It is quite disappointing that not too many watch football games even if the Azkals are playing one in Bulacan for a spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Well, for one, the sport, as are many others, is overshadowed by basketball, at least on television where PBA matches are seen regularly supposedly by millions.
For another, it has only been in 2010, in this corner’s reckoning that football here took off when the Azkals stunned Vietnam (2-0) in the Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia’s premier tournament.
Then, in 2012, the Chieffy Caligdong-led Philippine national football team again shamed the Vietnamese eleven (1-0) to prove that its victory two years back was not the result of parking the bus, as contended by a sore loser—the Vietnamese coach.
Until the early part of the 21st century, Filipino futbol players were the laughing stock of their Asian counterparts, not the least because they had lost to Indonesia by more than 10 goals in one outing (it’s akin to being mauled by 100 points in basketball).
Now, it has to be pointed out, the evident resurgence of football in the country stems in part from the likes of the Younghusband brothers, Filipino-British, and others of Filipino-Danish or Filipino-Spanish mixed heritage.
Admittedly, the “foreign” invasion has added a dash of glamour and, undoubtedly, a higher level of play, with nearly all of the “invaders” having played or are playing with mostly European football clubs.
Not that homegrown footballers are inferior in any way to Filipino-German Stephan Schrock or Filipino-Iranian Misagh Bahadoran, both Azkals, only that they have had less international exposure, if at all they have had any in the 20th century.
True, Filipino-Spanish Paulino Alcantara put the Philippines on the international map when he played for the country but only briefly in the early 1900s, with his professional career that he ended in 1933 spent mostly with Barcelona FC in Spain.
Of course, when he was making a name for himself in his adopted country (Alcantara was born in Iloilo) and beyond, the Americans were already beginning to teach the natives basketball and in the process may have caused the death of the beautiful game in the Philippines, intentionally or not.
Meanwhile, teaching the locals futbol may have been farthest from the mind of the Spanish colonizers, having been driven out by bolo-wielding locals in 1898.
These certified invaders cannot possibly let descendants of the Katipuneros and their ilk push their luck and beat them in football, not even jai alai, maybe.
And so the sport lived and died between the time the Treaty of Paris was signed and the Filipinos were told by the Americans to celebrate Philippine Independence Day (from the Yankees) starting 1946 every July 4th.
It will take another generation for football stadiums in the Philippines to be filled up by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of fans, who, in other parts of the world, worship football (it’s not referred to as soccer there) and they show it by massing up at the venues.
In the European qualifiers for places in Russia three years from now, for example, the stadiums are jampacked; even it was lowly Gibraltar getting massacred by merciless Germany (0-7) last week.
It is refreshing, however, to be able to watch UAAP football games on the small screen today because it was unthinkable in the past for any TV station to be airing matches between collegiate teams, much less those between the Philippine national team and foreign squads.
Also, it is heartening that at least 6,000 or so football fans trooped to the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue last month for the Azkals-Bahraini qualifier.
Incidentally, the Philippines, through the Azkals, got back at Indonesia (4-0) a year or two ago.
Other breakthroughs, eventually, would lead to filling up of the country’s football stadiums and, who knows, to the Azkals getting all fired up and bring their act to Russia.