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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Home Track: Thoughts on the Rizal Memorial Stadium

Home Track: Thoughts on the Rizal Memorial Stadium
by Jose Ramon N. Quintos

I was a fifteen-year old high school junior when I first laid my eyes on the Rizal Memorial Track & Football Stadium. I can still remember that big lump of nervousness I felt on my chest, as I lined up for my first ever athletics competition. The track was wet, thanks to a light morning drizzle. Clad in my awkwardly long basketball shorts and spike-less running shoes, I shivered with both fear and cold as I waited for my heat to commence.

As a wide-eyed fifteen year-old, the Rizal I came to know was a decades-old facility in a bad state of disrepair. The rusty roof of the grandstand leaked during torrential downpours. The wooden bleachers were mostly scratched and chipped off. The entire expanse of the stadium reeked of a faint odor of urine and city dirt. At the center of it all was a disused, often abused football pitch. The grass and weeds grew unchecked on the field potholed by the impact of various field implements like the hammer and shot.

Eleven years, five UAAP seasons (both junior and senior) and countless of races later, I find myself scraping through the routines of my quarter-life, pursuing the sporting dreams I thought I had left behind.  Amidst the peaks and troughs of sport, I found myself attached to Rizal Memorial.

Built for the 1934 Far Eastern Championship Games (now the Asian Games), Rizal has hosted all of the major international sporting spectacles held in the Philippines, the most recent of which is the 2005 Manila Southeast Asian Games. Years ago, while reading about the exploits of the 1932 Olympic High Jump Bronze Medallist, Simeon Toribio, the stadium was the constant milieu - the ever-present backdrop of Toribio’s inspiring life story. Blurry photographs of yore evoke feelings of nostalgia for a time long lost.

The Art Deco stadium underwent a drastic facelift back in 2005, in time for the Manila Southeast Asian Games. For three months, they closed off Rizal. A new track was laid down. The rusty bucket seats and worn out wooden bleachers were refurbished. I can still remember those magical days. The SEA Games was merely a low-key regional event, certainly not the Olympics. And yet, I felt truly proud of being Filipino as I watched my countrymen compete with distinction at the jam-packed stadium. Never in my life had I seen Rizal filled with such passionate supporters of Philippine sport – until the Azkals.

To some degree of controversy, DLSU spent millions to rehabilitate the neglected field. It proved to be a timely move, as the Philippines walloped football powerhouse Vietnam in December last year. The stratospheric rise of our men’s football team, infused dynamism into Rizal. The dugout beneath the grandstand was remodeled according to FIFA-standards. The wooden benches were taken out for sturdy plastic bucket seats. For the first time in years, Rizal hosted an international level football match, with tens of thousands of screaming Filipinos in attendance.

A few days after the Philippines-Kuwait World Cup qualifier, I found myself awestruck at the makeover. Despite my personal misgivings at the temporary dislocation of the field athletics, my heart welled up as I saw Rizal bask in its newfound grandeur. Some spectators of the WNCAA snuck inside the stadium, taking pictures at the manicured pitch - much to the chagrin of the lone lady guard! I smiled as I watched the gleeful youths. Such a sight was unthinkable in the days prior to the Azkals’ rise.

Rundown or not, I’ll always feel at home in Rizal, like the generations of athletes before me – may they be weekend warriors or elite international campaigners; football players or tracksters.


The author is a good friend of mine who once was a varsity trackster for Ateneo de Manila. He is a columnist for

1 comment:

  1. I was amazed at the improvement of Rizal too. I played there in the early '90s. The field was crap and the facilities were in bad shape. It was great seeing Rizal rehabilitated.