What a difference 365 days make.
In December 2010, if anyone told me that in a year’s time, a major local channel will air current matches of the Barclays Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga, I would’ve branded them clinically insane. Equally unbelievable one year ago is the fact that live matches of a cup competition between local teams would be aired weekly in its entirety.
There is still a personal overwhelming sense of incredulity in the fact that in a span of twelve months, the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium would be renovated and packed to the rafters with local football fans watching our national team play two FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. That is only possibly overshadowed by the astounding reality that football icon David Beckham graced that very same stadium with the Major League Cup champions Los Angeles Galaxy, almost a year to the date the Azkals burst into national consciousness.
That said, as a football fan, here are my personal football wishes for the coming year. May the footballing powers that be grant them in 2012!
Consistent and intelligent scheduling of games
Going into the UFL semifinals last December 5, Kaya FC coach Juan Cutillas minced no words. “No football association in the world will allow their national team to play a friendly game just two days before the semis of a national tournament!” said the fiery tactician. “It is absolutely f– incredible!”
Granted that the friendly in question was a game against a certain Englishman and his championship-winning team, but Coach Cuto really did have a valid point. From a coach’s perspective, training schedules would have to be compromised, and participating players would have to attend to two training sessions in a day, leaving them prone to fatigue and injuries.
Case in point, from November 30 to December 5, Phil and James Younghusband played three games in six days, starting with a gruelling quarterfinal victory by their Loyola Meralco Sparks over Stallions FC, the Galaxy game with the Azkals, and an epic come-from-behind semifinal victory by Loyola over Kaya FC.
Also, the consistent postponement and rescheduling of games also wreaked havoc on some team’s preparations. The Sparks-Stallions quarterfinal game was a victim of the scheduling gods. To be fair, some of these postponements were due to conditions like stormy weather and an unplayable pitch, things beyond the control of organizers. The use of an all-weather artificial turf in a tropical country such as ours would hopefully solve this problem in the coming season.
Merchandise and more merchandise
Since the UFL does not charge any entrance fees as of yet, owners will surely have to be creative in ways to earn revenue. One surefire way is through selling team merchandise. The ubiquitous replica team jerseys should be a hit, and it is personally a very big surprise that there is a dearth of them available for the football fan.
Kaya FC has started the ball rolling by selling jerseys with individual players and numbers at the back, and I imagine that other teams would be wise to follow suit. UFL Cup Golden Ball winner Yanti Barsales’ #9 replica Air Force jersey would have been in hot demand after his team’s Cup victory, alongside Chieffy Caligdong’s #14 and Ian Araneta’s #23, had they been available. You can argue that Phil Younghusband’s #10 replica Loyola Meralco Sparks jersey, if reasonably-priced, would sell out easily as well.
Mizuno has continually missed a great opportunity in marketing the Azkals’ home and away jerseys. Azkals’ home games should be littered with stalls selling authentic merchandise. However, it is the classic “Class A Azkals jerseys” that are making a killing. The same can be said with Adidas, where nary an LA Galaxy shirt was in sight, even in the local stores during the Dream Cup.
But why stop at shirts? Scarves, caps, shirts, shorts, mugs, bags, flags, eyewear, key chains, ballpens, briefs, jockstraps, panties, G-strings, USB drives and a whole host of merchandise bearing team logos can be sold. Anyone up for a Philippine Navy FC salbabida or Cebu Queen City United FC danggit?
Fans would undoubtedly want to own a piece of the team, even if via a simple keychain. Owners will be happy with the additional revenue. League officials and the TV people will be ecstatic with the additional exposure. Everybody wins.
The culture of shirt swapping in the league
At the conclusion of most football matches, we often see players swap sweat-soaked jerseys with members of the opposing team. The recent LA Galaxy game provided us with the spectacle of captains Landon Donovan and Aly Borromeo swapping shirts at halftime.
Swapping shirts is not just a display of admiration and sportsmanship; it is also a way of expressing respect to an opponent, especially after 90 minutes of trying to kick the living daylights out of them.
If more shirts were swapped in the UFL, would we see a proportionate decrease in the number of cards handed out in the games?
Smarter ticketing policy and prices
I am not referring just to the LA Galaxy game, where ticket prices had to be embarrassingly reduced by 35 percent just five days before the game. There were even unverified reports that tickets were practically given away minutes before kick-off to avoid the ignominy of having empty seats in a Beckham game.
I am referring to the fact that lower grandstand seats actually cost more than upper grandstand seats and that the bleacher seats opposite the grandstand (which offer a similar view) cost significantly lower than their roofed counterparts.
Football, unlike basketball, is a game best viewed from a substantial distance in the field. For the football purist, being eye-level with the pitch is almost completely useless, unless you plan to join the ranks of the medics on the side-lines. Part of the joy of watching the beautiful game is observing how a move was created, or how a counter-attack started from a fantastic through ball from deep, and these are best observed in the upper grandstand seats.
The best kept secret in the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium is not the exact location of the Blue Haired Fanatic’s make-up kit; it is the fact that the much-maligned “bleacher” seats opposite the grandstand offer the second-best seats in the house. Perhaps the Philippine Football Federation or the Philippine Sports Commission could invest in a roof and reap the rewards via charging higher “bleacher” ticket prices.
Maturing football audiences and football media
In football, a 7:30 p.m. kick-off means precisely that. At the stroke of thirty minutes after seven in the evening, the referee will blow his whistle to start the game. That means, boys and girls, that we should all be in the stadium at 7 p.m. at the latest, even if just to soak in the game-day atmosphere. A pre-game warm-up of the players will also serve as a great reward and appetizer for the early football bird in the stands.
In a game where sometimes only a solitary goal separates the two teams, the football fan cannot afford to miss a single minute of action. Woe to the latecomer if the only goal of the game came in the second minute!
As football audiences mature, the local media must likewise follow suit. It is perfectly unacceptable that local media does not understand at least the basic rules and nuances of the game. It is this writer’s fervent hope that there will be no more instances of reporters asking our national team striker “who he shall be marking in the game.” There is most certainly no excuse for asking David Beckham his preference is between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, especially after a football match.
Electronic scoreboard and game clock
It is incredible how local football fans could watch a league game without a game clock on the field. Even the players themselves seem completely oblivious to the time left on the clock. Exactly how the forwards figure out how long they have to claw back the two-goal deficit without a discernible clock in the stadium is certainly beyond me.
It is a testament to the fans’ dedication to the game that they synchronize their watches with the referee’s opening whistle, just to be able to follow the game with a greater sense of involvement. My humble request is that we take the fans, the players, and the coaching staff out of their collective misery by kindly please installing a suitable game clock in the stadium.
A permanent electronic scoreboard is also a minimum for our home ground. Hopefully, gone are the days when we couldn’t even put a “0″ on the whiteboard, as was the case when Global-Teknika beat SMART San Beda FC in the SMART Club Championships last August. Philippine football has grown by leaps and bounds. Perhaps the whiteboard has also outgrown its usefulness in football matches.
And por favor, it is high time someone, anyone, please fix the analog clock at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. The unmoving hands of the clock seem to be proof that the state of Philippine sports stands frozen in time. Until it is repaired, restored or put to its final resting place, we will be all witnesses to the exact time of its death: at exactly 12:24.