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Taught by a RAM-Boy

My love affair with the beautiful game began when I was still a young boy growing up inside the Base. My older brother was excellent in basketball; but I never did take a liking to the national game. There was just way too much of it in the household – Dad was also a big fan – that I was always bound to go for something else.

I do not exactly recall the first time I played the game; and if I even knew what it was to begin with. More like a kick-and-rush game of neighborhood boys with what was probably not even a proper football but more like an old basketball or volleyball.

In the late sixties and early seventies, there were these teenage boys who would practice amongst themselves in that field-cum-parade ground behind the Airmen’s Club. On weekends or during summer vacations when I had nothing to do and I chanced upon them, I would climb up to the upper seats of the rickety old wooden grandstand and just watch them take turns shooting at the wooden goal.

There was never any real “moment” when I made a decision to become a football player; but having said that, watching those teenage boys must have helped me make up my mind. That and the fact that I was getting more and more into these kick-and-rush games with the other neighborhood boys along the immaculately-trimmed golf fairways close to where we lived.

Of course, there was also “some sort of” football in school. By the time I was in Grade 5 in 1969, this PE teacher we had introduced us to this game that he said was rugby but which I am sure now was not. First of all, we used a round football – those ugly orange balls that looked more like volleyballs – and apart from being told we could pick the ball up with our hands and run with it or kick it if we wanted to, we were given no other rules.

In time, we just did away with the picking up part and just went with the kick-and-rush which was so much more fun. It was also the way we did it in the Base.

From some of the boys I hung out with, I discovered that this kick-and-rush game we played was called “football.” I also discovered that its best player in the world was a Brazilian by the name of Pelé. But there was – unfortunately, or at least up until this time – no formal instruction on the rules of the game nor formal training from a coach of any sort.

However, that all changed in the summer of 1971, a few months before our family moved out of the Base. There was a new group of PMA-er Student Officers – we used to simply call them SO’s – who had arrived to learn how to fly.

Some of us Air Force brats had gotten around to playing football most afternoons in this patch of ground in front of the Wing Commander’s quarters and just beside the Base’s swimming pools. Before long, a few of the newly-arrived SO’s started joining us.

Initially, they just played football with us. Eventually, two of them for one reason or the other started teaching us boys the basics of the game. One was a young man by the name of Danny Francia, somebody I more or less continued to hear about in Air Force circles in succeeding years because he married one of my contemporaries in the officers’ area of the Base.

The other I remember to be a square-jawed young Ilonggo who I immediately admired because he was so skillful and he always came to the field wearing those hooped white and maroon knee socks and what looked like – to a boy – a pair of frightening six-studded Adidas football shoes. He was – like Danny – very patient with us boys; and I consider him the very first person to have ever really coached me this thing we now refer to as technique: the how-to of dribbling, passing, trapping, heading and shooting the ball.

His name was Red Kapunan.

My older sister cautioned me that I – a 12-year old boy – really ought to be referring to the two gentlemen as Lts. Francia and Kapunan. She was probably right. But on the field, everyone called them Danny and Red, anyway.

Of course, in time we moved out of the Base. Danny and Red graduated from the flying school and went on with their careers. Like I said, I continued to hear the name Danny Francia every now and again. But I forgot all about Red Kapunan...

Until 1989...

A group of military men led by Gregorio Honasan – who would later become a senator – and calling themselves the Reform the Armed Forces Movement or RAM staged an unsuccessful coup d’ etat against the government of then-President Corazon Aquino. Among the other officers with Honasan was a Colonel Eduardo Kapunan.

The first time I watched the breaking news on television, only the name Honasan registered; and that was because he was mentioned as the brother of national football team member Albert, who I had played against in Division I club football.

It was much later when newspaper articles started saying Col. Eduardo “Red” Kapunan that I began to wonder if this could have been the same guy who taught me my basics almost two decades earlier. Air Force friends later confirmed that it was – indeed – the very same Red Kapunan of my formative football years.

I sincerely doubt that he even remembers me or that he knows that he was the first person to ever teach me some of the basic skills that I take so for granted to this very day. He will be also very surprised to know that I eventually became good enough to play varsity football all the way to college and that I had passed on some of the skills I learned from him to hundreds of other boys who I myself had coached over the last three decades.

I understand that he is now retired from the Armed Forces and that he has gone into the rural banking business to be of help to poor farmers and fisherfolks in his native Iloilo. I pass no judgment on him or his military group. History has its own way of putting everything in perspective.

What amazes me is the way people sometimes just breeze through our lives but they touch us with something that they do not even know will last for the rest of our lives.

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