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, January 24, 2012

Air Force FC, Army FC & Navy FC: The strong, the few, and the proud are under siege

This appears in the site
The strong, the few, and the proud are under siege
For the Philippine Air Force, Army, and Navy football clubs, they are in a battle not just for supremacy but also for survival. By Rick Olivares.

When Air Force defeated the national team player-laden Loyola 2-0 during the UFL Cup Finals last December, Edmundo Mercado Jr., adjudged the best goalkeeper of the tournament, defiantly and somewhat controversially proclaimed his side as “true Filipinos”. The statement was borne about the rapid changes to the game on local soil what with the influx of foreign talent that has taken the shine of the homegrown player. But one might as well be howling at Mother Nature to stop because the winds of change are blowing in the Philippines' direction.

For the longest time, the various football teams of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were the best clubs in the country. In the absence of a real professional football league, they were a means for many a footballer to extend their careers as they were feeders for the national team.

“For me, going to the Air Force was an opportunity to continue playing football,” said Norman Fegidero Jr. who starred for West Negros University and coached in the Ateneo Football Center with the late Chris Monfort before enlisting.

Fegidero served three years in the Air Force before returning to a more civilian life. “It was there where I also learned discipline which is crucial to the success of any football team. Dati lahat sa military teams ang punta. Now they have options.”

In the light of the rapid changes of the beautiful game in the Philippines where Fil-foreigners and foreign players have taken the club scene by storm, the football teams of Air Force, Army, and Navy in a series of intra-service meetings took time to discuss the developments and how they would address them.

Navy has been taking it on the chin since the 2011 season where they lost 10 matches and drew two. Head coach Marlon Maro, who after an absence of several years, was asked to return and right Navy’s sinking ship. Although the sailors advanced to the knockout stages of the cup, Pachanga, a side with many homegrown talents spiced up with top African players, ousted them after a penalty shootout.

To open 2012 league play, despite being reinforced by several players from NCAA champion San Beda, Stallion torpedoed them 6-0. In their second outing against newly promoted Nomads, they were down 1-nil before eking out a late goal to grab a crucial point in the standings.

Even before league play began, the Navy brass discussed the possibility that their side could be relegated. “It is a reality that comes with all these changes in the football landscape,” said Maro who retired in 2008 with the rank of sergeant. “That is why we have to prepare the team to get better. The good thing is our top officers gave us the go signal to recruit.”

While many chafe at the foreign invasion of Philippine football, Major Patricio Bumidang, who coaches Army, sees opportunities. “There are pros and cons when it comes to these developments in football,” said the 18-year career serviceman who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy. “You hear comments how the Fil-foreigners have taken away the spots of the home grown players. I tell those who complain about to look at the positive side of things. They have raised the level of awareness of football and that is good. They improve the quality of the game and our skill level is raised. And now we have sponsors. If we believe the homegrown players are just as good if not better then we have to show it. Now it is also up to the local federation to ensure that the homegrown players are given every opportunity to represent the country.”

Air Force which has carried the cudgels for the military squads after the decline of Navy, has won the last two UFL league titles. They also won the cup competition albeit by the skin of their teeth. On opening day, they were thoroughly outplayed by Kaya and the 1-nil final score hardly begins to tell that story. One week earlier, the Airmen were handed their butts by visiting Internacional de Madrid in a friendly match.

“Hindi dapat nilaro yun,” rued Mercado. Air Force was crater bombed 10-nil by the third division Spanish side. “Unang una wala kami sa kundisyon dahil galing bakasyon. Pangalawa, biro mo, first division champions eh tinalo kami nang ganyan. Eh, hindi kami ready. Panget tignan.”

The two losses were a wake up call for the proud military squad. Team Manager Lt. Col. Albert Masuda sent the team to Lipa, Batangas for training camp.

When Global ousted Army in the knockout stages of the UFL Cup, the soldiers couldn’t wait to get back at their tormentor. “Syempre meron kaming pride,” said Army veteran and national player Nestor Margarse Jr. And Army came back hard by handing Global a stunning 2-1 defeat in their opening match of the 2012 UFL season. They battled neck-and-neck with Loyola in a rough game until James Younghusband scored the game winner in a 2-1 victory of the sparks.

Military and homegrown pride will only get one team so far. They need to recruit. Said Masuda: “Aside from training, we are also looking to address our lineup by recruiting. Many of our players are older. Although malaking bagay yung experience, you want to be able to bring in fresh and new talent so they can also learn from our veterans.”

But recruiting is easier said than done. First of all, there are budget constraints. “It depends what our command provides us,” clarified Major Bumidang. “Because when the Army also recruits it is also for boxing, track and field, and volleyball. Siguro meron kaming tatlo o apat na recruits na para sa amin lang. Air Force is lucky because General (Oscar) Rabena is a former football player who supports their program. When a senior military official pushes for it mabilis na. Unlike sa iba na mas matagal.”

For Navy, Maro has allowed civilians to suit up in hopes of enlisting them down the line. “It’s a good job with benefits.”

Fegidero also concurred. “I enlisted in the Air Force also for financial reasons.”

While the military teams are not able to pay like the richer clubs, they are able to provide their players with a little help. Said Maro: “With our sponsor – Red Juice – kahit paano we are able to give them money pero hindi katumbas ng mga malalaking clubs. Pero pwede na. But we have to recruit as our players like Marlon Piñero and Loreto Kalalang are getting older. The core of our 2005 national championship team is scattered all over.”

Unlike before where the players were sometimes deployed in the field (and combat zones), today’s soldier-athlete is at the barracks when not on training. During times of crises such as disasters like Typhoon Ondoy, they are deployed along with the reserves to help out. “Lahat kami naka-duty,” explained Chieffy Caligdong. ‘Minsan naka-assign kami sa mga airport. Depende kung saan kami kailangan.”

And nowadays, the military’s national team players have also become poster boys for recruitment. “Yung success ng players ginagamit din namin to recruit,” added Masuda. “Malaking tulong.”

Bumidang concurs with his Air Force counterpart. “One time we conducted a training camp in the Mountain Province. Now because the people there have seen the Azkals on television, they came out to participate. In our first day of camp, we had over 50 children who participated. The next day mga 80. Then the third day over 100. So na-realize namin that the sport is getting big and if developed properly we are going to have a big pool of talented players to choose from.”

But this being the military, the services choose men and women of character first before skill. “Skill can be taught,” clarified Bumidang. “Character and values are something you first learn at home. It’s not all about winning (Army’s last major title was the 2008 Manila Premier League where they beat Giligan’s 2-0 in the final). We pride ourselves in recruiting good people. Yung mga nakaka-inspire.”

When Fil-American midfielder Lexton Moy first joined the Azkals, he saw how Chieffy Caligdong and Ian Araneta saluted sharply during the playing of the national anthem. “That will always be one of my fondest memories of my football career,” pronounced Moy. “They inspire me. Imagine, they not only play but they also serve the country. Those guys do something much bigger than what we do.”


  1. Army, Navy, and Air Force should just form one team to create a better club. Pool resources, pool talents, and have a better team.

  2. NO!
    maganda ang competition ng mga yan, kahit sa banda pa nga lang eh.
    napaka lively ng competition between army navy airforce.

    at Laugh Out Loud at EXTRA RICE's palusot sa 10-0 loss ng air force against cfim
    wag maraming palusot. ka yabang2x mo eh tapos nagpapalusot ka pa dahil pinaglalaruan ka lang ng cfim.
    watch here to see how cfim made yabang extra rice become babe in the city. lololol

  3. too early to tell... the league just began... so too early to tell...

  4. PAF was hit with 4 surface to air missiles from Stallions FC. Air Force nag crash landing kanina. Time to upgrade. Can't be complacent. As for Tat's more fitness and conditioning sana.

  5. I second the motion! Air Force, Army, and Navy should be separate clubs!

  6. This will be an interesting match this saturday as Airforce faces Army... Our own version of "El Classico".. Airmen needs to win..