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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reminiscing about the Suzuki Cup, Dan Palami's determination, and one night in Hanoi

One night in Hanoi
memories and pics by rick olivares 

After the Philippine Men’s Football National Team beat Singapore, 1-0, in Cebu, I told myself that this team was ready for the 2012 Suzuki Cup. While writing my thoughts about that match, I thought back to two years ago to a simple conversation I had with Dan Palami.

The Azkals sat around the lobby of the Sheraton in Hanoi. It was after dinner yet no one went up to their rooms just yet. The internet in the lobby was free while in the rooms it was not.

Some were texting while others were engaged in small talk. Curfew was set at 10pm. There was one more day before the 2010 Suzuki Cup kicked off in Hanoi.

I sat on one side watching everything that was going on. Soaking in the experience. Somehow I felt that I was in the middle of something where history was going to be made. You can chalk that up to some really good vibes.

A hand on my shoulder shook me out of my reverie. It was Dan Palami who just finished a late dinner. He sat down on the couch across me and asked, “What do you think?”

Without hesitation, I replied, “I think we’re primed for an upset of seismic proportions.”

He laughed. Not because he thought I was mad but rather he had a cohort in his madness.

I related how at the press conference where the coaches and team captains of Myanmar, Singapore, and Vietnam talked about how many goals they would score against the Philippines and who they thought could win the 2010 Suzuki Cup.

In that press conference, I watched in muted anger but knew it wasn’t my place to verbally tell them to stick it in their ears. The room was packed with about 40 media people from several countries and no one laughed at the audacity. I guess it was routine to inflict football beatings on the Philippines but that didn’t stop me from digressing.

I stood at the back and watched then head coach Simon McMenemy cozy up to Singapore coach Raddy Avramovich who had won a couple of these tournaments and Henrique Callisto who led Vietnam to their last title. I stood next to assistant coaches Edzel Bracamonte and Diding Cabalida. Brax noticed that McMenemy was trying to ease himself into the photo ops as he was mindful of the snub his team got from the assembled media.

I relayed all this to Dan who was bemused. “Really?” he laughed. “So what do you think?”

“I think we will beat Singapore, Vietnam, and Myanmar and shock the world.”

He laughed once more. “You sound very sure of yourself.”

I had watched this team through the years from they would get shellacked to when they started to get better with the arrival of the Fil-foreigners and the ascendance to top locals. They had performed well in the recent Long Teng Cup and although they were killed by a Thai club in a tune up match (the team wasn’t complete), the team was prepared well, first by former coach Desmond Bulpin and then by McMenemy (along with his assistant coaches that also included Roroy Piñero).

“My goal is to make it to the one hundred twentys,” said Dan who enunciated every word very clearly.”

Now I thought he was the mad one here.

“It is possible. We have to be ruthless about our ambition here. We have to stick to it. We have to believe in this that it can be done.”

When I think of this statement, I think of the sports teams that I support. The New York Yankees faced difficult odds in trying to make the Empire State a three-team race (there were the incumbent New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers). They rose from the ashes of the old Baltimore Orioles to become the class of Major League Baseball.

And there’s Olympique Lyonnais, a small club that through shrewd signings and an eye for new talent, that developed a plan called, “OL-Europe” where team ownership planned on making them a European power in four years’ time. It didn’t materialize until about 11 years after where they won a record-seven straight French Ligue 1 titles to go with seven Trophee des Champions, five Coupe de France crowns, and two French Ligue 2 championships.

Since he took over the team in 2010, Palami has shown a single-minded purpose in turning the Philippines into a football power. The Azkals advanced to the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers, made it to the semifinals of the AFC Challenge Cup, and won the Peace Cup. In between there were some galling loses but that is part and parcel of growth.

When he had Global play Loyola in the semifinals of the ongoing UFL Cup, I asked him if his Global squad playing without most of its national players was sending a statement.

“Maybe it is but we didn’t come here to lose,” he said while pointing to the 14 men had available for the match. “I can win this game but if we lose in the Suzuki Cup then what good is this? I am not putting down the UFL but a win in the Suzuki Cup and going up the rankings is something we can share with the Filipino people.”

Point taken.

Him saying that on the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium pitch sent me back to that night in Hanoi.

When Chris Greatwich scored the equalizer against Singapore, I was behind our goal taking photos. And I spotted Palami celebrating by pumping his fists, slapping the backs of those on the bench, and exchanging high fives. You all know we beat Vietnam and drew with Myanmar to book a semis seat (where we lost to Indonesia). However, the Philippines left Hanoi with tons of respect and that is something that has been justified in the years since. And as I wrote on a good number of occasions, we return to the competition that kicked off all this madness, as equals (although in some ways we are still underdogs). 

I’m on my way to Bangkok to watch and write about the 2012 Suzuki Cup campaign of our national side. I think this time around, there are a lot more madmen and women out there who think we can do the unthinkable and win it all.

All you have to do is to believe.

At My Dinh National Stadium with Dan Palami hours before the Azkals defeated Vietnam 2-0.


  1. fantastic piece of journalism Sir Ricky!

  2. Emotional read. Big turning point. Proud to be even mentioned.SMc

  3. I wish my journalist daughter would soon be as good as you! Masarap basahin, Inspiring! IDOL!

  4. I work of Art for this piece sir ric , sana you will be with the team on Bangkok on this edition of suzuki cup .

  5. My safe prediction 2-1 for Azkals. nice article sir.

  6. Sir, any news about Aly Borromeo and Anton Del Rosario?

  7. Sir, according to this site - -Etheridge gets green light for AFF Suzuki Cup 2012...Good news for the Azkals. Also, Word is that Angel Guirado, Paul Mulders, Jerry Lucena and Dennis Cagara have all been cleared to play...

  8. emotional read indeed...i got teary-eyed