Over the Halloween weekend, I got the chance to be part of Global FC’s training camp in Tacloban, Leyte. Tacloban happens to be the hometown of some of the guys involved with the club, including club president Dan Palami, team manager Franco Lorenzo, team coordinator Dondi Bautista, and players such as Nani, among others.
I arrived in the evening, around 8:00/9:00, thanks to my delayed PAL flight. Dondi and his friend Amiel picked me up at the airport and brought me straight to Rosvenil Pensione, where the players and the coaching staff were staying. At the lobby, I was immediately greeted by Nani and Coach Graeme. Everyone was really friendly and accommodating. Coach Graeme and I discussed the Manchester United vs Manchester City game where United was outplayed, 6–1. He was unbiased and insightful; any football fan would enjoy a decent conversation with him. After unpacking, I went to a nearby restaurant called Socsargen Grill to grab some dinner. I spotted Angel Guirado and Misagh Bahadoran on an ice cream date, but they were kind enough to let me interrupt! Angel is quite sociable. Misagh, his “best friend” and “interpreter” is just as friendly. If you ever run into these guys, don’t be shy.
The next day, October 29—a sizzling hot Saturday in Tacloban—I overslept and missed their training. I didn’t have the day’s itinerary, so I just stayed in my room till lunchtime. Team manager Franco drove me to a school where everyone was having lunch. There I spoke to Coach Graeme about Global’s training, tactics, and everything in between. It kind of made me wish that I was a player so I could have him as my coach! He knows how to inspire aspiring footballers. After lunch, he gathered everyone inside a classroom where he discussed that afternoon’s activities. I was still in college the last time I had set foot inside a classroom, so it felt strangely nostalgic. With the players around my age, it felt like I was right back in high school or college. Coach Graeme, always open to questions, made sure everyone had set goals for themselves that afternoon.
Once we got back to the house, I found myself enervated from the heat and I missed their afternoon training. By dinnertime, I was so glued to Manchester United’s game against Everton that I had completely forgotten about dinner with the guys and Coach Graeme at Socsargen Grill, where they were also watching the game. I feel bad about that; I hope I didn’t come off as reclusive/unfriendly!
The nervy and much-needed 1–0 victory of Manchester United against Everton and Arsenal’s unexpected victory against Chelsea kept me up all night, so once again, I overslept and missed training the next morning. I promised to myself that I would make it up to everyone! That afternoon, when Mr. Palami saw me having a chat with Rafa Garcia, he quickly said something like, “MIJI! Did you come here to Tacloban to support Global FC or something else?” I really was ignorant about their schedule, but my response sounded lame and unconvincing. At lunch, along with Rafa and Angel, Dan explained to me that I am part of the team. They say that football fans are the cornerstone of the game; they are the twelfth man on the pitch. I felt stirred and awakened, like it was a momentous turning moment during a game. When I asked him whether I could join everyone on the tour, he said that I didn’t even have to ask. Call me a sap, but I was really touched.
We were all on one bus during the tour. People were waving and greeting us. We went to the San Juanico Bridge, Tacloban’s famed landmark. For dinner, we stopped at the San Juanico Golf Club. I ate with Dan, Rafa, and Coach Oni, and later joined Angel and Misagh at their table. The locals made the evening truly enjoyable and memorable. There was a band whose lead singer’s voice was amazing. We were treated to a performance by a former Pilipinas Got Talent finalist. They put on a fashion show. I finally came to realize that I felt like I was, indeed, part of a great team. Back at the house, I told Misagh to wake me up at 6:00 a.m. so I could be there for training. He said, “I will knock on your door until you wake up. Good night!”
Funny, it was Dondi knocking on my door the next morning! At Leyte Provincial Sports Complex, it wasn’t even high noon and it was already scorching hot. I felt fine, though, and jogged around the pitch, even played with the ball. I tried to do some target shooting, something I apparently suck at. Dan then arrived and asked me to pass the ball, which he shot at the goal unerringly. He had come to say goodbye since he was flying back to Manila earlier than some of us who had booked afternoon flights (the team and staff left Tacloban on November 2, 2011). I observed the players train rigorously and wholeheartedly. I witnessed Coach Graeme’s commitment and profound ardor for football. I realized how much he offers as a coach. I felt the involvement of every staff member. I saw everyone in action, doing their part passionately, during my last day. I wished that people could see the team from where I was seated: These guys are true champions.
Before leaving, I ate with Nani, Raymond, Fonz, Yu, and Val. I was at the airport early, but I guess the airline thought it would be a good day to treat us to a trick as my flight was delayed…again. Even then, I barely noticed. I stood there alone savoring my time left in Tacloban. It all went by so fast, thanks to the great company I had: Coach Graeme (the wonder coach), Val (the Lenny Kravitz lookalike), Yu-san (the Astro Boy), Coach Dondi (Machete), Misagh (talkative prince of Persia), Angel (the Spanish Tarzan), Rafa (the white bear), and everyone else.
Fans, this is only the beginning. I watched Global FC conquer the hearts of Tacloban. To the rest of the Philippines, get ready because Global is coming to where you are!