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Feeding the Rascals

What I recall is that I promised the rascals I would treat them to Shakey’s if they won the RIFA. They did not. They won the NCAA-South instead.

The two leagues are in no way in the same league, if you get my drift. A couple of hours after the boys won the NCAA-South, of course, they were outside my office already chanting, “Shakey’s! Shakey’s!”

“Lomi...” I countered lamely, knowing I would have to treat the lads, anyway, or I would get no peace in the coming days. I figured there was better chance in swimming away from Alcatraz than getting away from this one.

So to put the matter to rest – at least, for the meantime – I just sort of loosely committed to treating the lads “somewhere” during the days of their graduation practice. The what, the where and the exactly when I purposefully left unsaid.

That was last February. The business of winding down the school year soon caught up with the lads: there were term papers and other projects to submit; not to mention final exams to prepare for and take.

Fat chance, though, of anyone forgetting... By mid-March, one of the boys reminded me that they still had to taste one morsel of food from my supposed treat. The reminder was conveyed, in true Asian style, through the coach of the younger high school team. Why the lad could not have said that directly to me, go figure.

For his trouble, the lad naturally got a rebuke from me. Ah-ah... Hindî makahintay... Did we not all agree we would go somewhere before graduation?

In all honesty, medyo nawalâ na rin ngâ sa luob ko...

Left with no recourse but to go ahead with the treat, I sent the boys a group message asking if the 19th, a Saturday, was convenient. There was a catch: they all had to text back or they would not be included. I mean, how else would I know?

A good number confirmed that they would be there. One of those who did not reply to my text left a message in our team Facebook group, “Pa'no pô ‘yung walang load?”

“Eh ‘di tingnan na lang ang mga litrato sa Facebook!” I retorted. But that was just for laughs...

So we all agreed I would meet all of them just outside Tutti Frutti at four in the afternoon. As things would happen, I woke up on Saturday morning with a tell-tale ache in my tummy that made me sure as there was daylight that there was a tsunami coming worse than that which hit Japan.

What was I going to tell the boys? Ah-ah... Magmumukhang nagdadahilan...

So I tried to wait and see if my condition would improve before postponing the treat; except that the tsunami kept coming... and coming... and coming...

If ever there was a time when I was made to realize how a squeezed lemon felt, it was that Saturday morning. By mid-morning I was so dehydrated I had no choice but to postpone the treat. In fairness, many of the boys sent back sympathetic messages.

I knew last week was the week of the lads’ graduation; so we were running out of days. Would Tuesday be convenient instead?

It was. At the team group on Facebook, one of the lads wanted to know, “Saan pô ba?”

“Depends,” I replied, “heads it’s Shakey’s; tail it’s Lomi King.”

“Pa’no pô kung nakatindig ‘yung coin?” Pilosopong batâ! “Eh ‘di kwek-kwek na lang!” It was not as though I was an amateur in the repartee department.

Tuesday late afternoon, I arrived at Rob at the agreed time. None of the boys were there. Ah-ah... I was immediately feeling cross.

When they did show up, they did so all at the same time. “Ano’t hindî man lang kayo nagsibihis?” I said crossly. The lads were in school uniform for their Graduation Mass in the morning and did not bother to change. “Aba’y para tayong magkaklase!”

Before I got too cross, I ushered the lads away from the mall; but not before I said – just because I am the way I am – to everyone, “Sa’n kayo nakakitang kayo na’ng papakainin kayo pang inaantay?”

We did end up at Shakey’s. Although, because I was feeling cross, I briefly scanned the streets for one of those stalls that sold kwek-kwek. The rascals were in luck. I did not see any.

At Shakey’s, to my chagrin, it turned out we had chosen a bad time to come. The place was filled to the brim and there was even a queue ahead of us waiting to be seated. I almost led everyone out to a nearby carinderia; but the boys' luck was holding.

I soon caught sight of the manager – an alumnus – and when I approached him, he reassured me he could free a couple of tables in a few minutes. He even took my orders so we would not have to wait long after we were seated.

There was not too much to remark about once the food was served. It was fun – being with this group of boys always was whatever the circumstance. Naturally, the tables became quiet once I told the boys to dig in!

Later, when the manager came with the bill, I pointed at one of the lads and asked him if he was willing to take somebody na maghuhugas ng plato. He laughed and went along with the joke. “Naku Sir!” he laughingly replied, “marami nang maghuhugas. ‘Tsakâ, siguradong malakas kumain ‘yan.”

As we walked back to the mall, I told some of the boys who were with me to remember the day and to stay in touch with one another. “You never know,” I said, “when you will come together as a team or if you will even see each other again.” I ought to know from my own experiences with the teams I played for as well as from the experiences of the boys who trained under me over the years.

Bill Shankly, the great manager who built the modern day Liverpool Football Club, was once quoted to have said that breaking up a team was the hardest thing he had ever had to do. I agree completely. At least, Shankly only had to break a team up two or three times during his distinguished career as manager of Liverpool.

Breaking up a team – in my case – was something forced upon me every two or three years over the last three decades by this thing called graduation. The breakup is always particularly difficult to take if the graduating team is a good one. There is so much more to play for; you just cannot do it with the same group of boys anymore.

So feeding the rascals? It was a small price to pay for two years of some of the most free-flowing attacking football I have ever had the pleasure of watching in almost three decades of coaching the beautiful game. Kwek-kwek would not have done this team any justice.

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