Football Madness: The search for new sports idols

Girls' eyelids flutter at the sight of Phil Younghusband. But my eyelids refuse to budge. He's my Idol Number 2, though.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

It is the perfect seat. Next to the area of the VIPs at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City, it is the best place to be. I make myself comfortable in the first row of the grandstand where the hoi polloi are supposed to be. This is going to be an amazing experience, I tell myself.

I’ve never watched an international football game before. Though I’ve heard about the Azkals, especially with the hype generated by Phil and James Younghusband, those two very good-looking bastards, I’m not much into kicking balls. I prefer to smash them with a paddle on top of tables.

Sadly, however, table tennis is not so cool in the Philippines. Not enough good-looking players I suppose.

Nevertheless I’m excited to see a great game of football between the Azkals and the Mongolian team, whose compatriots have won a lot more Olympic medals than Filipinos have. I’m also excited to see the new sports idols that many Filipinos have come to worship.

Soon, however, people start congregating at the area just in front of the first row. They can’t find vacant seats anymore. The pathway is there for people to walk on so they can get to their seats.

But nobody’s walking. And they seem to think that the people behind them would be entertained by their jiggling buns. Instead of pinching those buns, some people seated on the first row ask everyone to sit on the floor instead.

It worked. But not for long. Just before the game started, they stand up again to get a better view. So those of us on the first row get up on our feet, too. Earlier, I was told there were 16,000 tickets given out and sold.

I suppose there are more than that number of people at the stadium. The announcer introduces the players. Loud cheering spews out from the crowd. I squint my eyes to see their faces. I barely recognize anyone, even the good-looking bastards, especially since they’re just the size of my right thumb’s fingernail.

Maybe it’s better to watch the game on TV, I tell myself. There are about five rows of people in front of me. The game starts but I still can’t get a good view. I tiptoe. Every 10 minutes or so, I sit to relieve my calf muscles.

The Azkals warm up before the game as their German coach, Hans Michael Weiss, looks on.

I see a girl wearing a football shirt with “J. Younghusband” printed at the back. Another is wearing a white t-shirt filled with signatures, which I assume belong to the players. I’m with fanatics. And it’s not a good idea to mess around with these people.

Suddenly I hear loud cheers. I see Chieffy Caligdong running and rejoicing. Later on I learn how he made the goal. He kicks the ball up over the head of a charging opponent, then he kicks the ball again right between the legs of the goalie.

How could the goalie let that happen? Between the legs? Ridiculous. But it was a brilliant move by Caligdong. He has become my Idol Number 1.

Disappointed by not  seeing that first goal, I decide to find a way to squeeze my way to the railing so nothing will block my view. After about 15 minutes, I manage to get to the third layer of the crowd before me. The view is better, but still not ideal. I see the numerous near goals of the Azkals and I yell together with the crowd.

Finally, during the break after the first half, some of the people in the first two layers of the crowd take a leak or get a drink. So I quickly advance to the railing. At last, the perfect view.

I come to enjoy the people around me. One radio reporter gives a blow-by-blow account of the game. I can’t imagine people listening to a game of football over the radio. Golf or chess would have been okay. Not football.

I see Marc Nelson and Dyan Castillejo at the VIP area. I take pictures.

The Azkals don’t make much progress in scoring another goal, though they seem to dominate the game. So I take a break and take pics and videos of things I find interesting around me.

That’s when Phil Younghusband makes another goal. Shucks, I missed it again, I cry out. I find out later on in YouTube how Phil made the goal. It’s not as impressive as Caligdong’s, but it’s a goal nonetheless. Phil Younghusband has become my Idol Number 2.

The jubilation is electrifying and infectious. I have never thought that watching a football game live, even if I don’t see much of the players, can be this exciting and satisfying.

The Azkals' bus doesn't get much publicity. So I'm including it here.

Later on at the victory party at the Azkal’s hotel, the fans, particularly the girls, surround the players, especially the good-looking bastards, and ask them if they could have their photographs taken.

I see the girls flutter their eyelids at Phil Younghusband. And I see them tilt their heads as if offering their necks to a vampire.

After the first batch of fans leave, I approach Phil Younghusband and say, “Can I have a picture with you?” He smiles. But he fails to make me flutter my eyelids and tilt my head.

I now have a pic with my Idol Number 2.

I fail to get a picture with Idol Number 1, though. The crowd is getting crazy, and I see the next batch of fans line up. The half-Filipino players, who share the same table, get a disproportinately huge share of the traffic. The players who have no English accents get a trickle. They lump at another table.

Am I seeing a cultural divide? I ask myself. These guys need to gel more.

In any case, the Azkals have played an outstanding game. May their quest for excellence be an inspiration to Filipinos.

I feel like fluttering my eyelids now. It’s time to sleep.

 

Philippine flags are everywhere. Some are on people's faces.

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