Fair Play: Why Chieffy's legacy means there won't be another Chieffy Caligdong

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Nov. 15 edition)
THE first time I heard the term super sub used in connection with Philippine football was when Emilio “Chieffy” Caligdong burst in the scene.

Inserted late in the lineup against Timor Leste, Caligdong ended the Philippines’ wait for a victory in international competition with two goals in four minutes of injury for a 2-1 win.

And curiously enough, when I asked him about those goals a few years later when the Azkals visited Cebu, he pointed to another teammate as a big factor in those goals.

Now known for his speed and shooting, Caligdong said his first international goals came off his head.

Puro to headers, puro assists ni Aly,” said Chieffy.

Yep, the smallest guy on the field scored on two headers in injury time, thanks to the assists of another former Azkals captain who’s struggling with injuries, Aly Borromeo.

The importance of that victory can only be highlighted by the background of the match.

It was the team’s second game in the Tiger Cup and they lost the first one, 1-0, to Myanmar on an injury-time goal.

That 2004 campaign came two years after the Philippines conceded 24 goals in four losses in the 2002 Tiger Cup.

If you want to know when the Philippines really turned around in international football, it was in that 2004 campaign and in that first win—thanks to a couple of headers by the smallest guy.

Then PFF president Johnny Romualdez called the 2004 squad—which lost its final group stage match to Thailand, 3-1, after taking a 1-0 lead-- the best team in the country in 50 years and of course, since then, we’ve had at least a couple of best teams who
have eclipsed their mark.

But that 2004 team was the one that started it all. They all made us believe that yes, it’s possible to shed our whipping boys tag. Even without the support the team is enjoying it now, given the right preparation, we won’t be sending a team to the slaughter.

It was because of that campaign that fans even began dreaming of a medal in the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.

Of course, the medal never happened, but the 2005 SEA Games saw the debut of Phil and James Younghusbands, signaling a new era of Philippine football. Guys like Chris Greatwitch, Leigh Gunn and Chad Gould—Pinoys who learned their football abroad—have already played for the national team before 2005 but the entry of the then Chelsea reserves helped raised the image of Philippine football.

In fact, during one of the pre-event press conferences, the Thai journalists were all eager to know who these Chelsea reserves were who would be playing for the Philippines.

The last time I met Chieffy, it was during the coaches meeting for the BRO cup, just weeks before the AFC Challenge Cup. A regular visitor of Keith Buyco, Glenn Ramos and Rodney Orale, Chieffy told me about his grassroots plans, to spread football to
underprivileged kids.

Back then, he was still hopeful of making the final lineup and I told him, for the sake of Philippine football, he should be there.

Perhaps, it was the beer, but he started talking to himself in the third person. Giddy about his grassroots plans, he said he hope to give the kids the chances that he got and said, “Perhaps, one of them will become the next Chieffy Caligdong.”

I nodded because I agreed.

If he asked me now, I’d shake my head because with his retirement, there won’t be a next Chieffy Caligdong. So forget about searching for the next Chieffy.

This 5’5” son of Barotac showed that you have don’t have to be the next somebody.

You can chart your own paths, follow your own dreams and set your own identity—it doesn’t matter if you learned your football barefoot or with borrowed cleats, in the plaza or in the artificial turfs that are cropping up.

Chieffy showed it is possible, that is his biggest contribution to the game.

And for that, Philippine football is grateful.


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