Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ateneo Men's Football Match 12 Life, death, and Ateneo football

Ateneo 0 vs. Far Eastern University 1
text by rick olivares photos by aly yap

Match 12
February 21, 2008
Erenchun Field
Ateneo De Manila University

There is no consolation for a losing side.

It’s something that may ease with the passing of time, but you never forget.

Ironically there’s none as well for a winning team (if you’ve got blue blood in your veins).

Vince Santos knows what it’s like. He was Ateneo’s top striker during it’s first ever UAAP football title when they beat La Salle in 1996. The following year the Green Booters of Hans Smit gained a measure of revenge as they beat the same blue side in the finals. Santos is now the Program Head for FEU’s side after an acrimonious departure from handling Ateneo a few years ago. And moments after his Tamaraws beat Ateneo 1-0 in game two of the UAAP 2008 Men’s Footballs Finals, Santos had trouble keeping his resolve. “It’s bittersweet,” he softly said twice.

The Morayta elevens’ coach Adolfo Alicante raised his fists in triumph when head zebra Gerry San Andres drew to a close an exciting and excruciating game. Then as if in respect to the Ateneans who fell to the pitch and wept, he simply shook the hands of his players and said no more. As I congratulated him, the champion coach nodded and managed a humble, “thanks.” Almost throughout the tournament he wore his trademark sunglasses refusing to let the game’s fortunes betray his emotions. What was one more day?

Yes, the blue and white lived to fight one more day last Sunday, September 17, as they beat FEU 2-0 to set up the ultimate match. If you say that it’s just a game then obviously you don’t subscribe to what the late great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly said about the sport, “Some people think that football is a matter of life and death. I assure you it’s much more than that.”

Ask assistant coach Bob Manlulo and current program head Jong Castaneda both of whom played on the Ateneo side that lost the 1989 football finals to a UP team that prominently featured several Ateneans from their powerful high school batch. They’ve never lived down that day (it was an upset) and continue to get ribbed by their marooned cohorts.

If you’re an Atenean then you should know that more than any other sport in the last 12 years, it’s the beautiful game that has given us pride and a measure of bragging rights. Eight finals appearances in the collegiate level and five titles. And that’s not counting the multitude of championships reaped in the grade and high school levels.

The Blue Booters provided the school’s first three-peat from 2004-06, the first since the track team booked the trick way back in the 1960’s. And unfortunately, the loss also marked the end of an era.

There’s a theory that when you surround fresh blood with champion players then it provides a sound environment for the young to learn and soak in. Ateneo coach Arnulfo Merida knows this and he’s infused the team with remnants of its last three-peat squad. For team captain Pat Ozaeta, the moment he stepped into Ateneo’s back four, he helped turn the team’s fortunes around with his stellar defense. A model of consistency and dedication, he has been a rock and has received accolades from teammates, alumni, and foes alike. And he has been an inspiration to his teammates and even his younger brother Fred who turned the sport from a mere pastime into a passion. The Ozaeta brothers along with Alvin Perez, Doods Lansang, Jolo Peralta, Gino Tongson, and Gerard Cancio have strapped the team onto their backs and gave the school something great to cheer for in the new year.

And in a sparkling turnaround from a dismal Season 69 they’ve played heads up ball ¾ of the way. They showed what they can do with their backs against the wall when they stole a game from UP in the late second round. And they answered FEU by beating them at their own game in game one of the finals. But the end game magic ran out in match two.

I wondered if it was an omen when the FEU Lady Tamaraws also ended an era for La Salle women’s football as they dealt the green and white’s great sweeper Stephanie Pheasant her first finals loss. I mentioned it to my batchmate and fellow sports shooter Philip Sison (who also once played for Ateneo) who optimistically told me that it might be nothing. But when the Tamaraws midfielder Glester Sobremisana flicked in a goal from close range after he was unmarked by the Ateneo defense (he even had time to control the ball), I felt my hair stand up. In all our finals’ appearances in UAAP football, when the opposition scored first they went on to win the game and the series. In 1997, La Salle’s Norman Azarcon scored the match’s first goal before Vince Santos equalized. But within minutes, the greenies’ Christian Lozano smashed in the game winner. In 1998, the rubber match of the three-title series between the two arch-rivals, La Salle scored first before Monch Espejo equalized. But by the second half, La Salle found its range as they peppered the Ateneo goal for four more goals.

Last season, Ateneo scored a measly four goals in eight matches. This year, they had 19 but were held scoreless for the second time in the tournament by a very good FEU team that sought redemption for their lackluster finish last year.

As Gino Tongson crumpled to the ground, James Arco ran over to placate the fallen winger who cried unabashedly. Pat Ozaeta quickly made the rounds picking up teammates urging them to stand up and be proud of their accomplishments. Ozaeta fought back his own as for one final time he led the team to bid their supporters a heartfelt “thank you.” Merida lurked outside the pitch unsure of what to feel or say but his face couldn’t mask the pain. He was kicking himself too for not being on the bench. His game one gambit of getting sent off backfired. For one final moment he wasn’t there to prop the team up during halftime and it was obvious the team missed their head coach in spite of the able job done by Manlulo.

Ozaeta was named the tournament’s best defender for a third time in his college career. Rufino Mantos was adjudged the best goalkeeper while defender Miguel Tuason the Rookie of the Year. It was small consolation for them but when you put things in perspective, for all the team’s belief that it could challenge for a title, they were never seeded to compete for it. FEU, UST, and even UP were considered the favorites. Instead, the blue and white almost snatched another improbable victory.

There’s no consolation for a losing side.

But for what it’s worth… thanks for a great season, team.

One big fight!

Author’s dedication:
For Pat Ozaeta and Alvin Perez. For always being forthright and open with their thoughts and ideas. And those long chats online and offline about the game and life.
For James Arco, Gino Tongson, and Gerard Cancio who are always great interviews.
For Ompong Merida… simply the best coach in the country bar none.
For Bob Manlulo and Jong Castaneda for always providing the inside word.
For the University Athletics Office for their support.
For Atty. Eric Ingles an inspiration on and off the field.
For former Ateneo keeper Jerry Ngo who is always a model of restraint.

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