The Philippine Azkals’ halo effect continues, and it’s a good thing for the sport—and then some.
Who would have guessed a few years ago that corporate sponsors would be lining up to support a sport other than basketball, and there would be players’ images plastered everywhere—egging us to buy a sundry of products from shampoo to corned beef to pain medication?
The stars have certainly aligned literally and figuratively for the Philippine football and its mix of Filipino and Fil-foreign booters. On August 25, Saturday, Clear Philippines stages the country’s first-ever all-star soccer match at the University of Makati football field.
Some of the biggest and brightest names on the pitch will suit up for the friendly, along with some celebrities. Specifically, a selection of United Football League (UFL) players (some of whom play for the Azkals) will join college team standouts and “footballing” celebrities.
The UFL, said its president Randy Roxas in a prerecorded video, “(was) started by a group of businessmen not after a return on their investment, but more after developing the sport that has a lot of promise for Filipinos.” Now boasting more than 20 teams in two groups, Azkal players who used go play abroad during the offseason have found “a venue to play in the league.”
“For the first time as well, we now have a Filipino club that is participating in a regional cup competition in Singapore,” shared Roxas.
The upward trajectory of the sport bodes well its further development in the country, and contributes to a groundswell of interest—particularly among children blessed with neither height nor heart for hoops.
Bannering the event are the two “coaches” for the competing teams: brothers Phil and James Younghusband, who will draft players for their respective squads. Clear brand manager John Imperial explained that the event is unique because fans will be directly involved in choosing the 40 prospects to enter the draft pool.
In case you’re wondering, Clear reported that this pool “includes the likes of UFL stars Anton Del Rosario, Nate Burkey, Freddy Gonzales, Eric Dagroh; college stars Patrick Deyto (DLSU), Miko Mabanag (Ateneo), and Shirmar Felongco (UST); Kaya FC and Guam national team member Jonah Romero; Andrew Wolff and Eric Tai from the Philippine Volcanoes; Brazilian models and members of Socceroo FC Daniel Matsunaga and Fabio Ide; celebrity host Paolo Bediones of TV5, members of “Boys Night Out,” and other outstanding players in the local football scene.”
No purchase is necessary to vote online (via facebook.com/CLEAR) and, more importantly, to watch the game dubbed the Clear Dream Match on August 25. Additionally, 100 lucky fans will get a chance to participate in a clinic overseen by the Younghusbands and participated in by the draftees.
This football festival, while a great boost to the sport, aspires for an even greater good, too. Clear has identified a beneficiary for the event: Tuloy, also known as Tuloy sa Don Bosco Foundation. An organization known for taking kids off the streets and giving them shelter, food, education, and a fighting chance at a viable future, Tuloy is additionally renowned for training players to compete in both the Homeless World Cup and its version for younger kids.
Salesian priest Marciano “Rocky” Evangelista, foundation president and project director, was on hand for the Clear Dream Match launch at the Rockwell Tent in Makati City. At 70, Fr. Rocky remains a firm devotee of the sport (as all Salesians of Don Bosco are). He pointed to his shin and remembered how, during a friendly versus the Philippine team of 1978, he took a painful kick in it. Those, incidentally, were days of metal spikes on soccer shoe soles. To this day, the Salesian still wears therapeutic socks, but his love for the sport is undiminished.
The problem of street or homeless kids is a dire one in the Philippines. Tuloy reported that there are around 1.5 million of them – 60,000 of whom are prostituted. Every day, 3.5 million children between the ages of five and 17 labor under “grueling” conditions. Poverty has gotten so severe that 60 percent of kids drop out of school by second grade. It’s no surprise that 10,500 children are detained and arrested yearly.
Tuloy hopes to make a dent in the disturbing numbers. Growing from a mere 40-sqm. room at the St. John Bosco Parish compound in Makati that housed 12 children, the foundation now stands on 4.5 hectares of land in Alabang, Muntinlupa City. It can accommodate up to 300 kids within its residential facility—where street are given “a home, direction, and the skills they will need in the real world.”
Fr. Rocky told Interaksyon.com that during the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, the Philippines participated in the first Street Kid World Cup (featuring kids 16 and below) in Durban, South Africa. “We were grouped with Brazil, Ukraine, and South Africa,” he said with a smile, “and we emerged champion!” Tuloy has also been active in sending players to the Homeless World Cup. The Philippines is currently ranked 26th among 69 participating countries.
Fr. Rocky continued that training is done basically in-house. “We train them. Bosconians train them,” he underscored. The priest maintained that the interest and affinity for football certainly resonates in the young.
He narrated that he once had a six-hour football session with kids aged six to 10 from an informal settlers’ area. After what he thought was a particularly tiring session, the kids eagerly asked him when they would do that again.
Clear will donate P500,000 worth of Unilever (its parent company) products to Tuloy, and will involve some of the lucky kids in the aforementioned clinic with their football heroes.
James Younghusband kidded at the event that he wanted to make a bet with brother Phil. “The loser would shave his head, but that wouldn’t work for Clear,” he said with a laugh.
Phil added: “This is the first time James and I will play against each other competitively.”
One thing’s immutable: Philippine football—along with the kids of Tuloy—will emerge victorious, whatever the result.