Monday, April 20, 2015

Fair Play: Fans need to get together in Azkals' most important game

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's April 20 edition)
WHEN news of the construction of the Philippine Sports Stadium by Iglesia Ni Cristo broke online, football fans got giddy at the idea of finally having a proper stadium that’s not older than Sepp Blatter.

And of course, the inevitable question was asked---when will the Philippine national team play there?


The answer is June 11, and it’s not just a friendly or any tuneup game. It will be against dangerous Bahrain in the first game of the Azkals World Cup 2018 qualifiers.

It’s as good a game as it could get.

Now, to the more important question--will the fans show up?

Most of the previous home matches at the derelict Rizal Memorial Stadium attracted nary a crowd, despite the low tickets.

But to be fair though, in the home match in the Suzuki Cup semis, the fans showed up, showing that in the matches that matter, they can be counted.

I hope we can count on them, too, on June 11 against Bahrain, a match that, according to Coach Thomas Dooley, is the most important in our World Cup campaign.

And I agree with him. Having faced Bahrain twice already, we already know what this team can offer and beating Asia’s No. 13 team, and world No. 108, is something that we can do and should target for.

Uzbekistan, at No. 6 in Asia and No. 73 in the world, is a much harder foe and a draw against them would be wonderful. It would be great, too, that before we can even face Uzbekistan, we have the points we needed in the bag.

So the June 11 game against Bahrain is the one that really matters.

It’s the swing game for us, and for that, I hope the PFF and the fans come together to make the home game a real home game.

And when is a home game a home game? It’s when the fans come, of course, and make their presence felt. When they cheer loudly and jeer the ref for every call against the home team.

There’s an easy way to fill the stadium, ask the owners to let their flock in. But short of getting the hakot crowd, I hope fans all over the country will show up on June 11.

Coach Thomas Dooley had a few suggestions in his interview with Ryan Fenix and commentator Bob Guerrero supported it by announcing that he would have a tail gate

party at noon on June 11.

To make it worth the travel and the expense, coach Dooley wants June 11 to be more than about the Bahrain game. He wants it to be a complete experience for the kids and the family by holding an activity right outside the stadium.

So, what are you waiting for? Fill up that leave form for June 11. No need to lie and say you’ll get sick on that day. Tell the truth and say you need a day off to cheer for the national team, or even better. Two days’ off so you’ll have a day to recover.

Don’t forget, the legend of the Blue-Haired Fanatic was born out of a tailgate party in Bacolod.

And of course, let’s cut this hardcore vs. new fans divide, shall we? We need fans, period. If you want to convert some, let’s get them to the game first. Who knows? After a few matches, they might join you in the green bleachers.

And with Ebong Joson, the guy whose drunken run in Bacolod four years ago resulted to the blue-haired legend, busy with other duties, perhaps another one will take up the mantle this year.

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