Regardless of age or distance travelled, football fans, athletes, and enthusiasts gathered at the Alabang Country Club in Ayala Alabang Village last November 28 – 30 for one of the most anticipated sporting events in the country – the 2015 Alaska Football Cup.
Now in its 20th year, the tournament has expanded to become one of the most prestigious and successful football development programs in the Philippines. From a modest 25 teams and 350 players back in 1986, this year saw over 6,000 participants from across the country playing for 410 teams on 26 fields in a three-day event.
“The Alaska Football Cup is a very big deal for almost every club especially those coming from the provinces,” said Jimmy Liman, a referee who has officiated in the tournament since 2003. “It’s one thing to play against teams in your province, but to be able to play against teams from places you’ve never been to brings your game to a whole new level. For some clubs, just being able to come here and participate is already an achievement.”
The spark for the tournament, as told by Alaska President and CEO Wilfred Uytengsu in his opening remarks, came from a very personal place: Over twenty years ago, he was inspired from watching his son, Sean, take part in a football competition. It was there that he met Tomas Lozano, who would go on to be known as the Alaska Football Cup’s Organizing Chief and all-around mastermind, and it wasn’t long before, “We decided that we [Alaska] would try and support his vision to create the largest football tournament for the youth in the Philippines.”
“It’s incredible to come back 20 years later and see how much it has grown,” Uytengsu’s now-grown son, Sean, told playPH, when asked about the tournament’s longevity. “When I was playing, we just had half of this field with 25 teams and now we have 140 teams a day. The growth of soccer in the Philippines is just incredible.”
On the sidelines, high levels of camaraderie were on display, with schools, clubs, and families all on hand to lend their support. On the playing fields, sportsmanship was in full effect, as players from all walks of life learned from one another and made new friends throughout the various games.
Parents that playPH spoke with shared that one of the things they enjoyed about the annual event, aside from bonding time, was the values instilled in their children by their pursuit of sport. Values such as teamwork, determination, hard work, discipline, and sportsmanship were but some of the positive attributes they said would help their children succeed on and off the field.
Husband and wife TJ and Chesca Brillantes shared with playPH how football has helped their 5-year old daughter, Chloe. “Football has actually helped prepare our daughter for school. The team environment is similar to that in school where her teammates are like her classmates and her coach is her teacher. It also helped her social skills making it easier for her to make new friends.”
Having begun as the story of a father watching his son play the game he loves, it seems only fitting that, two decades on, the Alaska Football Cup is still going strong in its mission to bring people from different walks of life together as one football-loving family.