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Yes, Football Is Alive in Tanauan

For most of the last three decades, if you wanted to find football in the province of Batangas, you had to go to Lipa. That is where the Christian Brothers set up a school; and in this country, where the Christian Brothers have set up a school, there is also bound to be a football field.

In the last decade or so, probably because of immigrants to the town rather than the natives themselves, Nasugbu has also started to carve a name for itself as far the game is concerned. Granted, there were pockets of initiatives here and there all around the province; but by and large interest in football as a sport has been sustained down the years mostly in Lipa.

Earlier this month, I received a phone call from Stephen ‘Steve’ Nazareth, a former player who was a member of the very first team that I coached: the class of 1984. He told me that he had started a football academy in the city of Tanauan, where he was born and reared.

Since a few of his older boys were graduating from high school, he was planning simple concluding rites similar to that which I arranged for his own high school team all of 28 years ago. He was inviting me to attend because, he said, he wanted his boys to see the person who taught him how to play football.

I immediately accepted. I had heard about his football program before; but knew nothing else about it other than that it existed.

Frankly, given the amount of time that had elapsed, I was not too sure what those rites were that we were supposed to have had when Steve himself was graduating from high school.

Fortunately, I learned that Fernando ‘Itoy’ Silva, Steve’s high school teammate, was also invited. I arranged to go to the affair with the former; and it was while we were riding to Calamba – where the concluding rites were to be held – that I asked Itoy if he recalled what transpired during our own rites back in 1984.

We had an overnight team party, Itoy told me; one last time together before my players went their own separate ways. This was also the night when a silly game called ‘flashlight football’ was played for the first time. Mostly just to have fun; but also, when I come to think about it, to dramatize the state of football in the country at the time when floodlights to illuminate a football field were simply unthinkable.

The great Bill Shankly was known to have said that the most difficult thing that a football manager has to do is to break up a team; and more so if it has been a successful one. That night in 1984 was the first of many times that I had to part ways with my teams down the years. It was never because I wanted to; but always because that was the just nature of high school football.

Three decades on, parting ways with the last high school team that I coached was not any less painful than the first time. However, I used to console myself that every parting of ways was like casting seeds into the wind; with the hope that each seed would propagate interest in and love for the game.

That is why I felt so honoured to have been invited to Steve’s concluding rites. It was like finally being able to discover where one particular seed had fallen, burrowed itself into the ground and subsequently sprouted out of it to hopefully one day rise into the air as a tree.

That Steve would choose to start a football academy in Tanauan was always a foregone conclusion. It is, after all, his hometown.

What impresses me about his academy is that most of its players are from public schools. While we used to play against a public school inside the Base every now and then in Lipa down the years, interest in the game in this province had mostly been sustained by private schools.

The fact that Steve’s football academy has a public school base tells me that the sport is if not spectacularly then at least slowly but surely starting to take on a wider base. In the old days, I used to think that the main stumbling block to the growth of football in this country was the fact that the sport was seldom ever on television.

I do not for one moment think that the television executives who first gambled on having regular football on free television fully realize the impact of their vision. The Tanauan Football Academy is visible proof of this impact. The academy is as yet humble; but the miracle is in that it exists at all.

I mean, while down the years I used to have players every now and again from Tanauan, the city was never what one would call a hotbed of football. Ditto the rest of the province, for that matter.

That is why I felt edified to arrive at this resort to immediately see boys of all ages having a kickabout. It was not so much that they were kicking the ball around; it was the joy in their faces while doing so. They had apparently also discovered that which has been like a source of joy to me since I was a little boy.

Because the night was all about concluding a football program, there would be some sadness; for the parting of ways is never easy. However, Steve and his boys can take solace from the fact that each boy who leaves the program is like a seed that will find more ground upon which to propagate this beautiful game that I never imagined would ever take off in this country.

But it has…

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