Assuming that you do, let me ask: Why do you like the Azkals? Before you answer, let me begin by telling you that not everyone in the country knows who they are. At a recent job interview, I mentioned the Azkals to illustrate a point and the interviewer said he didn’t know who they were. Slightly surprised, I said, “The national football team? They’re on the news all the time?” “I don’t know them,” he replied, staring at me blankly. Maybe I assume too much, and in this basketball-crazy country, you can’t expect everyone to embrace football’s growing following. While most people may have heard of the team, it doesn’t mean that they’re willing to become the supporters the sport needs. The fans have their own reasons for supporting the Azkals, perhaps mostly rooted in a sense of nationalism, but it seems that this doesn’t always translate to interest in the sport itself. For all I know, they could even be the Philippines’ own version of the prawn sandwich brigade. There are, of course, the authentic football fans who became instant supporters of the Azkals because of their love for the sport. These football fanatics finally have a common team they can get behind—the national football team—not just their favorite English or Spanish football clubs. Nevertheless, I think we can all learn to respect each and every supporter of the team no matter what. It might seem impudent to try and classify Azkals fans into different categories, but let’s take a look.
My dad is probably the only one in his category. I don’t know how to classify him. The first time I told him about the Azkals, he didn’t care. They weren’t all over the news yet, so he probably didn’t think it was worth his time. Talking about football over dinner would never go over well. I remember the time I asked him whether he knew anyone who knew Mr. Dan Palami (team manager). He was like, “Text me the name,” and later, he told me that a few people knew Mr. Palami and that was it. No contact information, no helpful details. Nothing. After relying on my own resources, I was able to find him. Mr. Palami and I became friends on Facebook and he even invited me to watch the Azkals train at the University of Makati. My dad didn’t even want me to watch them train (in fact, he forbade me), but it dawned on me that I was old enough to make my own decisions, so I went. That meeting with Mr. Palami could have paved the way for one of my dreams to come true if only I didn’t consider other things. When I got home, I told my dad what happened and he was totally against my getting involved with the team in any way. To cut the long, dramatic story short, I missed a wonderful opportunity and I’ve since stopped mentioning the Azkals around my father.
Inexplicably, about a month later, my dad began to talk about the Azkals as if he had been a fan from day one. Unbelievable. He began talking about the Azkals like he cared, instead of opining on events in Philippine politics or the Middle East as he usually does. After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as me and my siblings sat there overwhelmed by events unfolding, my dad would, out of nowhere, mention the Azkals. During their recent games, he would text me to ask for updates or wish me luck before leaving for work. I don’t know what’s up with dad, but either he has become a “fan” to thaw our relationship or he has something up his sleeve.
Moving on to something more pertinent, I’ve noticed that some basketball fans (and other sports’ fans, in general) have suddenly become all friendly towards football after some unpleasant exchanges online. There are mature, genuine sports fans out there who realize the utter absurdity of pitting one sport’s fans against another’s, but there are many more who whine about all the attention football is getting and even go so far as launching personal attacks. Interesting. How ridiculous is that! (If you’re a social sciences student who’s thinking about your senior thesis, maybe I just found you your topic.) On a more positive note, the team has also found supporters in the form of those driven by a strong sense of national pride. During the first leg, someone tweeted, “Although I’m not much of a football fan, I’m still rooting for the Azkals to win.” Another tweet went something like, “It’s time to pretend I’m into football! Let’s go, #Azkals!” When it comes to building a loyal fan base, the team is definitely off to a good start.
Then we have the so-called fangirls. It’s easy to separate the genuine football fans from those who like the Azkals because there’s a bunch of good-looking guys on the team. Personally, I don’t mind. I think the fangirls help promote the sport, but other female fans who aren’t just fangirls find them annoying because of what sometimes seems like their indifference to the sport itself. In any case, I like girls who like football, so.
Lastly, I can’t end this post without talking about the diehard football fans—Manchester United and Liverpool fans, for instance, who are inclined to take the Barclays Premier League way too seriously. Many diehard Filipino football fans have one football club they adore and a rival club they despise, but thanks to the Azkals, they’re able to put their differences aside and support one team. Personally, I am a Manchester United fan, but I have nothing against other football clubs. I might have ruffled some feathers recently for putting my opinions out there, but I would never want to deliberately upset anyone. I also have my own share of opinions on the Azkals themselves, but if I sometimes offer criticism, that’s because I care for the team and that’s all.
All I’m trying to say is that people have their own reasons for supporting and even bashing the Azkals. Whatever the case may be, that only helps make the team more popular, which is exactly what they need if we want football to stick around. They may be on the news all the time—perhaps they’ve even succeeded in conquering the sports segment—but believe me, even if it seems like they’re getting too much attention, not everyone knows they exist. And the thing is, Filipinos should know them. It is my hope that, as the months go by, there will be more news about the team’s achievements in the world of football instead of inane chatter and contrived controversies involving the most popular players. Sometimes it is society’s obsession with celebrity which leads others to say that they don’t need attention. I honestly think that the media needs to remember that the Azkals are, first and foremost, football players who can encourage young people to get into sports and live a more physically-active lifestyle. As I’ve said, familiarity does not equal interest. Not all Azkals supporters are football supporters as well, even if they should be. I mean, how can someone genuinely support a football team if one knows next to nothing about the sport? If they’re going to get any news coverage, then this coverage might as well be informative, insightful, and intelligent, because Philippine football could use this right about now.
So, why do you like the Azkals? Do you? Leave a comment!