Tuesday Night Lights: The emotion of the UFL championship
by rick olivares
You couldn’t have asked for a better written script.
There was more drama, tension, and emotion last Tuesday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium than at any time during the past league season. Kaya needed to beat Stallion and hoped that Loyola would defeat Global to win the title. Conversely, Global hoped to cop its first UFL title by hoping that either Kaya would lose or draw while they gained revenge on the fading Sparks.
Global supporters cheered for Stallion while Kaya’s gallery including their players egged the Sparks on. At the doubleheader’s end, Global emerged as UFL champion; its date with destiny fulfilled.
Thus ended the most eventful season to date of the United Football League. With more teams participating to go with a groundbreaking television deal, interest and awareness about the league was at an all-time high. The league no longer operated under anonymity. Matches were not only a daily staple in media but were even reported in ESPN Asia.
The competition was certainly ferocious and at times acrimonious. Sometimes it even spilled into the locker rooms and even all the way to the boardroom. But on the day where the league champion was to be decided, when all was said and done, it was a community out there.
As both Loyola and Kaya looked on the rapturous celebration of Global that at the start of the season seemed on rocky ground, there was a contrast of views.
Global’s Carli de Murga in perhaps the strangest individual celebration of all stripped down to his underwear as he tossed his sweaty kit into the stands. The team’s African players stayed on the pitch and literally pointed up high to thank the Man Above. Soon after, the rest of the team joined them in prayer. Forward Misagh Bahadoran, who was suspended for the match on account of utter the f-word or the c-word depending on who you believe jumped into Angel Guirado’s arms. The two had formed an odd couple of sorts ever since they joined the national squad and then Global. The language barrier aside, there was no misinterpreting the victory. And team patriarch Dan Palami who arguably owns the best club in the country was given the traditional Gatorade bath.
Palami was shivering but there was no mistaking his words, “It’s about time.”
Not a few feet away, the players of Loyola stood about in a daze by their bench watching Global celebrate. The hurt was evident in their eyes. They went into he game thinking that even if the league wasn’t theirs to win, they could take comfort in the fact that both Global and Kaya did not beat them. Yet the draw with Global was unsatisfying. Jake Morallo who was surprisingly not fielded looked doubly pained. Talo na hindi pa nakalaro. Fellow midfielder Anto Gonzales managed a smile but he bit his lip. James Younghusband sat on the bench not sure of what to say. Eventually he finds the words, “Maybe we’re the UFL’s version of the Miami Heat…”
Loyola was so close yet so far.
The players of Kaya who over two hours before celebrated their 1-0 over Stallion with their supporters who set off flares. The celebration was tempered as they still needed Loyola to do them a favor by beating Global. But it was good. Former head coach Dr. Juan Cutillas who resigned rather angrily at the start of the second round over a squabble with management was on hand to congratulate his former wards. The past was past and here was to the future win or lose.
As the game between Loyola and Global drew to a tense close, the Kaya players rushed down from the VIP section to cheer on the Sparks. It was quite a sight seeing the entire team commandeer the grandstand and become if only for a few minutes, the highest-paid cheerleaders in the country. But as Global keeper Jerome Etoundi saved one last shot from Loyola, the match was seconds away from a referee’s whistle. The Kaya players grew quiet. They knew the title had slipped away. Armand del Rosario who had played well as a late substitute held out his arms. “What more can you do? What more can you ask for?” he asked out loud.
The team then huddled in a circle with their hands raised in unison. The words flowed and any other time they would have sounded cheesy but they said much about the family atmosphere of the team. “I will do anything for this team,” said Nate Burkey. “This is my family and I will do anything to protect this team.”
“I could be here and maybe not but Kaya will always be in my heart,” threw in Lexton Moy who could be playing in Hong Kong soon.
Anton del Rosario dropped a F-bomb then thundered: “Kaya is my family, man. Kaya is in my blood.”
When the individual awards for the season were handed out, former Kaya striker Freddy Gonzalez came away with arm of trophies (including the UFL Division II Golden Boot and Most Valuable Player Award) while helping Pachanga move up to Div One. “Is that Kaya or Pachanga,” playfully teased Armand del Rosario.
Gonzalez smiled. As the small Pachanga contingent gathered close to the pitch, Gonzalez handed over the MVP Award to team captain Yves Ashime. “This is yours,” said Gonzalez who meant every word of it. Ashime had been the bulwark on defense for the team that did not surrender a goal for consecutive 15 matches. Gonzalez and team manager Jojo Rodriguez both felt that the league should have given the award to the Cameroonian. Ashime smiled and hugged his boss.
Even the closing of the stadium lights failed to dim the enthusiasm or celebration. The individual parties or post-game dinners would be continued elsewhere. As UFL Chairman Santi Araneta walked out, a acquaintance of his went up to shake his hand. “Global are champions,” the man muttered.
Araneta smiled broadly, “Yes, but tonight… the big winner was football.”