I cannot claim to have been a fan of the Azkals back during the time when there were only a handful (literally) of them supporting the team. I only got into football during the 2010 World Cup, and that same year, the so called renaissance of the Men’s National Football Team started with the Miracle in Hanoi. Wow, just looking at that statement made me realize it’s been five years since I started supporting the team. And by support, I don’t mean financial support. It means going to almost all their games, posting on social media about them, getting other people to start watching the games live, and yes, even so far as traveling where the team plays during big tournaments.
Those who aren’t football fans think we’re crazy, or worse, “groupies”. They don’t understand how a group of grown men and women would want to spend their own money (yes, contrary to what some other football fans are saying, we do spend our own hard-earned money here) just to go and cheer on these players, most of whom don’t even know our names or that we exist. But that’s because they don’t understand football culture. This is nothing new for the rest of the world. They follow their national teams and their clubs almost religiously whenever they can. Some do get support from the teams, but more often than not, they do so on their own dime as well.
I can probably spend a few hours telling you why we do it, but this post is not about that.
Just like with any relationship, there are ups and downs. And for the past few months, I can admit that I temporarily fell out of love with Philippine football. Maybe it’s because of the heartbreaking losses. Getting us to the brink of victory in the Suzuki Cup semifinals and especially losing the Challenge Cup finals to Palestine was truly disheartening. Maybe it was finding out things you were not supposed to know. Maybe it was discovering that your “heroes” were human and had feet of clay. Maybe it was all the politics. Maybe it was seeing some fans lambast other fans, when we are already such a small community and it was senseless to have in-fighting. Maybe it was frustration at seeing the lack of visible progress in terms of “marketing” not just the team but the sport. Maybe it was a combination of all of those things.
Some of our football friends decided to start an informal podcast. I was part of the core team, but honestly, I couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm or even interest in talking about something I didn’t even like anymore.
But then, the same group of friends decided to come up with a social media campaign to hype up the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers. We brainstormed, researched, created the videos. I volunteered to be the one to post (the easiest job for me, promise). And somehow, just talking with these friends, reviewing past games, looking at past videos, there was a small, tiny spark that sparked again. Getting to do the podcast with Azkals captain Rob Gier and two of the new, young ones, Luke Woodland and Kevin Ingreso, made me excited once again. Getting to watch their practice match against the UFL All Stars got me hyped up again, as I also saw a new hunger and determination in the players, even the ones that only got to play a few minutes.
And suddenly, a tiny part of me started to hope that maybe I can believe again.
The politics are still there. The egos will always probably be there. The “warring factions” may still be there. Lack of friendlies before the tournament, some injuries, poor ticket sales, poor marketing, cynicism about what the team can achieve, pessimism about our chances – all of these are there and might get most people down.
But somehow, amidst all these, while looking at the words and images and videos we’ve made, there is that small voice whispering, “We still believe.”
I can now honestly say, whatever may happen, I am truly excited to once again cheer my heart out for our national team, on the eve of the celebration of our Independence Day.