ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 19 December) – In my youth, the sport I played the most was football, mainly because my Dad was the organizer of summer football tournaments in Iligan in the ’70s. He was still playing as fullback in his 50s. So us three brothers played the game, too.
I tried basketball early on, in my elementary years, but I knew it wasn’t for a short guy like me. We enjoyed ping-pong when our parents built us a table, joining two plywoods together, but it ain’t as fun as team sport. My Dad brought me to the tennis court often during his weekend plays. But my oh my, it’s sooo difficult to learn, even just to do basic “inday-inday” play.
Those were the years just shortly after Pelé ended his participation in the World Cup games and became every boy’s hero. We were all praising Pelé even though we hadn’t watched him play because we couldn’t afford a television at home. This was the time when Maradona was a rising star, as we looked up to the Netherlands’ Johan Cruyff and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer. There was a Dutch volunteer, a footballer himself, who stayed at an apartment next to our house, and I enjoyed looking at his football magazines even though I didn’t understand one thing.
The place where I grew up, we lived near football fields.
La Salle Academy – just a stone’s throw away from home – had two: one a full-sized court, the other for children. We stayed mostly in the small field because the full court was just so big for us little kids. At that time, I liked playing goalkeeper. I relished jumping despite the mud to save that ball. A goalkeeper must wear a sweatshirt, and so I wore one, even just a cheap one that got easily deformed.
But it was at the grounds of the Redemptorist church, about 700 meters away from home, where the real action happened. It was here where summer tournaments were held, and we walked to/fro the field to watch the games.
There were no bleachers on the side, just a few concrete benches. So we would just either sit on the ground or stand the whole time.
I remember that when there’s a game while a Mass was going on, we were prohibited from making noise. No cheering, no booing. Bummer!
It was at Redemptorist that I saw players from Iraq and Iran, countries with much better players than basketball-crazy Philippines, from the Mindanao State University in Marawi would come down to join the tournament. Irish priests of the Redemptorist church would join the fray, too, Ireland being one of the countries that treat football as religion.
Redemptorist church would eventually close its grounds for other projects, and Iligan footballers had to contend with travelling to the football field of the National Steel Corporation, four kilometers away from downtown.
But during those early years, when I was still playing football in the 1970s, Iligan was among the powerhouse. We always had a few players in the national team.
The Iligan team always won in the Central Mindanao Regional Athletic Association meets. I hadn’t followed what happened in the Palarong Pambansa, but I remember my father telling us a story that Iligan lost in one crucial match in the national games when our team stopped playing – the opposing team did not – while the national anthem was sung during one flag retreat ceremony.
Although I didn’t excel in the sport, it was fun to have joined tournaments.
In elementary, I played under our barangay’s team, in the “midget” division. Nope, we didn’t win the championship, not even in the Top 3. We barangay players were too poor to afford proper football shoes with studs, like the famous Adidas or Puma brands, so we make do with whatever rubber shoes we wear for school – like Bata or Robertsons.
In high school, I played for my alma mater (MSU-IIT) in the Class B category. Meaning, it’s not the main tournament, just for wannabes like me. At least we got a shirt for a uniform from one of Iligan’s family-owned stores downtown. How proud we were using that bargain of a shirt during the opening parade! That time, if I remember it correctly, I played left forward coz I really trained my left foot to kick properly even though I’m right-footed. By this time, Grosby introduced affordable football shoes, something like 60 pesos for a pair, whereas the international brands cost more than five times.
Once, I joined my Dad to the Cagayan de Oro airport to fetch a German coach, a Dr. Scholl or a Zgholl or something that’s pronounced similarly (to the untrained ear, that is), who spent a few days in Iligan coaching Iligan players. While entering Iligan in a van, the German coach asked the driver to stop when he saw a streamer up high the highway with his name on it. He disembarked quickly and took a picture.
Now, looking back, oh my, I don’t even have one picture of my years playing football. That was long before selfies with smartphones. And my parents couldn’t afford a camera. Those were the times when you want your picture taken, then you go to a studio, or hire a photographer to come to your house for birthdays and other events.
Ahh … memories of long ago that’s only in my mind now …
(Bobby Timonera is one of the editors of MindaNews. He went back to sports in his late 40s, running marathons and ultras.)