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.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Loyola Meralco Sparks in Singapore Part 4: Aftermath

The Loyola Meralco Sparks in Singapore
Part 4: Aftermath
by rick olivares pics by brosi gonzales

May 19, 2012
The Loyola Meralco Sparks left the Jalan Besar Stadium late in the evening. The shuttle stopped at Clarke Quay for a late night dinner. However, the team was clearly fatigued. Minho Park and Byeong-Yeol Jeong couldn’t walk anymore and had to go back to the hotel via special service. Anto Gonzales, tired beyond belief, pulled a chair from a riverside bar and sat down.

The match was a one-for-the-ages match where Loyola came back from a goal down to win the opening round of the 2012 Singapore Cup in extra time. It was the latest in the club’s list of thrilling finishes. But not many wanted to talk about the game over dinner. “I just lived it,” said goalkeeper Ref Cuaresma who half meant it. The keeper from Dumaguete City is one of the most cheerful players on the Sparks team. Tired or not, Cuaresma still managed enough energy for a megawatt smile.

After dinner, some retired for the night while a few like goalkeeping coach Dang Cecilio and Cuaresma had a few beers in a nearby pub.

Alex Elnar, a vicious victim of cramping the night before, buried himself in bed. But still he felt the pain in his lower body that snaked up to his back. “At least panalo,” he beamed the morning after.

Midfielder Davide Cortina, whose late entry in the game gave the team a badly needed shot of energy, pace, and determination, grabbed three hours of sleep then got up with his fiancée, Belle, to go to sightseeing at 6am. “It is my first time here,” said Cortina. “I want to see Singapore. Make do with the time that we have.” Acting team manager Belay Fernando, Roxy Dorlas, and team support staff Mike Yamomoto and Ressa Regacho joined Cortina and his fiancée in their early morning jaunt. After the sight seeing they had some kaya toast, long planned since the team’s arrival in Singapore. 

Loyola co-captain Pat Ozaeta went straight to bed after returning to the hotel. He woke up several hours later to ‘surreal feeling’. “Didn’t we just have a game?” he asked. “Oh, yeah. We won!”

When the team cleared customs at Changi’s budget terminal, a replay of the match was being shown in the waiting area. The whole team cheered, laughed, and teased one another; whooping it up when Mark Hartmann equalized. They gave head coach Kim Chul Su an ovation when he was shown on television, and yelled out aloud when Minho Park scored the winning goal.

When Park exited the stadium the previous night, the fans outside did not recognize him. I had to announce to all that it was the Korean who scored the winning goal. Only then did a few ask for photographs. One local journalist thrust her tape recorder in front of Park and began asking questions. Park looked confused then mumbled sheepishly, “Don’t… ah…. speak good English.”

There has been talk about disconnect between the Sparks borne out of backgrounds, pay scale, and ethnicity. Whether real or perceived, team management hoped that the Singapore trip would bond the team.

The delicate moment that could have broken the team came the morning of the match when Cortina’s match availability was uncertain while Matt Hartmann was once at the center of controversy. Loyola club president Randy Roxas spent the previous night arguing with Philippine football officials about the situation. In a moment of defiance, the Sparks placed Hartmann on the reserve list. When an anonymous text reached Adrian Chan of the Football Association of Singapore, the local official, to his credit, did not think the Sparks were trying to pull a fast one on the league. But Loyola and the FAS arrived at an amicable settlement that saw Hartmann stricken off the game roster much to the unhappiness of the Fil-British midfielder.

Thus, the team took to the field with a chip on its shoulder. They were going to do this for themselves, their supporters, and Philippine football. No one else.

After defeating the Geylang United Eagles, FAS' Chan, complimented the Sparks on their historic win. “I think that the Philippines through this win will show everyone else that football has come a long way in your country.”

A couple of Singaporean fans joined the several dozen Filipinos who patiently waited outside the Sparks’ dugout entrance for the players. “We are Singaporeans and we are fans of football,” said Mahali, who lugged a camera of his own. “We appreciate great football and now we are loving Loyola.”

It's not Liam Gallagher. It's James Younghusband.
The feel good vibes lasted all the way until the team arrived in Manila. Nine club supporters went to NAIA’s Terminal 3 to  officially welcome the team back. Then a couple of dozen fans came over to ask for pictures or autographs.

As good as the gains are for Loyola, the team will lose some of their players over the next few days. Simon Greatwich might have played his first and last match with Loyola. “I will train with the team for the next few days but I’ll be going back to the States on June 5,” said the Fil-Brit. “I’ll have to consider the state of my finances and what is really viable for me. If things happen with Loyola then I might be back.”

Two others are leaving. Ecuadorian keeper Gabby Vorbeck will be depart on May 24 for his country of origin to play Division One football. Since he joined Loyola, he’s suited up for six matches. He understands that the game and football scene is growing locally. “It’s not perfect yet but the important thing is it is growing,” he noted. “But I hope to play regularly and going to South America might be good for me. Football is established there, you know.”

Reserve player Gabby Borja will likewise leave for Pennsylvania to study and play football.

Master Kim, attempted to express himself as he pulled me aside. “This I will remember forever,” he said rather eloquently of last night’s game. 


With 'Japanese' import Jayson Cutamora, Gabby Vorbeck, Pat Ozaeta, Davide Cortina, and Ref Cuaresma at the airport.


Much thanks to Randy Roxas, Woowee Evangelista, Kim Chul Su, Vince Santos, Gil Talavera, Dang Cecilio, Doods Lansang, and Belay Fernando. Cebu Pacific. Gatorade. To Sobban of the Football Association of Singapore and other friends I made over there at your association. Monark & Noreen Buhain. The good people of Goal@313 Somerset. Kinokuniya. HMV. And the players and staff of the Loyola Meralco Sparks. It was a honor to serve again with you guys. OBF!


Check this out for video interviews with the team (hey, media people who steal stuff, give credit okay).

1 comment:

  1. Nice seeing you Ricky wearing that Hoffenheim shirt. I'm excited to see Shrocky wearing one too! haha