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Recollections of Division I Football with San Agustin FC

An NCAA match at LSGH against Mapua in 1981.
Late last year, after a brisk game of futsal-cum-street football with a few of my own players, somebody asked me while we lounged at the clubhouse if I played Division I football when I was young. Yes I did, I told the guys; although it was for a mere season. Why it wasn’t a longer career is mirrored in similar stories by many budding football players like me in an era when one gave up active participation in the game to start alternative careers somewhere.

In my case, I went back to Lipa and got into a career I had neither planned nor particularly trained for – education. I continued playing in Manila for another three months after graduation. However, training by myself was not ideal for the rigours of Division I football and I was pragmatic enough to accept that there was no real recourse but to give it all up.

I played for a now-defunct school-based club called San Agustin FC, made up mostly of Colegio San Agustin alumni some of whom – like Monchu Garcia, the Camahorts and Phillip Hagedorn – are behind the success story that is the United Football League.

I did not have a crystal ball, of course. So, I did not really know that I was, in fact, being given a football education that would give me unique insights into the entirety of the game from understanding each position better.
Garcia, Alan Muñoz and Ronnie Joseph were my teammates at DLSU-Manila. This explains my presence at the club along with my other DLSU teammates Tom Mirasol, Chu Lazaro and – I think, but not a hundred per cent certain now – goalkeeper Kiko Picornell.

We had in Ricardo Venus our one and only Philippines international at the time and had expatriate players in Frenchman Patrick Perfer and a former Denmark U-21 player whose name I have completely forgotten. Tomas Lozano, now among the organisers of the annual Alaska Cup football festival, was our coach-cum-manager.

Another Division I club actually tried to recruit me. Magnolia FC was the ‘farm team’ of San Miguel FC, the champion team of the era. Playing for that club were my DLSU teammates Harvey Campos and the young freshman Jojo Nicomedes.

The Magnolia coach, Gigi Sanchez, had seen me playing at the Rizal Memorial and sent word through Nicomedes inviting me to train with the club.

At this point, I was struck down by hepatitis and had a couple of months to think of the offer. On the one hand, Magnolia was the farm team of San Miguel; so joining it could open the door to the champion team.

My high school football team at DLSL back in 1975.
Knowing Nicomedes and Campos would have been an advantage. Plus, San Miguel had among its ranks the national player Raul Pondevida, who is from Lipa and coached me during my senior year in high school.

On the other hand, the two clubs trained at six in the morning at the Xavier field in Mandaluyong. Since I lived in Palanan in Makati at the time, joining up would have required getting up earlier than the roosters for training days, travelling to Mandaluyong and then rushing back after training in the opposite direction for my morning classes in Taft.

In the end, the fact that I was never a morning person made me decide against the offer. Coincidentally, the San Agustin alumni at DLSU were also recruiting players for their own club; and this turned out to be something of a godsend.

San Agustin was just ten minutes from where I lived; and training was at four in the afternoon, after classes. It was nothing if not convenient; and there was the added bonus of so many of my DLSU teammates coming aboard.

The downside to playing for San Agustin was that I did not play in what I felt was my natural position – the right wing in a 4-3-3 formation. Most of the time, I was deployed still on the right but in midfield, which required me to do so much more tracking back.

I also played rightback several times; leftback in an ultimately forgettable match; and striker for a couple of matches in a classic 4-4-2 formation. At the time, I resented being played all over the place and never being given the opportunity to settle in one position.

Scanned from the Lasallian student paper, after a friendly game at LSGH.
I did not have a crystal ball, of course. So, I did not really know that I was, in fact, being given a football education that would give me unique insights into the entirety of the game from understanding each position better.

These insights would ultimately serve me so well in an alternative career that I had, as yet, no idea would keep me in the game for so long although I eventually gave up top flight football.

I coached for three decades.

If I have a bit in the way of a regret, it is in that about a year after I graduated, San Miguel revamped its line-up and promoted many from its Magnolia team, including my DLSU teammate Nicomedes. The what-if which, I guess, will never be answered is could I have been promoted as well had I opted for Magnolia, instead.

I guess sometimes we just all go where the wind blows us. In exchange for what could have been, I trained about four hundred boys in a locality which, if I’m being honest, has never really taken to the game.

If I may quote from a Bon Jovi song, “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be… God makes no mistakes.”

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