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.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #93 Who's afraid of Hans Smit?

(This appears in the February 4, 2008 edition of the Business Mirror. The cuss words that begin the column were deleted in the paper. Dammit. Bwisit!)

“Put@#&^na!!!! !v*#$@%^>#!!!!!!”

Hans Peter Smit has been patrolling the pitch for almost three decades now and even after all this time, his name or the mere sight of him still inspires fear and respect depending on what side of the spectrum you’re on.

In his younger days, he was like a six-foot hellion in spikes. He threaded the University of the Philippines’ sweeper position and the midfield with his long hair flying in the wind while looking to set up teammates. His manic ferocity burned with every stride. Every misplay would draw his ire and his pet choice of expletives. Hans gave everything he had in his body to the game. Total football. Just the way Rinus Michels espoused the game (after refining English great Jack Reynolds’ work with Ajax Amsterdam) with the Clockwork Oranje that young Hans grew up watching and admiring.

To the uninitiated, he’s a cantankerous coño with a mania for perfection, but to those who play, love, and know the game, Hans Smit, whatever color he wears on the pitch – maroon for his UP roots and green for his La Sallite (never call him a La Sallian because he hates the term) heritage – is one of the game’s great minds and characters.

“I have problems with authority and I have no problem saying that,” he says emphatically. I suspect there’s a method to his madness and perhaps I’m right. “That’s why I could never be inside an office doing a desk job with people telling me what to do. I wasn’t built for that and I knew that when I was a young student. And that is why I am the only coach for any La Salle varsity team who does not have an alumnus as a team manager. I will not be dictated upon to do something that I know I can do to the best of my abilities.”

His mother used to roll her eyes as well and wonder why Hans wanted to give his all to the sport when there was hardly any money in it. “She wanted me to get a more respectable job like being a doctor. She was afraid that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I told her, ‘Ma, I will never do anything to bring shame to our name.’” He smiles at the memory; something he’s not thought about in a long time.

After college where he won a football title with UP in his frosh year with Nonong Araneta, Bert Honasan, and Chris Monfort, Hans moved to De La Salle Santiago Zobel where he became the boys’ team’s coach. He wasn’t even sure if coaching was the right thing when he didn’t have the experience. But when his first batch of players graduated, two of his seniors still dressed in their togas sought out and hugged Smit before they did their parents. They thanked him for seeing them through their high school life not just in football but in perhaps the toughest subject that nary anyone is prepared for – growing up. “My life became clear back to me then. I was meant to be a coach. That’s funny isn’t it? Me – people call me from every unprintable name under the sun even from my own school – a rebel if you might say who found his cause in football, a biker, I got a tattoo…” He pulls in a long drag from his cigarette.

Ah, cigarettes. Next to cross-trainers, G-Shock watches, and the latest cellphones, it’s a passion for the coach. “The only person who smokes in a non-smoking campus,” laughs Stephanie Pheasant, the captain of his four-time UAAP women’s football champions. “It can be intimidating playing for him but that’s only because he wants to draw out the best in you as a player. We hear the cuss words but most of all we long to hear him say, “beauty” to describe a great play. He’s tough to please so we really long to hear it from him. It makes us complete.”

Rely San Agustin the former goalkeeper for Ateneo De Manila (when they squared off with La Salle in the finals for three straight years) and the Smit-managed semi-pro club team Kaya says that there was a fear factor whenever they played La Salle. “Any time you go up against a Hans Smit team you know that they’re well-prepared and well-coached. So you had to be at your absolute best if you wanted to beat them.”

The late Chris Monfort, who was the architect of the Ateneo football program, nearly got Smit to move to Loyola Heights after he was removed from coaching the La Salle men’s program, once said of his former teammate and best friend, “He (Smit) knows the game, understands the game, and how to play the game. Not many people do.”

When La Salle’s former coach, Marlon Maro was removed following a 2006 title loss to Ateneo, Smit who says that up to this day he’s never been given an outright answer by the Christian Brothers as to why he was removed from his post as men’s football coach, was brought back. “It took me a couple of days to get over it, but I realized that it was never about my competence. So in a way that was a consolation. But it feels great to be back.”

“Coach Maro was a good coach, but coach Hans is different,” said one player who requested anonymity, as he a friend of both. “You could see that when he came back, all his former players and those from Zobel who never played for the college team all came back. If it’s not Hans, they will not play. That says a lot about the man.”

It also says something when Smit tries to de-emphasize the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry and the rancor it brings. When he and Monfort were carving out their names in the game, they both swore to debunk one of the country’s most riveting competition. “The two schools without a doubt have the best traditions more than any other, but that doesn’t mean that other schools aren’t equally worthy foes and that we have to be nipping at each other all the time. When my family's house burned down sometime ago, the first help out was Eric Ingles (a former Ateneo player whose sons also played for the blue and white). It was heartwarming to see players and supporters from both schools come together to help my family in a time of great need. That’s the healing power of football unlike in basketball where forces can be divisive. And this might be painful for some to hear but there is better parental support for the Ateneo football program. If people don’t like what they hear then they have to know that I am a product of two schools so I do not think like most La Sallites do.”

“When an opposing team mockingly applauds a player for getting carded, Hans will direct his anger to that team whichever it is,” says current Philippine Football Federation Deputy Secretary General Jojo Rodriguez who worked a lot under Monfort and serves as the UAAP Football Commissioner. “He strictly adheres to ‘Fair Play.”

Two Saturdays ago, in a highly anticipated clash between Ateneo High School and De La Salle Zobel (that was won by the Junior Archers 2-0), Smit angrily pulled aside attacking midfielder Augustus Aguirre and gave him a mild slap (or tap in the face) when he engaged in trash talking. To the outsider it may be a harsh form of reprimand, but if they saw what happened on the bench moments after Aguirre was pulled out for a job well done, the player and the coach were laughing and smiling. “Coach just wants us to play the game the right way,” said the Junior Archer.

Mariel Benitez who played on four champion teams for La Salle tells of the time between graduating from Woodrose and going to La Salle. “I was on vacation in the States. Coach called me and said I better be in shape when I got back. Being frightened of him, it took me a couple of months to muster the courage to face him. But I guess, the one thing I will never forget was when we lost to FEU in the championship and he brought us together and said that he really loved us and because he knew we gave it our all.”

Jolo Peralta who plays the midfield for Ateneo admits to feeling intimidated when he played for the coach in the National Capital Region youth team. “I was afraid. Really afraid,” says Peralta. “But it was an honor to play for him.”

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