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.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The State of Philippine Football Part 1
(In trying to closely monitor the events surrounding Philippine football for the last three years, I've conducted extensive interviews with the people working behind the scenes and have obtained hundreds of facsimiles of documents that have beset the state of the game. What follows is a five-part report based on that.)

Part One: A House Divided
by rick olivares

The House of Football stands at the corner of Danny Floro and Henry Javier Streets in Oranbo, Pasig City where the two streets jut out in a “V formation with motels lined up on either side of a heavy traffic area.

Built at a cost of Php 16 million through Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) Goal Project, it took almost a year to complete before it was formally inaugurated during the Philippine Football Federation’s Centenary Anniversary in December of 2008 by Joseph Blatter, President of football’s world governing body.

The stylish three-story headquarters designed by architect Baltazar Avelino is a stark contrast to all the buildings in the surrounding motel row that reveal nothing of the secret if not forbidden intimacy within; hence the closed doors, garage doors, and blackened windows.

The old PFF Headquarters was housed in the nearby Philsports Complex (Room 405 Building B) and had all the feel of a public school administration office. The grey paint on worktables chipped off. Videotapes of football matches piled atop one another without cases. The bathroom also doubled as a janitor’s stockroom. The headquarters resembled the state of football in the country – not enough support and in a state of disrepair.

The new swank digs have the look of a glass house that will not look out of place in chic Miami. There are dozens of oil paintings of football scenes including a huge one of Brazilian star Ronaldinho that line its walls. Along with the spaciousness of the offices, it gives the new offices a 21st Century cosmopolitan feel. More importantly, it signifies how serious the National Sports Association is with lifting up the state of the sport in a country where everything else is a distant second to basketball.

The House of Football is the only headquarters by any sport in the country that is housed outside a government building. Yet critics of the new PFF administration point out that the stately settings belie the rotting state of the beautiful game in the Philippines.

Rife with infighting and accusations of corruption and mismanagement, the headquarters of the Philippine Football Federation has become more and more a refuge for its president Jose Mari C. Martinez. “Like Big Brother,” used one disgruntled longtime football figure to describe the Orwellian setting where Martinez’ room has a view of everything that goes on in the third floor which houses the executive offices as well an upper deck view of the pedestrian streets below where people at best try to scurry about with anonymity and utmost secrecy.

An 86-page report made by Vision Asia, a think tank accredited by the Asian Football Confederation, was submitted to the PFF officials at the time of the inauguration and provided an assessment report and strategic development plan for the growth of soccer in the Philippines.

A four-man panel headed by Vision Asia Director Brendan Menton conducted a study and exhaustive interviews from September 20-23, 2008 involving a field of coaches, referees, administrators, clubs, and journalists from the National Capital Region and Cebu. The report not only acknowledged the strained relations between the NSA and its member football associations (particularly the National Capital Region Football Association) but also the need for better organization and planning.

Martinez, who is in his mid-50’s, proclaims his passion for the sport that he believes would be a perfect showcase for Filipino talent on a global stage. A former footballer himself having played for San Beda College and the National Team, he chides himself for the poundage he has put on over the years but his eyes reveal a weariness to the problems he faces barely a year into his four-year term as the PFF’s President. “I was not fully aware of what (former PFF head Johnny) Romualdez left behind but I inherited them and solved them. Unfortunately, it put some of the things I wanted to implement on the back burner. But now we can move full steam ahead.

An assistant knocks on his glass door and he motions for her to come in. She has brought in a memo that needs his imprimatur. They will need to send it out at the soonest because he is moving the Congress, the annual meeting of the board of governors and member associations that is supposed to be held every November of the year but was pushed back to February 22, 2009.

Martinez invited Mohammed Bin Hammam, President of the Asian Football Confederation, to attend the proceedings.

Critics of Martinez have scored the invite as a means to checkmate an internal move to oust the incumbent who will bank on the Filipino custom of hiya in front of guests so as to postpone the matter to another date.

That’s exactly what we fear,” said one head of a football association who refused to be named. “And the next time everyone will all convene will be another what – eight months from now?

Ironically, Martinez ran for PFF President under the pledge of uniting the fractious football community. Yet, in a year's time, it is far more messy and divided than it ever was.

The PFF has been besieged lately by the furor of the resignation of the entire Philippine Women’s Futsal Team that won a bronze medal in the 2007 South East Asian games in Thailand because of the poor treatment by its head coach Manny Batungbacal. Martinez also began the day by declaring all positions in all 17 committees null and void. “I have to reorganize things,’ said Martinez that afternoon to this writer. “I cannot have people in positions demanding my ouster all the time. We need to move forward with our plans for football.”

The compound matters, the PFF has been at loggerheads with the Technical and Coaches Committee over the non-payment of its coaches for half a year. The AFC, through its AID 27 Project (which designed to provide financial assistance for coaches and local developmental programs), sent monies over the last half of the year for the coach's allowances.

The coaches have not submitted any monthly reports,” argued Martinez. “Why should we pay them?”

The committee’s former chairman Mariano “Nonong” Araneta debunked the PFF’s answer by saying that they have submitted their program recommendations and plans early last year and were awaiting the green light to proceed but no word was heard.

Martinez responded to Araneta’s counter by meekly stating that the report was probably buried underneath all the paperwork on his desk.

That does not excuse the PFF from paying the coaches,” riposted Araneta. “Yet ironically, the PFF submitted the same list of coaches to the AFC for renewal of their allowances this 2009! So tell me what’s wrong with that picture?”

Amidst all of this, the Men’s National Team, the torchbearer for the state of football in the country and FIFA rankings, has been inactive and some of its mainstays – particularly the Filipino-foreigner reinforcements brought in the last several tournaments – have refused to play for a various reasons; some of its over unfulfilled promises. The three coaches who have had a huge hand in developing the national team -- Dr. Juan Cutillas, Aris Caslib, and Norman Fegidero are no longer with the team for a variety of reasons.

As the afternoon sun gave way to the dark clouds that hinted of rain on a February afternoon, Martinez pensively looked outside his window. The room had cleared out of his guests. He pondered the move to oust him and said without looking in my direction. “See what I have to deal with?”

And like the Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars mythos, he concluded: “Now I have to deal with these rebels.”

Next: Part Two: National Team. National Problem.

Read this: Birds of the same feather flock together.

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