Courtesy of Sun Star Newspaper (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/)
Tuesday, January 25, 2005 issue
by John Pages, Columnist - Match Point
“FOOTBALL is the world’s most popular sport,” declares Neil Montesclaros. He should know. After juggling that white rubber ball off his feet and knees since Grade 4, Neil is a football fan, player, coach and promoter rolled into one.
For 23 years, he hasn’t missed a single World Cup watch. As a player, his 33-year-old legs, now competing in the Aboitiz Cup, can still out-sprint a teener’s. He’s the head coach of the Don Bosco Alumni Club, a board of director of the Cebu Football Association. Two weeks back, he helped gather a sea of boys and girls in studded shoes that was the Thirsty Cup.
So I asked Neil, “How strong is football in Cebu?” In reply, here’s Neil’s candid look at the game:
When Time magazine was choosing the ‘Athlete of the Century’ between Michael Jordan and Pele, they awarded it to the football legend.
Michael Jordan is great. I’m also his fan. But basketball versus football is no contest in global terms. How can one deny Pele the award when more than two thirds of the world is football crazy?
The scene is different in the Philippines.
Basketball is far more popular here than soccer. Hence, we know where the money goes.
It’s a vicious circle. Football is not fully developed because there are no funds. There are no funds because sponsors find it unpopular. It’s unpopular because the level of play is not fun to watch.
The level of play is not fun to watch because it has poor funding. There we go!
But soccer is a sport we Filipinos can excel in. Height and size – or the lack of them – are not disadvantages. Pele is 5-foot-10 and Maradona, 5-4. Both are soccer gods. How many Filipinos are 5-10 and 5-4? A lot. We are medium built.
We need only to promote soccer. There should be more media mileage. More well-publicized tournaments. More playing fields accessible to all. Once the mania sets in, the funds come in.It’s easier in Cebu.
First, soccer is already more popular in the Visayas than in any other region. Cebu, Iloilo, and Negros are always serious threats in national tournaments. If NCR dominates, a good number of their players are from the south. Imports!
Hence, in Cebu, we are not starting from scratch. That’s something we can build on. Cebu is a small island. News gets around fast. People know everybody. It’s easy to organize things and events. Mobilization is easier. We can make soccer the most popular sport in Cebu.
Soccer is biggest in Iloilo. That’s uncontestable. I went there and saw matches. People are football crazy. It’s like you’re in Europe. Their football fields are in public places – the parks, plazas, right in front of churches! It’s like next to religion. Ordinary people, bystanders, and even beggars are football literate. The location of the fields make all the difference. They’re right at the center of town.
Imagine the same here. The whole island will play soccer! Unfortunately, most of our fields are inside schools, secluded and inaccessible. So what happens? Few people understand soccer. They see few games. Football in Cebu is not for public consumption.
Two weekends ago, this was where the 2nd Thirsty Cup hit the bulls-eye. It promoted soccer by making it public. It provided a fiesta atmosphere to usher a football mania. It created a football stir and ripple. Hopefully, the waves will become stronger year after year, so soccer can turn into Cebu’s pride. It will hit us like a tsunami.
After two years, the Thirsty Cup has grown. There were 89 teams on the list – one less than last year. But this year saw the absence of Sacred Heart Boys and Don Bosco due to conflict of schedule. Had they joined, we could have easily topped 100 teams. That’s 1,000 players in one event! Counting the spectators, that’s 3,000 people in one weekend! This is a good indicator of football development. Like a thermometer that gauges Cebu’s soccer fever.
Graeme Mackinnon I next asked, “What makes football big in Cebu?”
The Australian with a Cebuano heart (he is a Cebu Hall of Fame awardee) e-mailed back:
“First, the all-out push for football at all age-groups (male and female) as well as regional and national championships by the Cebu Football Association. Pessimism has been swept aside with optimism. Never in the past has Cebu bid for the hosting of so many tournaments.
“When Jonathan “Maxi” Maximo came in as CebuFA president he brought in a saying, ‘All for football and football for all.’ I think that typifies the Cebuano football attitude.
“Second, the proliferation at the grassroots level. There are players today who are just five years of age. Of course, when these tiny tots play, their parents come along. They bring with them a family aspect to the game that was not there before.
“More and more private schools are now beginning to play football. Then there are public elementary schools who are also beginning to form teams.
“Finally, if the SRP athlete’s village will eventuate then that will give a real boost to soccer.”
Thanks to Neil, Graeme and Maxi, football in Cebu isn’t only alive. It’s kicking.