Bernardo M. Villegas
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National League for Philippine Football

           As an incorrigible dreamer, I have a vision for the year 2020.  The Philippines in 2020 will have the equivalent of the La Liga Spanish football league I have come to follow closely since I spent a sabbatical year in Barcelona at the IESE Business School.  In the National Capital Region, there will be three football clubs in the senior division representing Makati, Quezon City and Paranaque, somewhat analogous to the three senior division clubs of Madrid:  Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid and Getafe. These three (and possibly more) will come from the leading football clubs that are playing for the United Football League. There will be one football club each from Laguna, Tarlac, Bicol, Bacolod, Leyte, Dumaguete City, Mindoro, South Cotabato and Davao.  There will be two each from Iloilo and Cebu (analogous to FC Barcelona and Espanyol in Barcelona).   In addition to these 16 football clubs in the senior division of the national league for Philippine football (an appropriate title like La Liga or Germany's Bundesliga will soon be coined), there can be twenty or more other clubs in the junior division of the league coming from the same cities or other places where football will be gradually promoted in the next five to ten years with the help of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the  Asian Football Federation (AFC) under the leadership of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF).

          Does my dream have a basis in reality?  I think it does.  As reported by Rick Olivares in the Daily Mirror, a national football league will be created in the next three years with the help of FIFA and  AFC, the governing bodies of world and regional football, respectively.  Thanks to the research of Mr. Olivares, I was able to identify the Philippine cities or regions with a headstart in the development of the beautiful game.  He listed the cities other than Metro Manila that already have football stadia that can accommodate at least 5,000 spectators.  These are the cities that I included in my dream.  I placed Cebu and Iloilo following closely the National Capital Region because I know for a fact that in these two cities, there is a passion for football that is unmatched in other Philippine regions.  I am especially impressed with Barotac Nuevo, the producer of world class Filipino football players, including one of the best players FC Barcelona ever produced, Paulino Alcantara, whose mother was from Iloilo.

          In a recent meeting with Mr. Mariano (Nonong) Araneta, President of the PFF, I got confirmation of this newspaper report.  He opines that a national league of football will be more successful today than the failed Metropolitan Basketball Association that competed with the Philippine Basketball Association in the late 1990s because transport costs have dropped precipitously, thanks to the budget fares offered by different airlines.  With the schedules of games programmed way in advance, plane tickets can be purchased literally for a song.  In addition, the Philippine Nautical Highway has made even land transport very affordable through the roll-on-roll-off boats, which can carry large buses of players.  This is one infrastructure that we owe to the Administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

          At the moment, there are already ten to twelve clubs, such as those in the senior division of the United Football League (UFL) whose games are watched by thousands of football-loving families at the new Emperador Stadium in McKinley Hill, built by the real estate developer Megaworld.  In fact, I learned from Kevin Tan, son of magnate Andrew Tan of Megaworld, that they are thinking of replicating the Emperador Stadium in other developments that they have in Iloilo, Davao, Cebu, etc.  Such stadia can be in the future designed so that they can comply with the minimum capacity being set by the FIFA and AFC.  I wouldn't be surprised if other rival real estate developers start emulating Megaworld in also putting up football stadia in other cities of the Philippines.  Of course, everyone is eagerly awaiting the completion of the mega stadium of the Iglesia ni Kristo in Bulacan.  I understand that  it can hold more than 50,000 spectators.

          Another basis for my dream is the increasing interest of middle-class families in getting their sons to play football.  I see boys as young as 2 or 3 already joining family-organized football clubs in Tahanan Village, BF Homes,  Philam Homes, Valle Verde, Bulacan subdivisions, Westgrove, Magallanes Village, etc.  This sudden interest in football can be partly attributed to the successes of the national team AZCALS in a good number of their games within the Southeast Asian region.  They have beaten teams from countries where football is a national passion, such as Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Mongolia.  Our under-23 squad has also achieved significant victories, demonstrating that a team made up predominantly of Filipinos can also excel.  I expect that there will be better football players that will come out of the present crop of children and teenagers getting hooked to the game, not only among the middle class families, but also from the street children of Payatas and other economically depressed districts, thanks to the laudable initiatives of NGOs like the Moran Foundation and the Gawad Kalinga, the efforts of embassies like those of Argentina, Brazil and Chile (ABC) and financial assistance of business enterprises like  Alaska, Nike, Caltex and First Pacific.  The growth of the football industry will definitely be inclusive because the poor are being involved from the very beginning.

          I am sure that the "realists" among my readers are thinking I am, as usual, making a prophecy of boom.  I admit that what I described above is overly optimistic.  We will have 1,000 miles to travel on the road to a successful national league for football.  To quote the cliche, however, a journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.  The most important step this year 2013 is for the country to send three teams--the under-23, the women's and the futsal squads--to the Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar in December.  I plead to the leaders of the Philippine Olympic Committee to remove their objections to the desire of the PFF to send these three teams to capitalize on the momentum we have seen in the last two years in the increased  interest in football among the Filipinos, both rich and poor.  What I have experienced and read as regards European football convinces me that it is not in the winning but in the participating that gives the greatest happiness  to the football fans.  As Ding Marcelo, sports writer for the Manila Bulletin remarked:  "The football team may lose but the inspiration from its performance may resonate with our youngsters who see the sport as something where a career can be built.  The country is already behind in football development, why miss this chance to bolster its growth?"  I can only say AMEN.  For comment, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.