Every Saturday in Payatas, between 30 to 40 kids turn up to play football and have fun on the barangay basketball court. On the same day, a second football training session in nearby Kasiglahan Village draws another 20 to 30 kids to the basketball court at Papaya Academy.
Living on the outskirts of the dumpsite, these kids show tremendous heart and spirit — and above all, they really enjoy the beautiful game.
The Payatas Football Club began training in February, and by now, the players have learned the basics of the game and compete in tournaments across Metro Manila. In their first tournament, they won three of five games, with a draw and a loss in the other two matches. They also recently joined Under-12 and Under-10 competitions at Corinthian Gardens recently, playing against some of the best teams in Metro Manila for their age groups, and reaching the semifinals in both tournaments.
Here are some of the players we’ve gotten to know:
Jay is normally the captain of Payatas FC, but missed the last tournament after he fell off a jeepney. Breaking his arm and scarring his face, he still laughed and smiled about the accident, but seemed most gutted about not being able to play football. He often sums up the spirit of Payatas FC, where players try their best and seem to bounce off the floor when tackled badly, getting up and smiling before running off after the ball again.
Payatas is not the most skilled team, but but it wins the majority of games through determination and continual running. Often the most hardworking at the tournaments, Payatas players are surprisingly responsible, and they always try their hardest.
Jay’s father is a policeman, and perhaps this is where he gets his sense of responsibility and leadership, as he led the team in its first tournament. He also scored the equalizer in the final game of that debut competition, a 2-2 draw that was probably the best game of the tourney, as both sides showed real class despite their young age.
Hanz is nine years old and is the youngest to join us at a tournament. He enjoys football mostly because he likes to join his friends, and is happy when competing with them or against them. Always wanting to be the center of attention, Hanz may be one of the most makulit, but he’s still a caring lad.
Despite his age and size, his enthusiasm meant he was one of the better players throughout the Under-10s tournament, helping them reach the semifinals. Drowned in the Mitre uniform, which was given to the kids at the recent Score a Goal for Child Protection day with the Phil and James Younghusband, Hanz shows a lot of promise with some good dribbling skills and attacking displays.
When he was five years old, his father was shot in the head; he still doesn’t know why or by whom. His mother is away, working as a caregiver, but his house is full of family and they’re working for the future.
Angelica is one of just two girls who joined the team last tournament. At ten years old, she doesn’t look out of place though, as she is solid in defense, and often shows the boys up as she races across the pitch to not only tackle them but dribble a long way and score.
She showed these skills well at the tournament, scoring the only goals in two 1-0 wins in the group stages of the Under-10s. This is even more impressive as she did so while playing in defense, and against all-boy teams. On one occasion, she dribbled past three players before kicking in a goal to be the top scorer from both Payatas FC teams.
Having joined in March, she’s only been playing for seven months, and with the right training and coaching, I truly believe she could make the women’s national team, as she has those unteachable skills of drive and determination.
Her father is one of the many truck drivers driving the rubbish to Payatas, while her mother is a housewife. Living at Payatas is obviously difficult at times, given the constant money worries, but Angelica enjoys visiting new places through football and learning new skills. She jokes about holding me up for my cellphone while the other kids are joking about her parents fighting at the time.
Ricardo is one of the most responsible members of Payatas FC despite being just 11 years old. He mainly plays in defnese because of his dutiful attitude and positional awareness. Ricardo is a large part of why we’ve only conceded eight goals in the nine games of the Under-12s, including five clean sheets.
Ricardo can be relied on to help organize the permission forms, arrange things for training or tournaments, and teaching the younger kids. Uncertain for the first tournament, he quickly improved to make himself indispensable with some great performances.
In an interview with journalist Natashya Gutierrez, he said: “[Sana] manalo po [kami] lagi. Para magkaroon ng mukha ang Payatas, hindi lagi yung sinasabi na basura lang ang Payatas.” (I hope we always win so that Payatas can have a face different from that always associated with just garbage.)
Ricardo epitomizes the reason why Payatas FC exists. With more practice Ricardo’s dream can come true and people will begin talking about Payatas not only for the dumpsite but now for its football as well.
Piolo is Ricardo’s younger cousin and neighbor. He was the goalkeeper for the Under-10s team, and conceded only one goal in all the five games of the tournament. Looked after by Ricardo, Piolo gets the freedom to express himself, and this helps in his goalkeeping as his childlike smile beams all the time.
Piolo’s father is a mechanic in Makati, while his mother is a housewife but also tends to the family sari-sari store. Playing for only six months, Piolo joined the team because his friends were playing, and also because he says there’s nothing much to do on a Saturday. Football gives the kids something to do which also teaches good values and keeps them out of trouble, something which, like many children his age, Piolo can be very good at getting into.
Renz is a cheeky kid who’s always smiling. A regular at trainings and tournaments, Renz is one of the most improved players on the team. He scored the winning goal in one of our wins in the first tournament, and also scored to put us ahead in the semifinal match at Corinthian Gardens. Playing against perhaps the best technically-skilled team for their age in Metro Manila, the team battled hard to draw 1-1 against Nomads FC in the semifinal (we went on to lose by penalties).
The journey to his house is perhaps the most intriguing as we go down the back streets filled with rubbish and turn into an area which is marked by a discarded mattress and houses made of recycled materials.
His father scavenges at Payatas, while his mother is a housewife who looks after their children.
Renz has no birth certificate, and so like many people in squatters’ areas, he’s not included in official counts of population and similar statistics as he isn’t registered. This makes estimating populations in areas like Payatas difficult.
Because he has no birth certificate Renz can’t be sure of how old he is, which makes things interesting for some tournaments with age restrictions. (He says he’s twelve years old.)
Trying to talk to Stephen to ask if he wanted to be featured proved difficult at first — he saw a football and got quite distracted. Eventually he stopped playing and sat down.
Stephen lives at Mango Tree House, the children’s home of our sister charity ASCF. He’s twelve years old now and came to Mango when he was seven. His father died of asthma, unable to afford the doctor and the simple medicine that could have saved his life, and Stephen soon dropped out of school and began working on the streets. He had fun laughing at me trying to pronounce “nangangakal” but the serious side was that as a child, he was a scavenger.
Brought into the children’s home, Stephen now gets the opportunity to go to school, and though he said he was sad to leave his mother, who remains unable to support a family as a widow, he is happy that he has many friends and gets the chance to study. His grades are improving too and in grade VI now, he has an average grade of 83%.
In football, Stephen shows massive heart. Always running, he frequently dives in on bigger players, and despite the difference in height and strength, his sheer persistence and determination often means he gets the ball.
In the tournament last August Stephen learned to slide tackle, something not possible on the concrete basketball courts we train on. Every time he was near an opponent he slid in and in one particular tackle he began sliding from almost ten yards away. Amazingly, he got the ball pretty much every time and continually proves himself as a solid defender, or in the role of the destroyer in midfield. The next day his knees were all bruised and he was limping from all the sliding. Hearing there may be training later on he suddenly jumped up shouting “I’m fine! I can play!” with a beaming smile.
Driven to win, Stephen is not only competitive but is a kind-hearted child who never means anyone harm. Always with a smile on his face until a couple of years ago his ambition was to join the police; now he wants to become like his heroes, the Azkals.
Changing the face of Payatas
Payatas FC is about turning the image of Payatas from scavenging through the trash to find anything of value, to showing how valuable every person is. Given the opportunity these kids have shown massive heart and with such a determined attitude often beat teams of older and taller players. Having only trained since February this year, already many of the players want to become Azkals and play professionally. With their character, some may be able to achieve that. For the majority, football will be a fun hobby, something that will improve self-esteem and confidence and encourage them to dream big without them noticing.
Given their personalities these kids will work hard to fulfill those dreams. Some are very simple and they hope to provide for their own families, while others want to join the Azkals and keep playing football.
The best thing I did for this team was simply give them a ball, their determination did the rest. As we learn new skills each week the teams are improving and slowly Payatas is being remembered for more than trash, it’s being remembered for the gems of people uncovered beneath.
Roy Moore is a British national currently taking up graduate studies at UP Diliman. He is the coach of the Payatas Football Club and the co-director of the Fairplay for All Foundation. To read more of his football writing and know more about his work, visit his blog or follow him on Twitter.