This appears in the Monday, February 22, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.
The football life with Rob Gier
The former Azkals captain says goodbye to the game but somehow, the game stays with him.
words and pics by rick olivares
When the 2016 Suzuki Cup semifinals kicks off this coming November, the Philippine Men’s Football National Team will be without one stalwart who has marshalled its defense since 2009. That is Robert James Gier who hung up his playing boots for good last Wednesday, February 17, with a letter bidding goodbye to the fans as well as the competitive game that has been a major part of his life for the past 16 years.
The hosting of an entire series of group matches was one of the benefits of the football boom that started in 2010 during that historic Suzuki Cup run that Gier played a prominent part. In an interview with Gier during the Philippines’ triumphant return to the Suzuki Cup in 2012 not as foils but as equals, the Ascot, Berkshire-native said, “It is good to finally see other countries take us seriously and that we can stand up to them.”
With months away from that historic semifinals group stage hosting, a first in this country’s footballing history, the thought of walking away made it all the more difficult for Gier.
“The thought of that certainly did make the decision of retirement all the more difficult,” admitted the Azkals’ long-time centerback and former team captain. “If I thought that my body was up to another year of playing then I would have given it one last shot. However, age and injuries have finally caught up with me so now was the right time to make the call."
The call of the game came as a youngster. “As a kid, I supported Liverpool as my dad (Robert) was always a Liverpool fan. When I started high school, I started to watch Reading FC play most weeks so I guess they would be my team.”
“The love for the game has always been there for as long as I can remember. In England, football is just part of the culture. I remember playing endlessly with friends down the local park and also playing with my dad when he got back from work. Mobile phones and tablets were not around back then so we would just play outside all the time. I think there is nothing better than playing football with your best mates just for fun. The banter, laughs, and relationships forged out of this early period laid the foundations for my career.”
As a youngster, Gier first played for his hometown Ascot United after which he drew some attention from Wimbledon FC that was just relegated from the Premiership (they have been known as the MK Dons since 2004). Gier also suited up for Rushden & Diamonds, Cambridge United, Woking, Aldershot Town, and Grays Athletic before returning to the club where he started his career, Ascot, proving that yes, you can go home again.
And a part of that home was in his mother, Rosario’s homeland of the Philippines. It was while he was playing for Grays Athletic that he received an invite to try out for the Philippine National Team. “My mum would always get on me to make contact with the Philippine Football Federation but I wasn’t sure if the Philippines even had a team. It wasn’t until a chance message on Facebook that it took off. I jumped at the chance in 2009 for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in the Maldives and the rest is history.”
|Neil Etheridge, Jason De Jong, Phil Younghusband, Rob Gier, and James Younghusband at My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, 2010.|
And Gier was a part of the Azkals’ incredible run in the past six years. Gier cites the 2012 Suzuki Cup where he was named team captain, the 2014 Suzuki Cup match against Indonesia where he scored the Philippines’ fourth goal in an incredible rout of their 2010 tormentors, and the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup as highlights in his career. “Without a doubt, the Suzuki Cup of 2010 is the one highlight of them all,” he accentuates. “I don’t think any team in the world will recreate that fairy tale and even now I have to pinch myself to see if it did really happen. That group of players was a special bunch and the feeling after scoring that equaliser against Singapore, wow! It still gives me goosebumps.”
While Gier is now retired, aside from spending more time with wife, Emma, and children Lily and Joseph, in some ways, the game will remain a part of his post-competitive football life. He founded Zenith Soccer Tours in 2014 with the aim of providing players and teams whatever their ability, an elite life experience they will never forget (check of Zenith Soccer in Facebook).
After the 2014 Suzuki Cup, I floated the idea of Rob Gier taking over as head coach of the Azkals one day. While flattered at the thought, he admits that it is something that he will seriously consider. “However, I need to learn more about the game, gain some qualifications, but who knows?”
In the past few years, Gier has shown some of those chops that every coach must posses — a tactical nous. Despite being a player, Rob would provide detailed scouting reports on the Philippines’ football foes that the team would use in its preparations. “Football is in my blood and I have been lucky enough to have had a good, long career. During that time, I have played under some good, bad, and indifferent coaches; seen how different teams are run; and I’ve experienced all aspects of professional football. Because of this, I feel that coaching will be the right avenue for me to go down. I particularly like working with the younger generation as they start out their footballing adventure. Hopefully, I will be able to impart a bit of the experiences I have had along the way to help make them better footballers and if possible, better individuals.”
Q&A with Rob Gier
Rick: How far can you recall your falling in love with the game of football? What memories and stories can you share as a youngster growing up in England? Where exactly in England did you grow up and what club did you support?
Rob: I grew up in Ascot, Berkshire and as a kid I supported Liverpool as my Dad was always a Liverpool fan. When I started high school I started going to watch Reading FC play most weeks so I guess they would be my team.
The love for the game has always been there for as long as I can remember. In England football is just part of the culture. I remember playing endlessly with friends down the local park and also playing with my Dad when he got back from work. Mobile phones and tablets were not around back then so we would just play outside all the time. I don’t think there is anything better than playing football with your best mates just for fun. The banter, laughs and relationships forged out of this early period certainly laid the foundations for my career.
Rick: Can you give us a rundown of the clubs you played for in your entire career?
Rob: I started playing when I was a young boy for Ascot United and when I was 11 or 12 years old I eventually got scouted and was asked to go and trial for Wimbledon FC (before they were MK Dons). They were in the Premier league at the time so it was a big deal for me. I progressed through the youth ranks and I managed to earn myself a professional contract at Wimbledon FC and stayed there for about 4/5 years playing in the Championship.
From there I went to Rushden and Diamonds for 2 years whilst they were in League 2 then had brief stints at Cambridge United and Woking FC who were in the Conference at the time. Then I went to Aldershot Town where we won the Conference but after disappointingly being released I joined Grays Athletic FC. It was around this time that I got the call from the Philippines National Football Team (2009). After Grays, I made a conscious decision to step back from professional football as there were many aspects about the game I detested (some I still do) so I went back to Play at Ascot United as I had a lot of friends there and I wanted to start enjoying my club football again.
Rick: What can you share about your parents? How much of an influence do they have on who Rob Gier is today?
Rob: I owe them everything. My dad would have to collect me from school, drive me on a 3 hour round trip to get to training on a Thursday night after having been at work all day and then do the same again on Saturday for the games. Without him I would never have had the career I have enjoyed. They brought me up knowing the difference between right and wrong and instilled good family values. I hope I have repaid them and made them proud, at the end of the day that’s all that matters.
Rick: How did you get involved with the National Team? What were the circumstances that brought you here? What was your first match for the Azkals and what was your take away from that match? What was the result?
Rob: My mum always would get on at me saying to get in touch and make contact with the PFF, but I was unsure if the Philippines even had a team. It wasn’t until a chance message on Facebook that started things off. I then sent my footballing cv in to the PFF and they contacted me a few months later asking if I would be interested in joining up with the team, I jumped at the chance. That was in 2009 and my first tournament was the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in the Maldives. The rest is history
Rick: You have seen the growth of Philippine football. What are the highlights of your national team career?
Rob: There have been many highlights, being named captain during the 2012 Suzuki Cup, scoring against Indonesia, the run to the final in the Challenge Cup 2014 all stand out, but without doubt the whole experience of the Suzuki Cup in 2010 is my National Team highlight. I don’t think any team in the world will recreate that fairy tale story and even now I have to pinch myself to see if it really did happen. That group of players were a special bunch and the feeling after scoring that equaliser against Singapore, Wow. It still gives me goosebumps.
Rick: Aside from playing for the team, you have helped by providing scouting reports etc. Is that an indication about your direction -- coaching? What do you think of coaching the national team?
Rob: Football is in my blood and I have been lucky enough to have had a good, long career. During that time I have played under some good, bad and indifferent coaches, seen how different teams are run (again, run well, run badly and indifferently) and I’ve experienced all aspects of professional football. Because of this I feel that coaching will be the right avenue for me to go down. I particularly like working with the younger generation as they start out on their footballing adventure, hopefully I will be able to impart a bit of the experiences I have had along the way to help make then better footballers and possibly better individuals.
As for coaching the National Team some day; If I was offered that privilege in the future it is something I would have to seriously consider. I need to learn more about the game, gain more qualifications but one day who knows…
Rick: How’s the family? Any additions to your fam? Where do you live in England?
Rob: Emma and I now have two beautiful children, Lily aged 4 and Joseph (JJ) is nearly 2. Being able to spend more time with them has been one major factor in my decision to retire. Azkals duty inevitability means being away for extended periods of time so now the children are growing up I don’t want to miss out on that.
We currently live near Oxford in a small countryside town, I prefer that to the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Rick: Are you only done with national team football or does that include club football? What are you doing for work?
Rob: I have retired from all forms of competitive football, I will always have a little 5 a side kick about with some friends but that’s about it. I’ll enjoy going to watch a few more games on the weekend and eventually take the kids when they get a little bit older.
Zenith Soccer Tours is a venture that I started up in 2014 and we ran our first soccer camp in the UK back in 2015. I established Zenith Soccer Tours with the aim of providing players and teams, whatever their ability, an elite life experience that they will never forget.
I can honestly say that the experiences I have had playing football in different countries has helped mould me as a player and as a person. Encountering different ways of life and cultures has helped me focus on what I believe is important and I believe anyone can benefit from exposure to such experiences.
We are now entering out 2nd exciting year with many things planned for 2016. Please watch out for announcements via our twitter and Facebook pages!! @ZenithSoccer https://www.facebook.com/
Finally let me thank all the fans and followers of Philippines football. You have been so supportive of me and the team throughout these past 7 years and all the messages regarding my retirement have been over whelming. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Fans are the life blood of any sport and we must never forget that. During a time where many European teams are hiking up their ticket prices so they can get more “customers” through the door we cannot disregard the regular fan, the people that watch football because they love the sport and will support their team until their last breath, the fan that works hard Monday to Friday and looks forward to cheering his team on every Saturday, the fan that comes because his father used to go every week and his father before him did the same, the parent that wants to bring their child to watch their beloved club and introduce the next generation of football fan, the fan that has saved up their money to finally be able to watch their team for the first time, the fan that is devoted to being a supporter, the fan that travels to every game come rain or shine, home or away. Football cannot be allowed to exploit these people otherwise football will just be 22 players running around a patch of grass kicking a ball.
Additional reading. Past stories I wrote featuring Rob Gier. Kindly click on the links.
This is the article that first floated the idea of Rob Gier as future Azkals coach. This was written in 2012.
The Azkals play the globalization game (I wrote this is Hanoi in 2010)