The Philippines, a country where boxing matches can clear the streets. A country where friends and strangers get together to cheer their favorite basketball team and engage in a long debate over the “what ifs” and “could bes” after the game. A country where people pay for arena seats but barely sit on them because they are too busy jumping and celebrating with every play and every point scored. If there is one thing that can unite the Philippines, it’s sports.
We proudly proclaim to the world that we are a nation with unrivaled passion for sports. When our champions get knocked down, we cheer for them. When our national team failed to make the game winning shot, we cheer for them. When our athletes get injured, yes, we cheer for them. We do this not because we like watching them lose, not because we like seeing them fall down, not because we like watching them cry after they gave everything they had in the game – we cheer for them because their fight is our fight; and Filipinos never back down no matter how many times they fall. The strong heart and spirit of Filipinos will allow them to rise again with an entire nation backing them up.
The Philippines produced its first football hero in the 1920s, when Iloilo-born Paulino Alcantara became the first Asian to play for a European club, and, subsequently, FC Barcelona’s highest-scoring player of all time. In more recent years, the Philippine national team, the Azkals, have taken on the role of our country’s modern football heroes and inspired new fans – the kinds of fans who do not only follow football, but also, the kind of fans who understand the basics of the game. No longer are the streets of our country exclusive to basketball hoops and imaginary nets, footballs are being rolled out with kids even taking up the sport to achieve their life goals.
Football is a sport that captivates through its unpredictability; each play is fast-paced, each pass can be on point or can be stolen, each attack is either accurate and powerful or could be a disappointing miss or end up getting blocked. Will someone draw a red card or will someone make a hat-trick (three goals in one period)? What could happen seconds after a time-out? No one knows. But this is what lures football fans from all over the world: the limitless potential for triumph, tragedy, drama, and yes, heartbreak.
Our craftiness, agility, creativity and motivation to succeed are qualities that Filipinos are born with and we try to capitalize on them especially for a sport like football. The sport preaches discipline, hard work, teamwork and sportsmanship – values that Filipinos has long adopted through various sports.
Pele, the greatest player to have played football and one of the key reasons why football is a global phenomenon, was asked to describe the sport and he said, “Jogo Bonito (the beautiful game)”. Now, here in the Philippines, the beautiful game has found a new home – tight in the warm embrace of a beautiful nation of sports lovers.
The foundation and tools of football in the Philippines have already been placed, and it’s up to us if we are to grow them in the right way. Based on the sport’s rise in popularity, following the road paved by Alcantara, and the Azkals that came after, our country is well on its way to stand proudly alongside the world’s best.
And when that time comes, our entire nation will unite once more to cheer them on.