Summer is here, the time for long-awaited vacations, neglected hobbies, and personal pursuits. It’s the perfect time to take a break from everything. Spend a few days at the beach. Go wherever you want to go. And if you’ve got the free time, why not spend a few moments engaged in a few physical activities? Outdoor sports are a summer staple, and you guessed right—it’s time for me to talk about football again!
Ever since the Azkals’ recent victory, football has become a unifying force in the Philippines. I’ve noticed that most people’s allegiance to the national football team has become much more defined over the past few weeks, and people have started to genuinely support football. Without a shadow of doubt, the Azkals have provided Filipinos with a new medium through which we can come together. (I just wish I knew other Manchester United fans, though.)
Football fans have created several fan pages dedicated to the team, to specific players, and to the sport. Even team manager Dan Palami has his own fan page on Facebook. Thanks to Twitter
and BlackBerry Messenger, the Azkals and their team manager regularly interact with the fans and vice versa. There’s even this forum where fans discuss players who could possibly join the Azkals in the future. Definitely intriguing! How did they find these prospective players in the first place? All I know is that once the football rumor mill starts churning, there’s no stopping it.
We are not just limited to the Azkals. Have you ever heard of Global F.C. or Kaya F.C.? Well, they are just two of the seven teams (Division 1) participating in the LBC United Football League (UFL). FYI, UFL has provided football fans with a local version of the Barclays Premier League. I really admire the people who organized and funded this tournament because it promotes and maintains football awareness. People will once again find a local team and players that they want to support.
Fans aside, there are also parents who have enrolled their children in football classes. There must be little kids out there who think that they could be the next Phil Younghusband, and that’s certainly a wonderful thing. Even though MILO® Philippines and many schools have always offered summer football programs, the revival of Philippine football has provided kids passionate about the sport with even more to choose from, such as The Younghusband Football Academy (TYFA) and the Azkals-Global Football Academy, two institutions that are here to make sure that football grows and lives on in the country. If only I were younger, I would sign up just so I could wear my Chicharito jersey without sticking out like a sore thumb.
The Azkals have changed the history of Philippine football, and I always feel the need to write about them, not out of obligation, but out of gratitude. I guess this is also my way of helping to sustain interest in football. There are many things that could bring us together, but there are only a few things that can change our lives at the same time. If basketball is more than a game, then so is football. It’s a beautiful sport that has changed many lives. I guess I can say that football has changed mine.
Every time I watch Manchester United play, there is always this inevitable surge of feelings. You can’t blame me; football is a game of two halves. Goals make me scream at the top of my lungs. Fouls, bad challenges, and poor refereeing make me swear under my breath. Conceding a goal makes my heart ache a little. Sometimes when Chicharito has the ball and we haven’t scored a goal, I find myself chanting, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Chicharito scores for me. Javier Hernandez, little pea.” Both losses and victories make me cry. Draws can make or break my day (or worse, week). Losing means having a bad hair day, while winning means being on cloud nine. Call me a football geek—I don’t care, by the way—but during a game, I take notes. After a match, I evaluate each player’s performance and imagine myself having a bull session with Sir Alex Ferguson. (His actual post-match comments are the most realistic part of my daydream.) I guess Manchester United means a lot to me, almost as if I’m one of the owners. Maybe fans feel the same way because without us, there’s no Manchester United. The exact same feelings and reactions also apply to the Azkals, of course.
What I’m trying to say here is that Filipinos have already established a connection with football and the Azkals, but it’s too early to tell whether its staying power is strong enough. Don’t let the sedulous spark die; let it shine and resonate. The only way Philippine football will thrive is if it is in the right place, and that place is within ourselves. We are the backbone that connects football with the others; the Azkals just happen to play a more active role in the promotion of the sport. We have to remain plucky in the face of indifference. Fortunately, now, more than ever, fans such as myself are living by Dan Palami’s motto: “We believe.” There may still be doubters along the way, but the team’s true fans have never stopped believing and will continue to believe.
“I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.”
—Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch