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, March 13, 2013

Outgunned: Wondering what ails the military teams in the UFL

This appears in

Once the pride of Philippine club and national football, the military teams are now under siege.
by rick olivares

Déjà vu all over again
The game should have ended there. But no. After late substitute Janrick Soriano scored in the 90th minute on what gave Kaya a 3-nil lead over Army, the military men confronted the linesman on what they felt should have been an offside call.

Then it turned ugly. Rodrigo Betita kicked the ball to the linesman, Ronald Yurag. Not content with the unsportsmanlike act, he charged the linesman and kicked him.

It’s an ugly scene as any in Philippine sports. What was not seen or heard beyond the immediate area only exacerbated the situation.

“Bakit kayo kumakampi sa hindi Pinoy?” yelled one coach to the officials in general. “Mahalin natin ang sarili.”

One coach physically threatened the referee.

This is the second time this happened in an Army-Kaya match. In 2000, both sides played for the Globe Supercup Championship at Nomads. It was a heated match with Kaya then having Freddy Gonzalez and Rudy del Rosario in their lineup. Gonzalez scored both goals for a 2-nil win. And immediately after the match, the entire Army squad chased the linesman on what they felt was an offside violation by Gonzalez.

Falling back
Less than a year after Navy was relegated from the UFL’s Division One to Division Two, they are at the bottom of the standings with a 1-3-3 record. They have scored three goals and conceded seven. In last Saturday’s fixture, they played well yet still lost out to Manila All-Japan, 2-1. Manila All-Japan is a club of Japanese expatriates who are looking for an outlet to play. And they defeated Navy on pure skill.

Its brother military squads in Division One – Air Force and Army – are faring no better.

Air Force, the 2010 & 11 UFL league and 2011 Cup champions, are today in tenth place with a 0-0-4 slate. They have scored three goals and have conceded 16.

Army, is just a notch above them at ninth with a 0-1-5 record. They have scored four goals but have surrendered a whopping total of 19; the most in Division One.

Every one of the matches has been a beating for all the Armed Forces teams. Every game, they relive the nightmare of getting bushwhacked. The defeats have seen nerves are frayed with tempers increasingly at a boiling point.

It seems hard to contemplate that up to a year ago, save for Navy, the military teams were some of the topsides in the country. Most recently, Air Force defeated Loyola, 2-0, in an epic UFL Cup finals two years ago.

Was it their last hurrah? In the league tournament after that, Air Force, then the defending champions, struggled mightily as they finished fifth with a 7-4-7 record and 17 points adrift of eventual champion Global.

Army finished ninth last season with a 3-4-11 record; 29 points off the leader.

Navy was 1-2-15 with only five points to show as they were unceremoniously relegated for the first time in their glorious history.

Now both Air Force and Army are in danger of falling off the ledge.

There was a time when the military teams contained the brightest homegrown talents as it was the only way to prolong their football career. Most of the national players came from the Armed Forces.

Club football as far back as 2000 wasn’t much. Many domestic leagues didn’t fly. Many people never looked at football as a career and that somewhat hurt individual development. There were already foreigners playing locally but not in the number they are today.

With the success of the Fil-foreigner-laced Azkals and their subsequent playing in local sides, the balance of power shifted albeit not right away. The 2011 Cup Finals between Loyola and Air Force showed how quickly the other teams were chipping away at the perennial champions. But now even in national team, the military men are not being chosen.

I figure there are a couple reasons perhaps why the military teams are getting bludgeoned.

The most obvious is the system where they cannot sign nor pay outside players. After all, they are an extension of their military services. When one plays, he has to enlist. And enlisting means military duty.

Second is the changing landscape of club football as more Fil-foreigners and foreigners are now plying their trade locally. The talent out there makes it difficult for them to compete.

After Air Force took in a 7-2 loss to Stallion, current head coach Sgt. Edzel Bracamonte looked at me from his spot on the bench (I was at the officials’ table) and exclaimed loudly, “Walang laban ang Pinoy.”

This very much echoes what former goalkeeper Tats Mercado said after PAF defeated Loyola in the UFL Cup about their side being entirely homegrown. The Army coach's remarks during the Kaya game are also in the same vein. 

What I like about Air Force is aside from many of them coming from that football heaven that is Iloilo, they have this Ginebra feel (the basketball team not the drink, dummy). The people’s team. While Mercado’s remark is wrong, at least he was honest enough to say it.

When you look at the national team now, it is now rare that a homegrown player starts and that’s oft Chieffy Caligdong.

This is an ongoing issue that rears its ugly head every so often. The Air Force supporters waste no effort in chanting “homegrown” at the direction of other clubs like Loyola, Kaya etc as well as their supporters.

The first military team that I saw play was Navy back when they had former Ateneo head coach Ompong Merida. Coming from a family with military men, I had this affinity for men in uniform (aside from a grudging respect). Many of my friends also went into the military so the interest was there. My father helped organize the Alay Sa Kawal Foundation that helps soldiers who are injured in battle.

Mercado’s remarks have a little racist overtones but I understand him all too well. I myself wasn’t too happy about the influx of offshore talent early one as I rooted for the local sides. But I understand too that the world is changing. The workplace is not spared as well. Having worked abroad, I have had officemates from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Russia, Greece, China, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Australia. I’ve enjoyed every bit of those opportunities.

I do know that the UFL leadership has plans to cap the number of foreigners on every club. As for the Pinoys of mixed races, there’s nothing we can do about that because our constitution declares that they too have the right. And I say it is fine. If Pinoys can go abroad and take other people’s jobs then I don’t see why they can do the same.

A third reason is the sponsorships. About a year ago, an officer who managed one of the military teams in the UFL discouraged a potential sponsor from giving a financial component. If it goes into the military’s coffers it would take forever to get it out and they were better off getting support in kind.

Furthermore, despite the growth of local football, there aren’t a lot of corporate sponsors coming out and sponsoring teams. Many clubs do not even have sponsors on their jerseys. Some are even struggling with to make payments.

A fourth reason is that with the growth of football, collegiate players now can go to privately owned clubs where they can get paid.

When I watched the 2007 UST team win the UAAP Men’s Football Championship, their star midfielder Ric Becite went to the Army and of course, the national team. Forward Yannick Tuason joined Kaya and then rookie central back David Basa became an Azkal and joined Global.

Becite was the last high profile college player to go to the military. Others like Francis Gustilo who led FEU to two UAAP titles only joined recently.

Time was the military teams defeated other sides on skill. Sure the physical play was there but skill was paramount. When the other clubs began to get better and they couldn’t match up, the play became rougher.

In the last two weeks, word has been circulating that the military teams are thinking of calling it quits. If this is true then this saddens me. For so long, the military teams have become the bastion of Philippine sports not only in football but also in volleyball, boxing, and other sports (save for basketball).

Some say that maybe they should all merge the teams but in doing so other players will be released.

I have no idea what the solution to this is.

All I know is they have to take a long hard look at what is going on and decide on how they adapt and survive. 


  1. Air Force, Army, and Navy under one team: Armed Forces United

  2. Another point Sir Rick you might want to add is how come in Philippine Basketball that the Phil- Foreign and homegrown isn't an issue. We even have a naturalized player in the National team and most of the players in the pool are also Fil-Foreign.

    What's the difference between basketball and football fans in PH?

  3. On the subject of capping foreign players; I can see the reasoning - a self sufficient, home-grown league with local players thus improving the national team, however, I think this is an idealistic view. It works in Basketball (at least on a local level), but only because we have played over decades and thus have the players at grass-root level. Football however is a different matter - we're still very much developing the sport. What happens to the quality of the league? Do we ask players to at least have a filipino passport to be eligible? Also, where do we stop - after all the coach of the Azkals is foreign, do we appoint a Filipino coach? Do we stop accepting sponsorship from non-filipino companies? One day, a majority-pinoy league would be very good, but for now, I feel we should get the UFL to a standard where it can rival the PBA in terms of popularity and have kids playing football as much as basketball, and then it should be capped.

  4. middle finger para sa PAF and Army FC..

  5. Sana umalis nalang sila sa liga. Sobrang unfair sa mga ibang sundalo na ang kanilang intensyon ay protektahan ang bansa hindi yun sasali sa armed forces para lang nakapaglaro ng football.

    Maling mali

  6. I think a good model for the Military teams would be Athletic Bilbao. Their cantera policy works for them, wherein the focus of their club is promote homegrown talent and they recruit only players who grew up in or have Basque Country descent.

  7. Warriors FC in the Singaporean S-league is one of the winningest teams in SG. and it's also their armed forces team, but you dont have to enlist in order to play for them.

  8. Hey Rick,

    How does SAF in Singapore work? Are all their players also enlisted and does it unite all branches of the military? Just curious. I don't want the armed forces teams to just call it quits but their behavior is getting worse.

    1. Their behavior is not acceptable. The PAF player threw a ball to a fan during the second game earlier.

      Sir Rick, since you are also part of the UFL. Is there guarantee that the fans will be protected against the erratic behaviors of these Armed Forces players. Natatakot na kami manood ng UFL dahil baka pagtulunggan lang kami ..

      We love football but this risk isn't worth it..

  9. there was an american player in Phil Navy last year. wala syang sahod or anything. so its possible parin makakuha ang army teams ng reinforcement. they just need creativity to circumvent the rule.

    I say put away the enlistment rule, find sponsors to pay wages of new players and the armed forces team will rise again.