of Old Trafford talents that also spawned football icon David Beckham, who visited us back in 2011. Beloved by Manchester United fans and idolized by some football players, the ginger-headed midfield dynamo, known for his sublime passes and scything challenges, made over 700 appearances for the Red Devils and won 66 caps for England. It’s no surprise that French legend Zinedine Zidane called him “the greatest midfielder of his generation.”

Andy Cole, the Nottingham-born striker, had an illustrious career in the Premier League, but despite playing for other teams, he was able to establish himself as a bona fide Manchester United player. Known for his legendary partnership and telepathic link with Dwight Yorke, he helped Manchester United win numerous trophies, from winning five Premier League trophies to lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy in 1999. Even today, he is still the second highest goal scorer in Premier League history.

To end the battle for Clear Supremacy, Paul Scholes reinforced Team Phil while Andy Cole joined Team James. Team James emerged victorious from the Clear Dream Match trilogy with a 1–0 victory against Team Phil in a match that gave the fans unparalleled excitement with every minute.

Supreme sat down with the two United legends and asked them some questions about everything football.

YOU’VE PLAYED AGAINST SEVERAL LEGENDS, BUT WHO DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD AND WHY?

ANDY COLE: Errrrmmmmm . . . [Zinedine] Zidane is the best player for me. Great player, graceful, a gentleman as well. So I’d go with Zidane.

PAUL SCHOLES: Same for me as well. Zidane as always.

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN ZIDANE CALLED YOU THE GREATEST MIDFIELDER OF HIS GENERATION?

PAUL SCHOLES: If he did, yeah, that’s nice of him. (Laughs.) It would have been nice to play with him, I suppose.

WHO WOULD YOU FEATURE ON YOUR DREAM MANCHESTER UNITED STARTING XI?

ANDY COLE: My starting XI? I’m very biased, so I would go with what we achieved with the treble. I’d have to go with the 1999 team.

PAUL SCHOLES: My two center forwards, definitely, that has to be Cole and Yorke. Apart from that, I don’t think it really matters who you have in your team ’cause with forwards like that, you’re always going to score goals. I said before I think the best teams always had the best center forwards, and at that time, we had four top center forwards. I think that’s the big difference between the teams at the top of the league and the teams near the bottom of the league—it’s the goals you’re able to score. With forwards like we had, we always knew we could score goals in the team.

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST HURDLES YOU HAD TO OVERCOME TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW? HOW DID YOU GET PAST THEM? HOW DID YOU MOTIVATE YOURSELF DURING TOUGH TIMES?

ANDY COLE: The biggest hurdle? Oh dear. There are always hurdles. You’ve got to overcome your self-doubt. You get to a stage where you doubt yourself a little bit. There’s always going to be hurdles in front of you [that] you’ve got to overcome. Me, personally, was questioning myself. That’s the toughest.

PAUL SCHOLES: Yeah, you do question yourself. I think the biggest obstacles for me are your teammates, really, the competition that you had to get in the team. It always strives you to do better when you know that there’s quality players like the level we played at with England and with United. There are always top players who are ready to come on and take your place, so you always need to be on your game.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED ON YOUR JOURNEY? CAN YOU SHARE WITH US ANY LESSONS YOU LEARNED FROM FOOTBALL THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO APPLY TO LIFE OFF THE PITCH?

ANDY COLE: Yeah, be respectful to people. I mean, you know, we can’t all be fortunate enough to be professional footballers or whatever we want to be. But to be respectful to people who have less than you or more than you. That’s a great strength, and I learnt a hell of a lot from going to Manchester United and working under the manager I worked under. You know, you got to be respectful of people, and that’s a massive, massive thing that.

PAUL SCHOLES: Yeah, the same—be respectful to people. It’s something that the manager was big on. As Cole said, when he came, he realized that, and that wasn’t just from the start. It was right to the end. He always made sure you were signing autographs for fans and you’re always nice to people and always nice to staff around the place, around the training ground, that you always respected people, and you know, I think that transfers into our life as well. We always tried to be nice people and be nice to anyone, whoever it is.

THE SUCCESS OF THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM PROMPTED THE REBIRTH OF FOOTBALL IN THE COUNTRY. WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO BE DONE TO MAINTAIN INTEREST IN THE SPORT?

ANDY COLE: Grassroots. I think if you can get more of your kids into football. Basketball’s the biggest sport here. If you can, try nick a few of them from basketball and work hard at grassroots level. You can give the kids an opportunity to have a dream that they can be a professional [footballer]. Not just in Europe, but I mean throughout the world. I think it all starts from the bottom. England are going through the same thing. Grassroots level’s not good enough, and I think we’re not bringing through enough kids. So if it starts there, you work at that and get better.

PAUL SCHOLES: Yeah, Clear and Man United are over here now, and hopefully that can raise the profile a little bit and can get kids really interested in the game. You know, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. But hopefully [in] five, ten, fifteen years, you’ll start seeing the benefit of that. (Hits teacup loudly; Cole says cheers.) Grassroots, the coaching from Man United football schools, can really get kids interested, and like I say, five, ten, fifteen years, you may be in a different position.

ANY MESSAGE TO YOUR FILIPINO FANS?

ANDY COLE: Yeah, come to the game tomorrow. Watch it on TV if you can’t come to the game tomorrow.

SCHOLES INTERRUPTS: Don’t expect too much

COLE: Yeah exactly, don’t expect too much from me or Paul Scholes. *EVERYONE LAUGHS* Have a good giggle up if you like.

No it’s just a joke (referring to not expecting too much), it’s a great honor for us to be here. We’ve been received so well since we’ve come out here. The people of the Philippines have been fantastic, very warm, very welcome, and so to say thank you for that.

PAUL SCHOLES: Yeah exactly the same. Hopefully we can provide a bit of entertainment for them. I’m sure it’ll be entertainment whether it’s good or bad I’m not too sure, no like Chloe said just hope the fans and the kids especially can enjoy the game.

All photos courtesy of Ceres Lina of FTW Sports. Thank you to Roy Moore of Payatas FC for helping me transcribe the interview. Be sure to check out his blog!

Life at Kaya So Far

Life at Kaya So Far copy

It’s been almost two months at Kaya, and in these past few months, I’ve been constantly peppered by the same questions: “How’s life at Kaya?” “How’s Kaya treating you?” “How’s Kaya?” These questions, said in various tones, from concerned to curious, have become their staple greeting, and “Good” has become my autoreply.

Well, to put an end to these endless inquiries—this is my first and last attempt!—I will blog about my experience. So far, life at Kaya has been good. Oops, here I go again with “good”! I mean, let me give you an idea why that is the best response.

To start off, my expectations have been met, and that is always a good start. Kaya has always been close to my heart, and to be part of it finally confirmed why. Not gonna get into the details, but the work itself is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to be part of an academy, and here at Kaya, I get to write about young and talented footballers who end up inspiring me instead of inspiring them. I also love working with Chris Greatwich. He is exactly how I imagined him to be. He is funny, witty, and clever! He knows what he wants to achieve and how he wants to achieve it. Goal-oriented and dedicated, and I like that. He is not afraid to say what is on his mind. Straightforward, and I like that. I’ve known him since 2011, and working with him is a privilege. He turns his passion into action—cliché and obvious, yes!—but it is motivating and effective. That is how everything worthwhile starts—with passion. Okay, I should stop here. I don’t want Chris to think I’m his no. 1 fan!

Chris Greatwich with Students copy

Working for the senior team is another thing and is my priority. I work closely with Paul, the general manager, and I know I’m in good hands. I don’t think he would want me to mention his name (sorry, Paul!) on my blog, but I can’t help but give him a shout-out. I know I will learn a lot from him, and we all know my quest for knowledge never ends. “Jack of all trades, master of some” is my tagline and not “A mystery to solve.” I’m truly grateful that he decided to take me under his wing. When it comes to Paul, there is always a way—if you are committed.

Lastly, Kaya is known for its brotherhood, and I’m blessed to be one of them. In my recent feature on Masanari Omura, I said that Masa regards Kaya as not only a team but also his own family in the football world. Kaya indeed has a kind of brotherhood that can withstand anything under the sun. I know it’s too early for me to give a testimonial, but since I was a fan of the club first, I’ve always been familiar. The solidarity and camaraderie are crystal clear, and I hope I can make it stronger one day.

Sure, I miss my friends at Global—who all seem to have left, if I’m not mistaken—but I’m exactly where I want to be. I tell people it’s all good at Kaya because, as vague as it sounds, it is good. Thanks for all the concern, but I think it’s time to put all your questions to rest. Don’t worry about me. I know Kaya’s got my back!

Tokyo Tokyo x Kaya

Farewell, Paalam, Adieu, Adios, Sayonara!

Everybody knows that my life is not an open book—I have even been labeled mysterious by a footballer—but football is a massive chapter in my life. I am willing to discuss certain things as long as it revolves around the sport. It is my way of interacting with other people. It serves as a bridge that links me to people who share the same passion for the sport. Never mind if the person speaks a different language or comes from a different background. Football is my life.

farewell paalam adieu adios copy

Most football fans and supporters will most probably associate me with Global, but in the interest of full disclosure, the Global FC (and Azkals) part of my football chapter has just officially ended. I am now moving on to a new page with a new club. I have met a lot of good people at Global and the Azkals. A lot of unsung heroes. A lot of friends. I don’t even know where to begin! More importantly, the team became my second family, something that I have always longed for, as it turns out.

During my time at Global, I learned lessons that have shaped me to become who I am today—a champion for the football cause. Looking back, it was an experience that I will never forget. I am no stranger to ups and downs. I have failed and have let failure wash over me until I have learned from it. I strived for improvement just like everybody else, except off the pitch. Just as my school had injected excellence in my DNA, Global reinforced my desire to excel and to discover as much as I could about the sport and myself. I have changed somehow, but I have never stopped dreaming bigger.

After more than two years, I have recognized the need to move on with my career, and I am pleased to announce that I have found the next good step. This may or may not come as a surprise, but I firmly believe that working at Kaya—yes, you read it right—is the next logical step in my career.

Global will always have a special place in my heart; it is part and parcel of my foundation and football career. I am forever grateful. Valuable experiences and life lessons are memorable by-products, but my heart tells me that I belong at Kaya. Sure, there will be new challenges, new faces, new problems, new everything, but I want to face them all at Kaya. I am more than ready to be steeped in the discipline and work ethic of Kaya because I have always been one of them.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to my Global and Azkals families for adopting me and treating me like your own. I am still working for the same cause as Dan Palami—to promote football in the country and inspire more people to support the sport. My departure will not diminish my love for football. There will be no sliding into mediocrity either. This is an opportunity to continue what Sir Dan has started, but through and with my Kaya family. I hope you will be happy for me.

Tribute to Brian Reid

When Coach Graeme left Global back in February 2012, I felt abandoned. It didn’t help that I saw the news of his resignation on the Internet. I was relatively new to football then, and he was like the grandfather I never had. I was definitely upset, but I understood his reasons for leaving. I wasn’t sure if I would welcome any coach into my life after that, and then I met Coach Brian Reid.

Tribute to BR

In early 2013, Global hired Brian Reid, the former Ayr United manager, to coach Global. I still remember the first time I met him. We had lunch at Racks with the team, and I had to share the same table with the Scottish colossus. Fonz introduced me to him as the boy who doesn’t eat—which isn’t true, by the way—and I was given the Reid glare. Not sure what it meant, but I thought maybe it was “Nice to meet you!” in Brian Reid jargon. He was talking to Fonz most of the time, but I was fascinated by his confidence and attitude. No bickering took place, surprisingly, but I was just laughing about something the whole time like a crazy person. As my favorite cliché goes, the rest is history.

We have had so many great memories together during his stay in the Philippines. For the record, I interviewed Coach Reid twice, as the Global head coach and as the Azkals U-23 head coach, and each was an entirely new experience. He proved to us that he is indeed a top coach who is worth admiring for the rest of our lives. My sister and I should have the rights to write his biography! I had several Starbucks sessions with him, and I have never consumed so much cake in my life. I heard him scream and shout (not at me, thank goodness!) more than my mother had ever screamed during her lifetime. I learned to value timekeeping more than I already do. I was forced to learn how to edit a Wikipedia page even if it was against my will. I had never been called a “top man” until I met him, and it is a compliment that I still haven’t digested.

He may be known for his physical and mental toughness—I know he is capable of throwing me out of the window with one hand or giving me a hair dryer treatment—but I have a different Coach Reid in my book. If only you could see him from where I’m standing, it would change your life. We can just look at each other and know that we’re thinking (or making fun) of the same thing. His sense of humor is impeccable. He is clever, witty, and funny. He is undoubtedly a good storyteller with the gift of gab. I can talk to him all day without getting bored. Such was his brilliance and eloquence! He was the full package, and I was the only one who knew. Ah yes, I miss him already!

If Coach Graeme was the grandfather I never had, Coach Reid would probably be the cool uncle who would defend you and laugh with you in good times and in bad. He knows how to cheer me up. He knows how I feel without having to narrate everything. He knows when it is time to give some advice or impart wisdom. And he knows when I’m lying, sadly!

I will not recount all his good deeds because it might tarnish his tough-as-leather image, but he has done enough to find a special place in my heart. He is probably the best Christmas present I got in 2013, only I got it in advance and lost it before the year ended.