PFF sets tone for soccer revival

- Joaquin M. Henson -
Newly-elected Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Johnny Romualdez is launching a campaign to rekindle widespread interest in the sport where the Philippines was once a dominant power in Asia.

In the pre-war era, Filipino football players were revered in the continent and dominated the Far Eastern Games. Today, the lack of a premier league has slowed the progress of the sport to a crawl.

But Romualdez is confident that the nationwide grassroots program started in 1999 will produce future stars to propel the country back in the regional limelight. The immediate goal is to form a competitive 23-and-under men’s team for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games next year. Bacolod will host the SEA football competitions as most of the national players are from the South.

While Romualdez is hoping the men’s team rises to the occasion, he’s confident the ladies squad will capture at least a bronze. No Philippine football team of whatever gender has ever garnered a medal in the SEA Games. Romualdez says the ladies might just pull a shocker and clinch the gold.

To celebrate the revival, the PFF is staging a "Football Night" at the Manila Pavilion Hotel today.

"The ‘Football Night’ was conceived to be an annual affair (where) we honor people and corporations who have contributed to the development of the game," said former PFF president Rene Adad. "In our first ‘Football Night,’ we will honor past PFF presidents and the best players of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s."

No posthumous award will be given and only those present will be honored. There are 11 outstanding players to be cited. Coincidentally, it takes 11 players to form a football team.

Former PFF presidents Manuel Tinio, Francisco Elizalde, Ramon Farolan, Henri Kahn, Honesto Isleta, Ricardo Tan and Rene Adad will be given service awards. Lope Pascual, another former PFF president, is in the US and will not be able to attend.

The outstanding player awardees are Eduardo Pacheco, Enrique Beech and Victor Sison from the 1950s, Pepe The, Joey Villareal and Anastacio Co from the 1960s, Jose Mari Martinez and Miguel Crame from the 1970s and Alberto Honasan, Mariano Araneta and Jose Genato from the 1980s.

Crame, a postman in Arizona, flew in to attend the rites.

A special award will be given to Leo Prieto for founding the Boys Football Association. Longevity awards will be presented to Sy Peng Sam of Tigers F. C. for coaching, Orlando Plagata for playing and coaching, Coca-Cola and Adidas for their contributions as corporate patrons, Co Chi Juan of the private sector and Rep. Monico Puentevella of the government as individual patrons, and Albert Robert of Nomads F. C. for organizing international competitions.

Sy, 84, is still the Chiang Kai Shek coach. Chua, 70, played on the Lions F. C. that won seven straight Manila Football League titles in the 1950s and continues to play at the Xavier field on Sundays. Plagata, 70, has logged 55 years of involvement in the sport as a player and coach. He is the men’s football coach of the Far Eastern University varsity.

Fernando Alvarez, 82, will be given a special award for his international achievements. In 1973, he became the only Asian and one of eight in the world to receive a Special Referee award from the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA). Alvarez officiated in 32 international matches from 1959 to 1973. He was a vice president of the Asian Football Federation (AFF) from 1978 to 1988. Alvarez now lives in San Francisco and is in town with his wife and daughter to receive the PFF award.

The Footballers of the Year are Freddy Gonzalez and Marilou Rubio.

Gonzalez made his debut on the Philippine team at the Tiger Cup in Vietnam in 1998. He played on the national squad that saw action at the 1999 SEA Games in Brunei. Last year, Gonzalez suited up as a Filipino import for the Eastern Asia Bank F. C. in the Vietnamese V-League. He now plays for Komodo AS of Indonesia and is the only Filipino active pro today.

Rubio, a Master’s degree holder in physical education, is a mainstay of the national women’s team and is a four-time best defender awardee in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.

Philippine Olympic Committee president Celso Dayrit will induct the newly-elected PFF officers after the awarding ceremonies. Romualdez will then deliver his inaugural speech and disclose the details of a five-year development program. Philippine Sports Commission chairman Eric Buhain will be the guest speaker.

In his speech, Romualdez will explain the "pyramid of development" which is his model for a five-year program. The pyramid starts with a grassroots program for under-13 and kasibulan 6-12, a provision for clinics and centers in six provinces, then under-14, under-16, under-19, under-23 and seniors. Each rung in the pyramid has a national, provincial and regional component with corresponding sponsors such as Red Ribbon, Coca-Cola and Adidas. The grid also indicates in which tournaments such as the World Cup, Tiger Cup and SEA Games each age-group is aiming to compete.

Futsal, beach football, a weekly TV show and the 2005 SEA Games for men and women are special projects which the PFF will tackle.

Mario Domingo, Edward Magallano and Joaqui Preysler are organizing the event which Romualdez describes as "long overdue." It is significant that the first-ever "Football Night" is being held on the 100th anniversary of FIFA and the 50th anniversary of the AFF.

Romualdez says a fun night is in store for the country’s football enthusiasts. Dinner is a nine-course lauriat. Prizes will be given away in a raffle and trivia contest.

Romualdez adds that the affair will also recall milestones in the history of Philippine football such as the country’s 1-0 upset over Japan at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, the victory of the interport competition in Hong Kong and Macau in 1950, the Philippine squad’s 1-0 win over Taiwan in the preliminary to the New York Cosmos match, featuring Pele, at the Aloha Stadium inaugurals in Honolulu in 1976 and the fourth place finish at the 1991 SEA Games in Manila.

"We want to make it known that football is alive and kicking in the Philippines," says Romualdez. "The first PFF ‘Football Night’ will be an event to remember and we hope to celebrate our involvement in the sport every year from now on."

Tickets for the "Football Night" will be available at the Manila Pavilion Hotel.











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