Two words: David Beckham. The chance to finally see the superstar in the flesh (along with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, among others) was probably the first thing that popped into people’s heads when they heard about the friendly game against the Los Angeles Galaxy. It was about their football hero, the ex-Manchester United (in my case!) and ex-Real Madrid player. To many, it was about drooling over seeing their football idol, the one who got them into the world’s favorite sport, and Beckham did just that for legions of fans.
Fans who saw the game are probably still hung over. I mean, who isn’t? Beckham hasn’t lost his pizzazz at all! I couldn’t help but cheer for both teams. I was always googly-eyed whenever the ball was with Beckham. The image of Beckham on the pitch, the number 23 on his back, still seems so clear. If only I could have asked for his autograph or peppered him with questions like: “Are you planning to return to Manchester United?” “What do you think of Manchester United’s performance this season?” Seeing him in real life only amplified my appreciation and admiration for Beckham. I will probably be startstruck for the rest of the month!
To cure your Beckham fever (not mine), do not forget that the exhibition match also showcased the Azkals. The Dream Cup was not only for our entertainment; it also gave the Azkals the kind of exposure and experience they deserve. Philippine football needs high-profile events on a regular basis to maintain public interest in the sport, and L.A. Galaxy helped to keep the Azkals on the world map.
This year has been an amazing and fulfilling year for both the Azkals and Philippine football, and I hope we don’t forget that we played a crucial role in their success. What’s important now is that we continue to support them. I’m really glad that, to some kids, the Azkals are their football heroes. Beckham is a superstar, but sometimes these young footballers need to look up to someone they will see around. On the Azkals’ last day of training, there was this little boy wearing a Rooney jersey who kept screaming “Wayne Rooney!” and “Coach Nate!” from the grandstand. I was laughing discreetly. I don’t know what inspired that kid to get into football, but I was glad to see him vocally support Rooney—even if he wasn’t there—and Nate Burkey, who happens to be his coach. During the game itself, I heard some people go wild when the announcer called on Chieffy. When they see Chieffy, they see the Manny Pacquiao (who was also there in the flesh!) of Philippine football. They know his life story, what he’s been through, and feel a sense of affinity with him that even Beckham can’t build.
There truly is no better time to be a football fan, and I encourage everyone to let your love for the game run loose. While I’m not expecting everyone to be easily drawn to the Azkals, I hope to do what I can to find others who will believe with us. The true objective of the match this past Saturday was for two well-loved teams to play a great game of football, and while it did indeed end at 6–1 in favor of L.A. Galaxy, I want to keep encouraging everyone to view the Azkals (and the UFL teams) in a new light, in the same way you love your favorite Premier League, Bundesliga, or La Liga teams. Believe it or not, it need not take the likes of Beckham, Pelé, Ronaldo, Maradona, Zidane, or Best for someone to appreciate football; the Azkals are capable of doing just that.
“Beckham Fever” was first featured here.