Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kaholeros: The "Revel" Alliance, the Bark Side of the Force

The odds were stacked against the gallant Azkals and yes we lost at home 2-1 to a superior Kuwaiti team last July 28 . But still our support for the Philippine Men's Football Team never wavered. In fair weather or foul, in victory or defeat, we Kaholeros barked for flag and country!

Arriving at 1pm with the Kaholero contingent from Cavite, we assembled at McDonald's Harrison Plaza...
Photo courtesy of Craig Burrows

To borrow a line from drum master Jean Peaul Zialcita, my drumsticks are my lightsabers...
Photo courtesy of Jean Paul Zialcita
 Coach Rudy Del Rosario with the green headband, Master Jean Paul Zialcita with the shiny pate...
Photo courtesy of Jean Paul Zialcita
Ebong Joson, aka the Blue Haired Fanatic, our pied piper, the leader of the Kaholeros, being interviewed by ABS CBN's Niña Corpuz before the match...

Photo courtesy of Jean Paul Zialcita
To the battlefield called Rizal Memorial Football Stadium we Kaholeros march...

Photo courtesy of Jean Paul Zialcita
 4-0 says fellow Kaholero Jerry Vale Cruz!
Photo courtesy of Jean Paul Zialcita
Photo courtesy of Jean Paul Zialcita
 My best buddy and high school teammate Alan Trinañes spotted me outside the stadium...
Photo courtesy of Alan and Tina Triñanes

A rainy Thursday didn't dampen our spirits nor did it prevent Pinoy football fans from filling the coliseum.

Photo courtesy of  Alan and Tina Triñanes

 WE BELIEVE! Spot me wearing the yellow raincoat below the 3rd E...

Photo courtesy of  Craig Burrows
With my officemates and fellow Kaholeros Chat, Mye and Lyn...

Photo courtesy of Lyn Vega
 Game on! Azkals Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge keeps the Kuwaiti attack at bay with several great saves. Throughout the game, even when it rained intermittently, we cheered the team on, Aquadrums beating as one.

Photo courtesy of Craig Burrows
 Fil-German Stefan Schrock scored the game's first goal with a thundering right-footed screamer....

Photo courtesy of Craig Burrows

Photo courtesy of Craig Burrows

...sending Rizal Stadium and the whole nation into jubilation! To quote Craig Burrows, "After the goal, who cares about spelling?"

Photo courtesy of Craig Burrows

Two goals scored by Kuwait in the 2nd half ended the 2014 World Cup dream for the Azkals. A poignant moment captured on film, defender Ray Jonsson's expression below says it all...

Photo courtesy of Craig Burrows
 But the dream lives on! This temporary setback will only serve as fuel for the Azkals to keep on improving. For a young RP squad, once the favorite whipping boys of Southeast Asian teams for decades, to have pushed powerhouse Kuwait to their limits, speaks highly of the tremendous leap that football has made in this once predominantly basketball crazy country.

Photo courtesy of Mardy Gonzales
After a post game pep talk by the Blue Haired Fanatic, we all went home after the game still wearing smiles on our faces. We may have been defeated today, but victory was still ours...for the Azkals, for the Kaholeros, for Philippine football. 

Like the Azkals, the Kaholeros will strike back. We shall bark and bite with all our might!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Azkals trailing Kuwait by 3 goals? Never tell me the odds!

C-3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1. 
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds. 
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Today the Philippines will host the 2nd leg of the 2nd Round World Cup Qualifier vs Kuwait. After a gallant stand in the first 45 minutes of their away match in Kuwait, where the Azkals conceded only 1 goal to a team 50 places higher in the FIFA World Rankings, the highly touted Al Azraq produced 2 more goals in the 2nd half to own a commanding 3-0 lead going into today's home game at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

Again, like many instances in their past games, the Azkals have their backs against the wall. Which suits them fine for they have always been the underdogs, their moniker a stylized version of the Filipino word "askal" derived from two words "aso" (dog) and kalye (street), or mongrels. If the Kuwaiti team thinks they can already snooze and cruise their way  to victory, they will be in for a rude awakening. Now that the Azkals are playing on their own turf, the indomitable Pinoy spirit will be come to fore. This is our doghouse!

I, together with the Kaholeros, the 13,000 people in the stadium and the millions of Filipinos watching on their tv sets tonight, will come together as one to be the Azkals' 12th man. Our battlecry: WE BELIEVE!

To quote Ebong Joson, more popularly known as the Blue Haired Fanatic, the driving force behind the Kaholeros:

 ""When is an askal at its most dangerous?" a foreigner asked me one day.

"When it is down and bloodied," I said. "Just when you think it's over and you are wearing a stupid smile on your face, it will jump up and bite you on the jugular. That is an askal."

Down and bloodied? Down 3-0?

Never tell me the odds! Go Azkals Go!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

One with the (Kaholero) Force!

Who cares if the Philippines is currently 159th in the FIFA World Rankings? This I can tell you, as a living witness to the home leg of the Philippines vs Sri Lanka home game on July 3, 2011 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, no one can contest now that we're right up there with Brazil, Spain or any other nation for that matter, when it comes to fervor and passion for football.

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)
I won't be writing how the Azkals made history, becoming the first Philippine team to move past the first round of a World Cup Qualifier by defeating Sri Lanka in dominating fashion, 4-nil. I'll leave the stats and recaps to the sports pros. Instead, I will recount how a merry band of footie fanatics pumped up the crowd 13,000-16,000 strong and powered up the Azkals' adrenaline.

This is my day with the Kaholeros.

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

Coming off a company team building from Friday to Saturday, I hardly slept and woke up early Sunday morning, just to make it to the 8am Kaholero call time at McDonald's Adriatico. I brought along my "Aquadrum" (a 5 gallon Wilkins mineral water bottle), the Kaholeros' "weapon" of choice, and borrowed drumsticks from my son's toy drum set.

After meeting up with the group, we proceeded to the Rizal Memorial Stadium White Bleachers, the designated area for Kaholeros. There we met the organizers (led by Ebong "the Blue Haired Fanatic", Mary Anne Ingua, Ria De Leon, Aracelli Socorro and Craig Burrows among others),  had a briefing and got our official Kaholero uniforms (free, courtesy of the Philippine Football Federation) and IDs. Tricolors were naturally the dominant scheme of our face painting sessions

(photo courtesy of Alan Triñanes)

(photo courtesy of Marion Breezly)

Despite the scorching heat, led by drum master Paul Zialcita we practiced our beats, chants and hexes without complaint. This was our version of fun in sun!

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

At 11am the gates were opened to the paying public and slowly, fans from all walks of life, some even from the provinces and abroad, began to fill Rizal Memorial Stadium.

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

The crowd erupted when the Azkals took the pitch to warm-up. Feeding off the energy of their home stadium, the guys had an extra spring to their steps and you could see the fire in their eyes. Calling each of the player's names out, the Kaholeros gave the Azkals some lovin'!

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

At 3:30 pm, the moment was finally at hand and it was electrifying. Never did I sing the "Lupang Hinirang" with such nationalistic pride in my heart, complemented by the unfurling of the giant Philippine flag.

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

(photo courtesy of Marion Breezly)

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

And just as the kick-off whistle sounded, the rain poured like a blessing from heaven! Soaked to my toes like the rest of the Kaholeros and fans on the bleachers, the shower didn't dampen my spirit one bit. We clapped, stomped and banged away on our Aquadrums as one. Each beat quickened with every Azkal foray into Sri Lankan territory. It also served as Neil Etheridge's force field each time a Brave Red came dangerously close to the Azkal stronghold. When Chieffy Caligdong's shot finally found the back of the net, 1-0, it was our sweet reward and we knew it was a portent of more great goals to come. Before the first 45' ended, Phil Younghusband made it 2-0 just as the "Mexican Wave" was almost at the back of the Sri Lankan goal.

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

Angel Guirado made it 3-0 with a brilliant run off a James Younghusband pass, and Phil's second goal via a well placed penalty kick sealed the outcome of the match at 4-0.

(photo courtesy of Alan Trinanes)

When the South Korean referee blew the final whistle, the whole nation celebrated with thunderous applause. The victorious Azkals, grateful of the home crowd's support, went around the stadium to wave and give their love back. They stopped for quite some time in front of the Kaholeros. The smile on their faces said it all. We did our job. We did it magnificently.

(photo courtesy of Mylene Sermonia)

I played football back in high school and college and always had dreams of representing the country in an international sporting event. But I was never physically gifted as an athlete and at best, I was only your average football player. Being a Kaholero for a day finally gave me the chance to play for flag and country, albeit in a different way.

I went home sunburnt and still soaking wet, cracked Aquadrum in tow. I also forgot to wipe off traces of facepaint washed off by the rain. People on the bus and the jeepneys that I rode stared at me, but I hardly noticed them. I was on football cloud nine and I was already looking forward to Kuwait.