Finally, Mariano Araneta Jr.
seemed to have come to his senses when early this week he conceded that the Philippine Sports Stadium (PSS) is simply inaccessible to ordinary Filipino football fans.
Looking back at the poor turnout at the PSS during the group stage of the 2016 Suzuki Cup last November, he was quoted in a report as saying, “We really had a hard time in the Philippine Sports Stadium because although it is real-ly a great venue, the accessibility for the fans is quite hard.”
The Philippine Sports Stadium, owned by the religious group Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), is a sleek, 20,000-seater modern venue that has hosted the more significant international games on the calendar of the Philippine Azkals—the national team—including last year’s qualifiers for the 2020 World Cup in Russia.
This corner has long argued that holding the internationals of the Azkals in far, far away Bocaue, Bulacan, north of Manila, where the PSS is located, was not a smart way of popularizing the beautiful game of football in these parts.
For the record, the classification matches of last year’s Suzuki Cup—Southeast Asia’s premier football tourna-ment—that the Philippines hosted for Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand were watched by a grand total of 9,652 spectators.
In contrast, the other group games simultaneously hosted by Myanmar and which also featured Cambodia, Malay-sia and Vietnam played before tens of thousands of football fans in presumably more accessible sites at the center of Yangon, not in some stadium similar to the PSS that sits forlorn in rice country in rural Bulacan province.
The PSS is in la la land and no matter the modern, sleek design, we still have a quarrel with the stairs (the steps are spaced too far apart) and the food stands (the nearest kiosks where you can get your sandwiches are near the ticket booths, meaning that you practically have to exit the stadium before you can eat and a football match lasts only for 90 minutes, plus added time of a few more minutes).
Araneta also conceded that fan support goes a long way in making members of the Philippine Azkals feel that they are not alone in their battles here and abroad.
“We really need fan support. So, we really need to go to a place where the fans are there. When you look at coun-tries like Indonesia, when [the Indonesian national footballers]play, the fans are really there,” he told reporters.
It was unfortunate that Indonesia lost the 2016 Suzuki Cup finals to Thailand on aggregate score.
But it was still a near-Cinderella finish for the beaten finalists, having just emerged from FIFA suspension and yet, also presumably fired up by supportive, adoring fans, they almost made it in their fifth shot at the Suzuki Cup crown.
The Philippines was a three-time semifinalist, a not-so-great finish, from 2010 to 2014 of the biennial event.
With the fans (who matter) in Cebu and Negros Occidental (Bacolod City in particular)—two of the places where Araneta thinks fan support can be found—the Azkals might just pull off a coup and hand the Philippines an interna-tional football title that is worth crowing about.