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, December 3, 2010

Chris Greatwich reflects on his goal and the state of Philippine football

Chris Greatwich reflects on his goal and the state of Philippine football
words & pic by rick olivares

With the precious seconds slipping away and with Singapore with a 1-nil lead, Christopher Greatwich momentarily glanced at the game clock before surveying the situation up front as the Philippine Men’s National Football Team went on one last offensive. “You start thinking that, ‘oh, no, it’s over’ but one thing I learned while playing for the national team is that it’s only over when the final whistle blows.”

He sprinted up field and when longtime national teammate James Younghusband collared the ball on the left wing and was left unmarked, Greatwich knew that a decent cross was coming inside the box. “That’s one of James’ strengths,” complimented the Fil-Briton.

When the ball came towards him, everything else was a blur and muscle memory, the product of long and repetitious practice, took over.

Bam! Goal!

In one of the biggest games ever by the men’s national team, they drew mighty Singapore and have a chance to go into uncharted territory. And it was Greatwich’s fourth international goal in his six years of wearing the national colors.

Greatwich first suited up in 2004 when the Suzuki Cup was known as the Tiger Cup. Since then, he’s had 25th international caps (including the match against Singapore) that is second only to teammate Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong’s total of 30.

The midfielder has called the United States home in the last few years where’s a soccer coach in New Jersey. He almost did not make the national squad for this tournament and was only a late addition when former Philippine Football Federation president Jose Mari Martinez asked national team manager Dan Palami to include him in the lineup.

Palami was unsure. “If he’s in shape, we’ll include him.”

Ironically, Greatwich was on vacation in England when he got the call to rejoin his national teammates. “I always keep in shape more so since I coach. And I always keep an ear to what the Philippine national team is doing,” related the central midfielder. “I only got the word Monday morning and I flew out Monday evening. Luckily, this is the time of the year where I’m not that busy. Had the tournament been in summer or spring now this trip would have been impossible to make.”

Since he began playing for the country of his mother’s birth, Greatwich has had five different head coaches (with two pulling a second tour) – Aris Caslib, Nonoy Fegidero, Juan Cutillas, Desmond Bulpin, and now Simon McMenemy. “That’s five coaches in the seven years I’ve been playing for the Philippines. After Cutillas, it was Caslib again so that’s roughly like a coach for every year. Now that can be a problem because there’s no continuity. It does help that some of my teammates have been around for as long as I have like Chieffy, Aly (Borromeo), Ian (Araneta), and Anton to name a few. The others I have played with already like Neil (Etheridge) and Jason (de Jong). The only one I have not played with is Ray Jonsson. But you can say that the program is getting better every year. What are we ranked now -- #151? That’s far better than we were when we started back in 2004.”

Even with some new teammates, that never-say-die attitude paid dividends as Greatwich’s goal created all sorts of subplots in their group in the ongoing Suzuki Cup. “We all feel great with the result but we don’t want to look too far ahead because we all have to play Vietnam on Sunday. We saw what they did to Myanmar (a 7-1 thrashing) and with their home crowd behind them, we have to be prepared.”

Without being cocky, Greatwich reflected on what the national team is trying to achieve: “If we continue to do well, then the game against Singapore could be a watershed moment for Philippine football. And if that raises awareness of the sport in the Philippines then we’ve done something for the sport too, right?”

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