This was written in 2006 so some of the info might sound dated. Happy Birthday, Coach! We still miss you.
|Chris with Aalsborg team: third from left crouching.|
The Golden Goal of Chris Monfort
by rick olivares
A simple conversation led to a dream:
“You will never be rich with football,” the father sternly intoned as he prodded his son to instead concentrate on his studies.
“I don’t care,” swore the young man. “Football is my life.”
The Great Dane
In April 4, 1975, then-14-year old Chris Monfort first came to Denmark as part of a team of 30 young and talented Filipino football players who had been sent that summer to learn football the European way.
That trip began a love affair with the lowland country and his fosterparents Ove and Birte Ronn who took him into their home along with best friends Danny Guerrero (who was then one of the best players in the Ateneo High School) and Ito Delfino for a month’s time. The relationship with the Ronns would grow deeper more so when Chris’ father, Manuel passed away two years later. Chris would return every so often to the Ronn’s Enggaardsgade home once even staying for nine months that the Danish government offered him a green card although with the caveat of compulsory military service.
Life seemed great as Chris was living out his dream. He had grown up in the hills of Cadiz, Negros Occidental with only sparse newspaper football clippings of his hero, the brilliant Brasiliero striker Edson Arantes do Nascimento (better known to the world at large as Pele) to feed his fevered imagination and dreams. Chris used to run up and down the hills building his stamina and strengthening his legs with the smell of coffee beans and banana trees in his nostrils. Now years later, thousands of miles away from his home, it was like déjà vu as he worked in an orchard planting fruit trees and picking their produce while taking up Danish lessons and playing football.
While playing for local club Aalsborg, Chris suffered a crippling knee injury that cast a doubt on his dreams of making it on the world stage. After three operations on his knee, doctors pronounced his career over.
Emotionally and physically adrift, Chris returned home to pick up the taters of his life.
He returned to school where he sought therapy for his damaged knee. He got better and in his final playing year at UP, he teamed up with Bert Honasan to lead the Maroons to the 1980 UAAP football crown.
Hardship was nothing new to Chris. The seventh of nine children, he learned to fend for himself at an early age when his father passed away and his mother Lourdes went to America to work on her citizenship papers (she would eventually petition all of her children who are all now American citizens). It was while taking up Physical Education (he wanted to take up Physical Therapy but couldn’t afford the tuition) at the University of the Philippines that he began to coach football at the Ateneo. Bert Honasan his old college teammate who was then coaching the Ateneo Men’s Football Team brought him to the attention of Raymond Holscher S.J. then-University Athletic Director and High School Admissions Director. It was the case of the right person being at the right place at the right time. The high school had a vacancy for football team coach. “There was no program back then,” recalled the affable Fr. Ray. “We had good high school and college teams but that was about it. I still remember that day very clearly when Bert brought him in. Chris was a little nervous but there was this confidence that glowed in him. He brought with him a master plan to improve not just Ateneo football but Philippine football as well. A man with a mission, I thought. I was very impressed that I wasted no time in hiring him.”
At that time, whatever football program Ateneo had was Bro. Jesus Oscariz’ grade school teams and the Lightning Football Program that was held during lunch time. The high school players were expected to move on to the seniors team and compete. There simply wasn’t any comprehensive program.
It was there where Chris found his second calling… coaching and teaching young boys the game that burned with so much fervor in his heart. He kick-started the Ateneo Football Center in 1982 beginning something that would greatly tip the balance of football power in favor of Ateneo in years to come.
In 1987, his mother’s long years of sacrifice in the United States paid off. The petition was approved and her children all went westward to their new home. After a year of living abroad and doing a variety of odd jobs, Chris couldn’t resist scratching that itch that brought him back homeward. He was a man reborn when he arrived back. “He couldn’t leave the Ateneo behind,” explained his wife Gina. “He loved the school so much and he missed teaching football. Besides the AFC was his baby. It is kind of ironic for him to bleed blue since he never even went to the Ateneo.”
Coach Chris loved the school so much that he would oft walk the fields with sunlight just starting to peek through the fading dark skies to take in the smell of freshly cut and watered grass. Perfect for football he liked to say to himself.
|The 1980 Ateneo Women's Football Team.|
Coach Chris was one of those characters in school. Just like Pagsi, Fr. Macayan, AKV, Mr. Selorio, Bob Hope, and Big Boy to name a few. He was one of those figures that every Atenean seemed to have met, studied under, played for, or had brushes with at one time or another. It was part of the experience of going to the Ateneo that you met people like Chris who seemed to pepper those long days of two math subjects to go with mind-numbing chemistry and physics classes when students wished it was time for intrams or dismissal.
Coach Chris’s constant barbarisms on the English language filled many a student’s notebook. His gift for athletics was undeniable. His gift for gab was downright hilarious and tickled your funny bone even if you didn’t have one. His “form a straight circle” and “form a line according to height alphabetically” (to name a few) is the stuff of legend. Clearly Jimmy Santos has nothing on him.
Coaching the Women’s Football Team, many of the players would have a crush on him but they would gnash their teeth when coach tried to converse with them. Incredibly his wife Gina has no idea of his routine butchering of the Queen’s English for they spoke in Tagalog. “Yes, I did hear about it from others,” she laughs. “I wish I heard them myself too.”
In the 80’s you just about saw Chris everywhere on campus. He was part of that troika of PE instructors (with Ed Sediego and Rolly Salazar – famous for his strategy in the midst of a heated track and field competition: “Boys, ‘eto strategy natin… let’s win!”) who taught everything from track and field to volleyball. “That was Chris all right,” laughed Joseller “Yeng” Guiao, his college batchmate and longtime friend who is currently the Coach of Red Bull Barako in the PBA. “He was a gym rat. Suki siya sa lahat ng track meets in and out of UP. Just when you think he was done running laps, he’d play a game of pick up basketball Only because he was often surrounded by basketball players But if you have a drink with him – from the first beer until we’re drunk, all we talk about is football.”
In addition to being the coach for the football teams and director for the Ateneo Football Center, he was the trainer for the college basketball team. On weekends, he stalked the fields of Loyola directing hundreds of kids half his size teaching football. “That was quite a sight,” remembered Fr. Holscher. “A grown man teaching all the kids who were makulit and like jitterbugs. But his influence in the game was undeniable.”
The goal heard around the world
Every athlete dreams of hitting the game-winning shot, belting a home run with two strikes and two outs, or booting in the game-winning goal with time fast running out. But try that with 30,000 screaming football-mad people. With chants bouncing from one end of the stadium to the other, good luck just walking up to the penalty area for a shootout to decide who will move on to the 1985 Gothia Cup Finals.
“Coach, I’m nervous,” stuttered Mark Schilling, a German boy who donned the colors of the Philippine National Team (his father was an expat living and working in the country). The 11-year old boy was nervous from the tension. After tying up a powerful Brasil squad 0-0 in regulation and extension, the semi-finals match had gone on to penalty kicks. Eight players from both sides had trooped to the 15-foot penalty marker. Eight times each did both sides score. The ninth Brasilian player buckled under the pressure and missed. And now the hopes of a tiny country where football is a distant cousin to basketball was on the hopes of … a young German boy. “I’m nervous,” he repeated fighting back the tears. “I can’t kick anymore.”
All game long, the Filipinos were on the defensive. Morale was crumbling because not only were the Brasilians faster and stronger but they were more fundamentally sound. “Once we got to penalty kicks,” recalled Domeka Garamendi, current PFF Sec. Gen (who was on that team that featured 11 Ateneans and was captained by the late Chipper Afable) “we thought that it was over. Morale was so low because they were beating us in almost every phase of the game.”
Chris Monfort (who was part of a coaching staff led by Tomas Lozano, a Spaniard who was a long-time Philippine resident and Mario Guison) gently put his arms around his player, patted his head and whispered above the din of noise. “Do it for all of us. For all the times we’ve been together. If you don’t score at least you tried.”
Schilling moved back three feet then sent the ball past the Brazilian keeper who guessed wrong. And all bedlam broke loose. The fans in the stands, most of who were European ran down to the Philippine side to hug and embrace the courageous young Filipinos.
Then it was on to the Finals to face Swedish champion Kunshacka at historic Ulevi Stadium where Brasil beat France in the 1958 World Cup title match behind a young Pele.
Fresh from a confidence and morale boosting win against one of the world’s great football powers, the Philippine side upset Sweden 2-1 behind goals by (DLSZ’s) Francisco Pascual and (Ateneo’s) Ramon Pineda.
It was a triumphant year for Philippine football. That same year, another boys’ team co-coached by Chris won the Helsinki Cup (in a field that saw the participation of 72 teams from 20 countries) by sweeping the tourney 9-0.
With the AFC getting bigger and better by the year and a pair of championships from international competitions under his belt, Chris then trained his eyes on getting the Ateneo Men’s Football team a title. Something that eluded the university since the days when Celso Lobregat, Arben Santos, and Bobong Velez propelled the Blue Booters to its sixth and last NCAA title in 1968.
In the meantime, Chris pulled double duty as playing coach of the Swift commercial football team which starred one Arnulfo Merida who had also played for the Polytechnic University of the Philippines as well as the Army.
Love and marriage and still more football
In 1992, Chris married Gina Joson, who was introduced to him by Yeng Guiao during a birthday celebration. He would soon have two sons, Carlos and Zico, named after two of Brasil’s one-name wunderkinds. To augment his earnings and support his growing household, he joined Guiao over at Swift/Pop Cola as trainer where the team won two PBA titles in addition to his responsibilities at Ateneo.
But football still dominated the Monfort household. “Chris brought me to games but I just wasn’t into football,” fondly remembered Gina Monfort. “It seemed forever before someone scored a goal. But when our sons started playing, I was really really into it. I guess you can say that I inherited Chris’s passion for the game.”
Gina at first felt that she was competing with football for Chris’s attention. He stubbornly clung to the dream of making football a premier sport in the country. “Football is the number one sport in practically the whole world save for North America and the Philippines,” he liked to point out. “It’s a shame that it’s not even a secondary sport here. Our victories in the Gothia and Helsinki Cups should jump start the program.”
The Monforts had two television sets, one exclusively for football (of which Chris had dozens and dozens of tapes of games and instructional material) while the other for Gina’s dose of HBO and entertainment. It wasn’t only the television sets that competed for Chris’s attention. There were times when the budgets went football’s way. After one particular investment that didn’t amount to anything, a tearful Chris vowed to his wife not do anything so foolhardy again.
“Sobrang mahal ni Coach Chris yung football. Ang masterplan niya noon was not only the grassroots program sa Ateneo but for the whole country,” added Ompong Merida who credits much of the current success of the football program to his late mentor. “Plano niya ang liga where players can graduate to after their college career. Para maging viable yung football career. He also was dreaming of a football stadium here sa Ateneo – masyado lang malaking gastos.”
|Chris & the 1996 UAAP Men's Football Champs -- Ateneo.|
In 1996, the culmination of Chris Monfort’s grassroots program paid off. His first ever AFC batch (dating way back to 1982) included Vincent Santos, Rely San Agustin and Domeka Garamendi. The team was coming off a fifth place finish the previous year and now in their fourth year, they had the right blend of veterans and rookies to make a run towards the championship. “That year was Chris’s second final appearance,” recalled Garamendi (Chris’s first was in 1990 when Ateneo lost to a UP team that featured a few former Ateneans like Manny Concio and Ebong Joson). “With him getting more involved with organizing tournaments and most likely moving up the chain of command like the NCRFA, winning the UAAP title would be his crowning glory and a fitting going-away present.”
“After the final whistle,” said Rely San Agustin, that team’s captain and goalkeeper, “the first thing I did was I wrestled Coach Chris to the ground and choked him while saying ‘Ha! This is yours. This is all yours!’ I was so happy for him.”
After beating arch-rival La Salle 2-1 to win the school’s first crown in 28 years, Chris was voted NCRFA President. It was an end of an era of sorts. Chris was no longer exclusively Ateneo’s. The man who had brought him into Ateneo’s hallowed halls, Fr. Raymond Holscher likewise stepped down as Athletic Director.
In a few years’ time, the boy with dreams of glory on the pitch would go on to be the Philippine Football Federation’s Secretary General. He would represent the country in numerous FIFA events including the World Cup.
Ompong Merida who succeeded Monfort as the college coach would go on to pilot the Men’s Football Team to four more football titles. The teams were predominantly composed of kids who went through the AFC.
Carlos Monfort today is one of the better football players in his age bracket. A fifth grade student at the Ateneo, Carlos has that feel for the game that cannot be taught. In fact, his goal-scoring prowess has not been lost on the coaches. He has started to realize his father’s legacy to the game and his school. There’s no escaping it. There’s the summer tournament named after his father. The blueprints of the AFC have his father’s fingerprints all over it. But most of all, in the jersey with the #16 on it. That was his father’s number. Lately, he’s begun to wear effects that his father wore on the horrific and painful June 11 night in 2001: the wallet, bracelet and necklace. He devours tapes that once occupied an ungodly amount of Chris’s time. His favorite foods are those that his dad once loved.
Zico the younger of the Monfort children isn’t as athletic as his older brother. But he has the heart. During the bonfire for the three-peat college champions, a video of past Ateneo football greats is shown on the widescreen monitor. When the image of Christopher Monfort Senior with his bushy mustache and easy-going smile flashes on screen, he lets out a gasp that is both of pride and amazement, “Dad!”
Gina Monfort smiles. Football was Chris’s life. He said that once he had done what he had originally set out to do, then if God called, he’d gladly go. She’d dismiss his thoughts on mortality fearful that they might be a harbinger of things to come.
But looking at her two sons – both who miss their father tremendously – football has been good to her too. After all, she has two fine looking sons who face the future with a dream that their father once had.
F I N I S
Hans Peter Smit, DLSU Womens’ Football Coach: “We worked together for years on end to make football improve. He was my kumpare. We were friends for over 25 years dating back to our college days in UP. He’s done so much for Philippine football. Our world is both richer and poorer without him. Richer because look at where football is now. It’s so much better and visible than when we were in school. Poorer because there’s no one else with that zest for the game and life like Chris.
Yeng Guiao, Red Bull Barako Coach: Chris used to complain that that salary that one basketball player makes in one year is enough to run one football team for a whole year. He’d say that basketball players were spoiled and pampered whereas ang football player, pakainin mo lang, okay na siya. And you know, he’s right.
Domeka Garamendi, PFF Secretary General: Chris was a very good coach. He was a better motivator than a tactician. He was sound tactically but during crunch time, you can throw all those tactics out the window. The task now is to get people to finish the game the way it should. Chris was real good at that. And now following his footsteps in the hotseat that is Sec-Gen for PFF, he’s a tough tough act to follow.
Ompong Merida, Ateneo Men’s Football Coach: This three-peat isn’t mine. Kay Coach Chris ‘to. It’s all his system, his program, his vision. I miss him.
Fr. Raymond Holscher S.J., Chaplain Bilibid Prison: Chris loved football and he loved the Ateneo. He’s more of an Atenean than some who went here from prep to college. He’s a throwback to better days. If you were to list ten people who have made an impact in the Ateneo in the last quarter of the century, he should be right there.
From the Author:
This is for Coach Chris, Ms. Gina, Carlos & Zico.
Chris Monfort’s birthdate is coming up May 28. He passed away on June 12, 2001. This year will be the fifth anniversary of his passing. Chris unknown to many was deeply patriotic and sensitive. He would bristle and fume every time someone said that the country was headed south or something to that effect. He loved his country, football, his family and the Ateneo (not in that order).The country lost another hero ironically on Independence Day.
Thank you very much to Ms. Gina Monfort who bared her soul for this story, Ricky Palou for setting things up, Hans Smit for the insights, laughs, and camaraderie, Fr. Ray Holscher for the memories, Coach Yeng for a blast from the past, Coach Ompong for his time and sharings, Domeka and Rely for their openness and candidness. Jong Castaneda for his updates.
Here's a video that I did to commemorate the Ateneo Men's Football UAAP three-peat from 2004-06. This was shown during the bonfire for the team.
Here's a video that I did to commemorate the Ateneo Men's Football UAAP three-peat from 2004-06. This was shown during the bonfire for the team.