The whole country was excited when the Home and Away soccer game was announced and that it was to be held in the Philippines. When Panaad Stadium was chosen to be the venue, it was much to the delight of my fellow Bacolodnons and Negrenses.
The game is a welcome respite from a wave of corruption scandal in the Armed Force of the Philippines that has brought much anxiety and frustration to Filipinos.
From the moment Team Philippines’ Azkals arrived in Bacolod, screaming teenagers and staunch supporters crowded every place they visited. The team and Coach Michael Weiss indulge their fan’s excitement. They allowed them to picture-taking opportunities with the players, sign autographs and scrapbooks! They even allowed them to be stalked up to the hotel. You can imagine this gave hotel security enough headache to deal with. Some even addressed Coach Weiss as Daddy Coach much to the amusement of the always smiling coach.
While the rest of the team members were crowded by the adoring fans, I took the chance to talk with the Ilonggo players. As a new soccer fanatic, I learned one surprising fact. I found out that almost all pure Filipino players on the team are mostly soldiers from the Philippine Army and the Air Force.
According to 28 year old Chieffy Caligdong, and a member of the Philippine Air Force, he has been with that team for 10 years already. He and considers the current attention given to the Azkals as a big plus factor to the sport itself. Now that the Azkals are famous, he is hoping that the younger generation would follow their footsteps by playing soccer too. He added that the team is built on the strong foundation of players’ camaraderie with each other already. The idea that they are raising the flag of the Philippines whenever they play, is good enough to make them prouder as soldiers, and as players as well.
When asked about the advantage of being an Azkal, 35 year old Roel Gener, and a member of the Philippine Army, said that the team is inspired to work and play harder to influence the youth to be involved in soccer and to, at least, gain support for them to win more games for the country. Financial support was scarce during the time when the team was still struggling, and was practically unknown to the general public.
Although there are still some who are skeptical as to how long they will be able to sustain the interest of the public towards soccer, the Azkals, are hoping that their fellow Filipinos will continue to support the Team win or lose.
The soldiers in the team are still aiming big with hopes that someday the Azkals will join the likes of Brazil and Spain in games like the World Cup. They are taking everything one step at a time. Their hearts are strong, and that serving the country is their topmost duty and interest.
Members of the Azkals who are from the Philippine Army are Roel Gener, Ricardo Becite, Nestorio Margarse, Eduard Sacapano.
Members of the Azkals who are from the Philippine Air Force are Chieffy Caligdong,Peter Jangan, Reymark Palmes, Joebel Bermejo, Ian Araneta and Yante Barsales.