Fair Play: A salute to Cebu football

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Sept. 14 edition)
CEBU teams have dominated the football competition in the previous editions of the Milo Little Olympics Visayas elimination because while it was Visayas-wide event, it was rare for out-of-town teams to send in their football squads to the meet held in Cebu in its first 19 years.

There were one or two visitors from Iloilo and Bacolod in the last two or three years, but a single entry in a year couldn’t really break the stronghold of the Cebuanos.

And when it was announced that this year’s event would be held in Iloilo City, Philippine football’s hotbed, I thought that the era of Cebu teams maintaining its dominance in the sport in the Milo Little Olympics would end.

After all, Iloilo is the football capital of the Philippines and every other school is a powerhouse that rivals the best the Cebu schools can come up with. Aside from the host, there’s Barotac Nuevo, that storied town that has produced almost most of the national team members before the PFF decided to look for Pinoys abroad.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that despite competing in the football hotbed, both the elementary and high school division finals featured an all-Cebu team showdown. Yep, the best of the host province couldn’t crack the best of Cebu had to offer, and only CPU made the semifinals of the high school division--which had DBTC, SHS-Ateneo and Springdale.

Barotac Nuevo, that storied town, couldn’t get past Don Bosco, the Cesafi champion and the Bosconians scored a repeat victory over rival Ateneo in the finals before moving on against Springdale in the finals. In the elementary division, Ateneo de Cebu beat Barotac and CPU on its way to meet USC-BED in the finals, and what’s amazing about this feat is that the team that eliminated Barotac couldn’t even win the final.

Yes, the team that beat Iloilo’s best ended up playing second best to Springdale in the high school division and USC-BED in the elementary division, a feat that surprised me.

And apparently, it surprised more than a few Iloilo City fans, too. Long-time football observer Vince Arriola of Iloilo City told me that the number one comment of the coaches and fans were how big and skilled the Cebuanos were, especially Springdale.

He also pointed out one distinct advantage Cebu football--not just the Cebu schools--have over Iloilo, fitness.

At this part of the season, Cebu football is in full swing and since the classes started, we’ve had two or three football festival and the Cesafi competition, so player fitness is at a peak-level.

“At this point, in terms of fitness, Cebu has the advantage. The season hasn’t started in Iloilo, while in Cebu the Cesafi and other tournaments are done already,” Vince told me in Ilonggo.

Yep, having a crowded football calendar is an advantage as the fitness and competitiveness of the Cebu schools are at a peak, just check how the teams compared against Iloilo City teams in the Milo Olympics.

Winning a football tournament in Iloilo City is no easy feat, heck, even beating one Iloilo City team isn’t easy, that two Cebu schools managed to win the elementary and high school title in an all-Cebu showdown in football’s hotbed show how much the sport has changed here in the past 10 years.

In 2005, I went with Springdale to a football festival in Barotac Nuevo, where despite playing sans any shoes or uniform and despite having the disadvantage in size, the locals were clearly ahead in terms of skills and football IQ.

It’s great how things have changed.


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