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Footbuko in Agricultural Country

Strange as it may sound to those who know me personally, but my introduction to the game of football was not quite what one might have come to expect. We were in Grade 5, and one morning our Physical Education teacher got tired of the horrendous calisthenics we did everyday and asked one of my classmates to go fetch a volleyball. Then, he announced, “We will be playing a game called rugby.”

And not that he seemed to know the rules because all he said was that we should move the ball from one end of the field to the other either by carrying it in our hands or kicking it forward… Of course, years later, I did discover that the game was just something the teacher invented on the fly.

I remember taking a liking to the invented game because I always was when I was young the outdoors type. I loved running and I never liked basketball – this seemed like a viable alternative.

Of course, when one Brother thought he would form a football team for kids, I promptly joined up. I did not even know what football was. All I knew was that we would be running on the field; and that was sufficient to catch my interest.

This game, the Brother told us, did not even bear a resemblance to rugby. It was called football. It also had rules, and I was surprised when we learned that we would not be allowed to use our hands like in the game that my PE teacher invented.

A lot has been made of the Jabulani match ball that Adidas manufactured especially for the World Cup in South Africa. A beach ball, was how Spain’s captain, Iker Casillas, called it. A lot he knows…

That first time I joined a football team for kids, we used this orange ball that was not unlike a volleyball but was smaller and heavier. In fact, we used to jestingly refer to it as buko. This was not necessarily just a reference to its size and round shape.

In retrospect, that footbuko was probably the reason why – to this very day – I continue to be very, very comfortable with a football at my feet. Ahem naman! Ask the lads who first trained with me when I was fresh off my last NCAA season. Nicking a ball off my feet was an occasion in itself, kulang na lang ipagpatay ng baboy…

As I became more engrossed in the game, I discovered that the small round ball that we first trained with was actually a size 3. The standard size for an adult game is size 5. I continued to work with size 3 balls even when I was in high school; albeit, I did not really realize until I was actually coaching that working with a smaller ball was really perfect for developing ball control.

Lipa – in the sixties during which this story is set – used to be very, very agricultural. The football field that we played on used to be a coconut grove; and there were still coconut trees that lined the court itself. Occasionally, the field would be littered with dry nuts that fell off the trees. We would kick these away as well!

The kids who subsequently trained under me over the years, they had absolutely no idea what it was like for us. We came to training wearing our PE uniforms, including those “high-cut” canvass Converse shoes that would have been more appropriate on a basketball court. Anybody who could afford spiked shoes was sikat, not only because these were rare – but more because these were prohibitively expensive for most kids’ parents to be able to afford.

Passing was something we wanted to be able to do; but we were just never taught how. None of my coaches were formally trained; so while we were taught the basics like how to trap, head and shoot the ball, moving cohesively as a team was something we found problematical – particularly in the early years.

Thus, the sikat players were those who could kick the ball farther up-field than everybody else. When the ball came, everyone shouted at you, “Bomba! Bomba!” That meant for you to swing your foot, say a silent prayer and kick the ball as far forward as possible.

God knows where the football eventually landed, but there were usually a dozen players running after it to either kick it forward some more or kick it back to where it came from. In fact, when I was in high school, there was this teacher who was so totally bemused by so many boys running after one ball that he cheekily suggested, “Bigyan na lang kayâ ng tag-iisang bola?”

It is strange now that I come to think about it that I am the only one of my class who pursued the organized game. I know the football that we played left a lot to be desired – no more than kick and rush – but it was a fun game that we typically played during Recess and even lunch break.

Even clad in long pants and our uniform polo shirts, we would play using our leather school shoes under the midday sun. When the bell calling us back to classes rang, everyone scampered back to the classroom still sweating profusely. Some teachers would even complain, “Ang babahô n’yo!!!”

Mom was, of course, not at all amused that the front end of my leather shoes were nakanganga – again! The black school shoes were for standing and walking; and if we needed to do physical activity, common sense dictated we changed into our canvass shoes. Not that anyone bothered to change, anyway…

Haaaaayyyyy… All for the love of the game, ‘ika ngâ… There are those who will never understand…

My Mom – old school that she was – never really gave me the support that I felt I could have used when I was already playing varsity football. Albeit, when I was already in college and representing my school, I did overhear her boasting to her comadronas, “Iyang anak ko, player ‘yan sa NCAA!” Aba’y iyon pala naman, eh! Eh bakit pagkakabarat when I was asking for money to buy spikes?

I also had this teacher who was brazen enough to tell me, “Football ka ng football, hindî naman mapapagperahan iyan!” That was so myopic a point of view if ever I heard of one; football players are – of course – among the most highly-paid athletes in the world.

For those who feel obligated to argue that I happen to live in a country where there are no professional leagues, I will only say one thing: who cares about the money? Money, to put it plain and simply, is really the last thing that footbuko – este – football is and will ever be about!

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