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.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bleachers' Brew #150 Hope FC

This is my 150th column in Business Mirror. http://businessmirror.com.ph/home/sports/7819-hope-fc.html When I met up with coach Jojo Durian of the Muntinlupa Parañaque Las Piñas Football Association (MPLFA) and Rick Venus at the PFF offices more than a month ago, we talked about writing this story.

Yesterday, I hardly slept a wink Friday night (as I had been looking forward to meet Muntinlupa Football Club (MFC) and left for Alabang Town Center at 5am. We met up at McDonald's for breakfast before heading to nearby Munti. This is MFC's story. Thanks also to (Tito) Dickie and Cathy Rivilla for their graciousness, candor, and for lunch. Congrats on your daughter's graduation.

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Hope FC
words and pictures by rick olivares

Inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City; if hope flickers, it is either on a cancer stick that trades like currency behind bars or in the crude scroll marks on the walls that count the days, weeks, and eventually years. Unless the inmate has drawn life, it is a most simple diary of mad men.

Yet outside the walls of the prison, life too is hard and hope is all people live for. For some, it comes in the shape of a football where lives and destinies are woven together like the 352 stitches it takes to hold the ball together.

It was a way out of General Santos City for Ronald Macadag-un. He used it to get a scholarship at the University of Visayas before he was snapped up by the Philippine Army where he continued to play the sport. After his discharge, he went to work at the Mizuno factory in Muntinlupa where they manufactured golf and football gloves. He taught his co-workers football and they played in the Bilibid Sunken Garden that was converted into a pitch that drew crowds.

It was here too, where Leah Madrid, one such face in the crowd, found an end to her grieving.

Madrid’s husband left her and their four children in a hush and with almost no means to support themselves. She found it tough to cope with the pain and anger that it affected her work as a nurse in a hospital.

It all came together in a game that was played to a samba-less beat yet the bronzed bodies that glistened with sweat played with grace and a sense of joy that seemed so rare in such a mirthless place. She approached Macadag-un afterwards to teach her the game, and four years later, it is what has kept this patchwork of 34 lives (23 boys, 8 girls, and 3 coaches) bound together.

Welcome to the Muntinlupa Football Club.

This is where the sons and daughters of convicts and jail guards play the beautiful game where there is no black and white. While there is no “I” in team there is most certainly one here for it resides in this family which is what they’ve become. They make no distinction about background, family, or religion. The name that matters is that of their club’s name in front of jerseys that they’ve been wearing for more than two years now and it looks a little awkward on many because they’ve all started to grown into their early teens. They all hang out together and look out for each other. If they see someone learning how to smoke they quickly report the matter to Madrid who brooks no vices.

Here they watch their heroes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard, and Lionel Messi on youtube since not everyone can afford cable TV.

Here the kids save their meager allowance of Php 20 pesos if and when they are given by their parents. When they do save enough, they buy soccer shoes that fetch for Php 50 in ukay ukay stores. But they are cheap imitations that afford no comfort for their feet. Sometimes they discard them to play in socks. They just make sure that they have their homemade shin guards (out of cardboard and discarded plastic PEP bottles) on to protect them.

They play in the Sunken Garden just outside New Bilibid’s walls where games are oft interrupted by vendors who pass right through without a care in the world for what goes on. Here a recovery meal is a six peso ice drop in buko, vanilla or chocolate flavors. Pinipig costs ten bucks and the kids check if they have enough to afford it.

The few traffic cones they had for training were stolen. And the steel bars that form their goals were once stolen perhaps by those who needed money which is always in short supply round these parts.

Madrid once set the monthly dues at Php 20 per player yet they found it hard to collect so they scrapped it.

If they do get to play, it is in tournaments where there are no registration fees and they only have to worry about transportation and food which altogether another problem.

They play because the game is more than a distraction for the coaches (Macadag-un, Madrid, and coordinator Mark Dampil) and kids. For the coaches it’s a way of giving back (they don’t even make money off this). For the players, they cling to the belief that the game will help them get an athletic scholarship to school which is their meal ticket out of this place.

One was able to get one at Perpetual Help College but he had to drop out because he had no money for food or transportation allowance. He now works in a fastfood chain.

On weekends and non-school days, they play everyday for it keeps them away from the lure of gangs and distraction of computer games.

Madrid multi-tasks as coach/surrogate mother/older sister as she also counsels the kids with their schooling, problems at home, and the stirrings pangs of puppy love (she also helps the boys with their love letters). And she makes sure that they are focused on four things: God, family, school, and football.

Christian Abay is a 15-year old kid who is being raised by his grandfather who served his time for rape (he says he was framed) and his mother who works as a janitress. His father passed away when he was born. His lolo hates the game of football and he insists that the young lad get serious with his studies. He sees Christian as their way out of their poverty. But football helped save Abay who roots for Liverpool. Prior to learning the game, he hung out in the malls and acquired the nickname of “Gamol.” He’s nicked playing hooky but the name stuck and like those one-name Brazilian wonders, he’s shown an aptitude for weaving around defenders for a goal.

Jervyn Pamatian writes for his school newspaper at Philippine Christian University. He loves to write and he has a blog that he says only 10 people have visited. Nevertheless, his gift for words, like football, has allowed him to express himself. “Maybe I can write about football and make it popular here in the Philippines,” he said with youthful optimism.

Here, in spite of their hardship, they know of their potential.

They once played in an open tournament in Ateneo where they beat Claret 1-0, La Salle Green Hills 5-0, Don Bosco Technical Institute 4-0, and Laguna FC 3-0 to top their division. Except they did not receive any trophy and instead faced an older Corinthians FC team in a cross-over match where they lost 3-4 in penalty kicks.

The loss hurt but what stabbed deeper into their hearts and minds was how opposing coaches, parents, and yayas (duh!) regarded them. “Anak ng preso mga kalaban ninyo. Mas masarap yung kinakain niyo sa mga yan kaya mas malakas kayo diyan,” they screamed during the games.

The statement isn’t entirely true but they had no voice to say otherwise. And that when the reality of their situation sets in.

Windell Dagum was the one gifted player on MFC. Despite his smallish size, he beat defenders with his speed and skills. And he could score some. He did not go unnoticed and was chosen by a major television network to go to Germany for the 2006 World Cup as an observer and ambassador for the country. But at the last moment, his place was inexplicably taken by someone else from UP. It crushed Windell. He doesn’t have much to begin with then to offer him a sliver of hope that was cruelly snatched it away...

Windell no longer plays football. He doesn’t even go to school anymore. Instead, he’s hooked up with a fraternity where misery loves company.

For the Muntinlupa Football Club life goes on. Madrid pulls double duty as a nurse and a football coach while she and Macadag-un attend coaching clinics when they can afford it. The kids play – two to three hours in a day. The joy and laughter evident in their faces. You know – God, family, school, and football. It’s what they live for.

When you watch them, in a few minutes time, you’ll know that hope resides in this mirthless place.

Muntinlupa Football Club

Those who would like to donate old football shoes for boys and girls (of the age 15 and under), football gear, or would like to treat the kids to some sandwiches either this coming Saturday or the Saturday before Palm Sunday, kindly email me at rickolivares@gmail.com. I am meeting the coaches around 2pm Friday March 27 at Mega Mall (where I have a lunch work meeting). Any one is welcome to join that meet up and if you have anything to bring as well please do so.





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