Thursday, April 09, 2015

Fair Play:A regional rivalry that defined PHL football

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's April 9 edition)
BEFORE the generation of the Azkals, there was one sure way to get to the national senior team--learn your football in either Iloilo or Bacolod.

These two football hotbeds virtually had a monopoly of the national team, and depending on who you are asking, are the football capital of the Philippines.

Barotac Nuevo of Iloilo has been the traditional football hotbed, and is home to majority of the national team players before 2004, when we started scouring for Pinoys abroad. Sometimes, being someone from that place readily gives you that mantra of football invincibility.


I remember once in high school, a friend's cousin went to town and upon learning he was from Barotac Nuevo, everybody assumed he was better than us, a shooin in the varsity, a shoo-in in the varsity when the school year opens. Of course, he didn't help temper expectations and when we realized he couldn't make a save even if his life depended on it, that spot was taken away.

Believe me that was the only player I've seen who came from Barotac who didn't know his football. All the rest are very impressive, even the little kids.

Once while I accompanied a Cebu team in Barotac, they were surprised to learn that their foes played barefoot, or with only one shoe as two would split a pair.

One kid, broke his nail. He took one glance, pulled it off and continued playing. That's Barotac football.

Bacolod football got us Ceres FC and prior that, the renowned Fegidero brothers. Joshua Fegidero, who had a spell with Cebu International School, the University of San Carlos, and Bright Academy once told me of epic games in Barotac in the past that always resulted to things getting too physical.

Of course, one of the age-old questions in Philippine football when it comes to these two iconic towns is this question—which is better?

On April 25 in Manila, the Philippines will learn the answer in the Negros vs. Bacolod Classic. Bob Guerrero, who helped conceptualized this match, hopes it's going to be an annual affair and I hope this year's edition will be the first of many.

For years, Philippine football lived off Bacolod and Iloilo's passion, while the rest of the country was still playing catch-up or ignored the sport often.

It's time we return the favor by holding this Classic match, so the rest of the country can join that wonderful conversation—which place has the better players, Bacolod or Iloilo?

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