Holding a football match at a pitch in a distant plain is not promoting the beautiful game among the evidently poor who could barely raise jeepney fare even if the clash of players were scheduled at some city venue.
It is pandering to the wishes of the fairly monied fan who could afford to literally go the distance even if last Thursday’s FIFA qualifier between Bahrain and the Philippines were to take place in the Spratlys in the South China Sea.
Alright, the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue town of Bulacan province, north of Manila, is new, sleek and modern but it is not friendly to the serious futbol fan of limited financial resources.
Okay, it is in Marlboro country, with the cowboy vibe rubbed in by vast tracts of rice lands that only the Central Plain of Luzon can boast of as far as the eye can see, but the stadium even if reachable by public transportation at daytime poses a nightmare to the cash-strapped fan after sunset.
If you are coming from the Cubao area in Quezon City, for example, and with the June 11 qualifier for the 2018 World Cup in Russia set at 7:45 p.m., you will have to be onboard a bus by 5 p.m., reaching what they call Sanders in Bocaue around 7 p.m.
From Sanders, you take a tricycle (P15, one way), alight less than a hundred meters from the stadium and walk a few meters to reach the main entrance.
Fine, you tell yourself, proceed to buy a ticket (I was happy with the P125.41, upper box I bought), brace for the kick-off, enjoy the game, savor the Azkals’ 2-1 victory over the higher-ranked Bahrain booters and prepare to go home with a smile on your face.
The nightmare has just begun.
The game ended around 10:55 p.m. and fans streamed out of the Philippine Sports Stadium.
Nobody told me that at that hour of the night, no public transportation is available for the car-less (and the clueless like me) for a trip of two kilometers or so to the Bocaue exit of the North Luzon Expressway, from where I will flag a bus bound for Cubao.
So, the stadium works only for those with Fortuners, Tucsons, Expeditions, etc. but it doesn’t for commuters more familiar with LRTs 1 and 2 and MRT 3, pedicabs, taxis and motorcycles.
Luckily, I was able to bargain for a ride in a tourist coaster that I learned after a chat with the young bus conductor was bound for Trinoma along Edsa on West Avenue.
Indeed, desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was witness to it unfolding in a situation that I never thought would find me at the receiving end.
If my luck did not hold that night, I was sure I would have begged guards of the stadium to let me spend the night there.
It was my first time to go to this unhospitable place and it will be the last.
If I want my football fix, then I will take anytime the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, FEU Stadium in Diliman, Quezon City, or the Emperador Stadium in Taguig City (Metro Manila).
I am sure that siopao in all three pitches would not cost me P50 and the iced tea in a 12-ounce tumbler to go with it also P50.
The Philippine Football Federation will have to be reminded that football fans from the grassroots do not have an extra P100 in their pocket for snacks.
They only have tricycle/jeepney fare and passionate love for the game, and they don’t speak in English when lining up to buy tickets, unlike those in last week’s FIFA qualifier who to their “credit” also spoke in Filipino but with an accent!
But I have to ask: Why do the scoreboards at the Philippine Sports Stadium go off when a goal is scored?