Monday, October 27, 2014

Fair Play: Eat, sleep, wake up, play football (literally)

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Oct 27 edition)
AT 3 p.m. on Friday, the two teams started playing football. It wasn’t just an ordinary game because four hours later, a new set of referees took over to officiate the match.

In all, there would be 12 substitutions of three-man referee teams who would take four-hour spells to officiate for 50 straight hours, the longest continuous football match in the Philippines.

Impressed?

Well, that was just a dry run for the group’s real target—101 hours of non-stop football.


Impressed?

Those involved are players from Cebu’s vibrant BPO football community. Yep, guys and gals who hold the graveyard shift.

Bilib ko sa ilang dedication,” coach Robert “Kid” Nicart told me when I dropped by.

“Most of them go to practice right straight after work.”

It was 9 p.m. that Friday, they were already playing for six hours straight and they were a long way from their target.

Because the goal is to play a certain hours and not win the game, the coaching strategy is diferrent. There is no intense action, no rough tackles nor pressure play.

The players are instructed to save their energy, so passing, not dribbling should be the premium. And no two-on-one pressure defense.

“I told them to take it easy. If the ball is on the attacking third, only those who are there should be involved, the rest can walk,” he said.

But it’s football. Who can resist the urge for a dribble? Or that quick run at the goal?

And while we were talking, one guy dribbled past everybody for a goal and players from both teams applauded. That’s something you don’t see in an ordinary game.

What else you won’t see? Players getting their heart rates and blood pressure checked before getting in. And tents, lots of them.


Coach Kid had a couple of stop watches on, not to monitor the time, but to monitor the hours the players were on the field.

Subs don’t head straight to the bench to rest. They have to eat—on schedule—then head straight to the tent to sleep.


“We’re nine on,” Kid said as he rattled off the subs. And when he missed one player, I heard a line I thought I’d never hear in a football match. “Pukawa nato si ____, musulod na sya.”

I stood there at the sidelines for close to 20 minutes, and already felt my “un-exercised” knees crying. And I watched these nine players shake off sleep, go to the medics for their check-up and play football.

Ang kontra gyud ani endurance,” Coach Kid said.

Kid said the critical time is that hellish noon to 2 p.m. slot, that’s when players, at maximum, get a one-hour spell on the field, while some have to be pulled out after 30 minutes.

Why do they do it?

Kana, kana, ug kana sya. Naa na sila’y experience tanan,” Kid said, pointing out three individuals and telling me their brief stories.

One had a son who had an operation for congenital heart disease, another had a brother who died from the illness, while another was living proof that miracles do happen—a former blue baby who was there in sidelines, coaching folks as they prepare to break the record for the longest football match in the world.

It’s for the Let it Echo foundation, a group that helps kids—and their families—deal with congenital heart disease.

The players’ dedication seems infectious as shown by their support crew. Even the cops are into it, they’re not just there to keep order. While one was busy taking notes, I overheard one explaining to some street-smart kids who happened to be watching what is all about. Later, he would lecture the kids about the dangers of drugs and getting into criminal activities.

Taken by surprise, I had to look at him and was surprised too that his shirt showed his rank was Chief Inspector. Normally, only PO1s or even FTPs get called for duties like this but here was a senior ranking officer.

Why? Because football.

Because blue babies.


P.S.  To more about the world record attempt and the Let It Echo foundation, check the Football Marathon 101's Facebook page here.

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