Bernardo M. Villegas
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Accelerating the Popularity of Football (Part 1)

                The year 2018 is World Cup Year for Football.  It will be an appropriate time to muster greater support for football as a mass sport in the Philippines, as it is in practically all leading Asian countries, not to mention in Europe and South America.  I would like to exhort educational institutions, business enterprises, local government units, nongovernmental organizations and embassies of European and Latin American countries to increase their commitment to spreading the playing of football, especially among the children of the lower-income households, those in public schools and the street children from whom can come our future Lionel Messis, Maradonas, and Peles, some of the best who have ever played the “beautiful game.”   The advantage of this sport is that children as young as four years old can already start developing the relevant skills, especially if they start with playing futsal, an analogous but not identical sport that can be played in a small space, e.g. in a basketball court or on street corners.   Skills are developed even faster in futsal because only five play on each side, which gives the players many more opportunities to handle the ball.  The skills in futsal are easily transferable to football or soccer.

         Thanks to the political will of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) and support from the FIFA, the Geneva-based international federation for football, the Philippines has finally launched its equivalent of the national leagues that have made football a great spectator sport in countries like Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, among others.  The Philippines Football League (PFL), the country’s first professional football league which developed out of the United Football League (UFL), was inaugurated last April 21, 2017 with six UFL clubs—Ceres-Negros FC, Global FC, FC Meralco, Kaya FC, Stallion FC. and JPV Marikina— and two new clubs, Ilocos United-FC and Davao Aguilas FC.  Ceres Negros, which won the first PFL season, had as sponsors Vallacar Transit Corporation, Fibre Digital, Adidas and Summit Water.   Global-Cebu which placed second was sponsored by Tourism Cebu, Snack, Pocari Sweat, Gold’s Gym, Trackmate and 10 Oz.  It was notable that the final was a Visayan Derby between Negros and Cebu, once more demonstrating that Imperial Manila can be defeated by regions from the South.  It is well known that football is better played by the Ilonggos and the Cebuanos than the Manilenos. In fact, it was a Spanish mestizo Ilonggo who became a legend in Spain when he established a record in the number of goals playing for FC Barcelona, a record broken only by Lionel Messi in 2014.  Paulino Alcantara played for the Barcelona champions in the 1920s and is famous all over Spain.

         The four clubs from Metro Manila are FC Meralco Manila, Kaya FC Makati, Stallion Laguna FC, and JPV Marikina FC.  Sponsors of the Manila team are Meralco, Maybank, ATR Kim Eng, Delimondo and Mizuno.  The Makati contingent had as sponsors LBC, Yellow Cab Pizza, Jamba Juice, Peakform, Warren and Brown Technologies, Fitness First, Gatorade, and LGR Sportswear. The Laguna club was sponsored by Giligan’s Restaurant, Pathos Technology Philippines, Inc., Ascott Resources and Development Corporation, Aboitiz, Motori Moderni, and ARMM Gym.  The Marikina eleven were sponsored by Cyscorpions Inc., Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, JK Mart Pharmacy, and Branch Fort Foundation. It was heartening to have two other clubs from the non-NCR region in the first season of the PFL:  Davao had as sponsor San Miguel Corporation while Ilocos counted on Poolworld Philippines, Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences, Metro Global, Clonciergemed Clinic Inc., and Pioneer Insurance.

         It is notable that the majority of business sponsors of the eight teams are medium-scale enterprises coming from the regions.  This should encourage the business communities in other cities like Laoag, Ilocos Norte; Angeles City; Lipa, Batangas, or Batangas City; Lucena, Quezon; Iloilo City, Dumaguete City; General Santos City; Cagayan de Oro and many others to follow the example of the existing sponsors of the eight clubs to work with the Philippine Football Federation for the establishment of more clubs who can compete in the future seasons of the PFL.   These business firms should coordinate closely with the heads of the LGUs so that there can be an agreement on who will put up the stadia that are a must for regional clubs to participate.  They should emulate the example of the LGU of Binan, Laguna that built a modern stadium so that Stallion Laguna FC could participate in the first season of PFL.   At the PFF, there is expectation that one of the clubs in Metro Manila will relocate to Iloilo, the epicenter of football in the Philippines.  It is unfortunate that no sponsors could be found for Iloilo to participate in the first season.  There are enough progressive business enterprises founded by Iloilo entrepreneurs who can support an Iloilo Football Club.  The stadium of the Western Visayas State University is a perfect venue for the games.  The Ilonggos from Iloilo should now feel challenged by their fellow Ilonggos from Bacolod whose club—Ceres Negros FC—won the championship in the very first season of the PFL.   (To be continued).