The rise of Football in the Philippines starting from the last month of 2010 is nothing short of miraculous. Take a look at the unofficial Azkals page on Facebook, for example. From having only around 2,500 likes at the start of December 2010, a month later it went up to 45,000. That is an almost twenty-fold jump in membership.
And the rise didn’t stop there. By February 23, 2011, after the Azkals’ won their home game in Panaad against Mongolia, the Azkals FB page went up to a staggering 134,000 “likes” already.
The rise continous as this piece is being written. How far it will go, nobody knows, except that there are millions of Facebook users in the Philippines, and the Azkals FB page has the potential of getting most of them.
The Azkals has become so popular, that it even exceeded the membership of two icons of the traditionally most popular sport in the Philippines, Basketball, which are the Philippine National Basketball team, “Smart Gilas” (35,000 likes), and the “Philippine Basketball Association” (PBA, 62,000 likes).
About twenty-four years ago, the Filipino people toppled an entrenched dictator thru the so-called first EDSA People Power Revolution. Fast forward to 2011, and I believe we are seeing another People Power revolution, this time in the field of Football, where Filipinos everywhere start embracing a sport wholeheartedly.
‘The Philippine Football Revolution’
The big question, is WHY? How come the Filipinos suddenly get so enamored with Football?
One reason being bandied about, is because of the good-looking Fil-Foreigners that the team has attracted. Now, it is true, that a good number of these Fil-Foreigners have movie star looks, and that a good number of the Azkals fans are women or ladies who probably has absolutely no clue on what a Football Pitch means, let alone the meaning of an “Offside” violation.
However, I for one feel it goes deeper than that, much deeper. And you can thank the World Cup events, and the rise of Social Networking for that.
The rise of Social Networking started around the early 2000s, when Filipinos started to embrace Friendster. These social networking tools also serve another purpose, and that is to relay worldwide information at a faster rate, and to more people.
The news being generated by these social networking tools showed to the Filipinos just how big the World Cup event really is all around the world. Almost every single country in the world participates in the “World Cup Fever”. Almost every country that is … except for a few countries where other sports are patronized more than Football, countries like ours, where Basketball is King.
I feel that after seeing how the rest of the world embraces the sport, there was a yearning for most Filipinos to join that worldwide Football fraternity.
‘Unrequited Love for Basketball’
Couple this with the frustration we have been feeling with the sport of Basketball, a sport we wholeheartedly love, but does not love us back as much, as one Sportswriter put it.
We have not won a major FIBA title in Asia for around twenty-five years. The last time we did it in the early eighties, it was with the help of three imports. And not only that, we also have not seen a single Filipino, or Fil-Foreigner come anywhere near getting a contract in the best Basketball league in the world, the National Basketball Association (NBA).
We are just a bit too short for the sport of Basketball, we simply just don’t have enough of a pool of 6’9″ Forwards, and 6’6″ Guards that will enable to us to be competitive in Asia and beyond at a team, or individual level.
‘The Rise of the Azkals’
Another issue, is loneliness of patronizing Basketball as our number one sport. When we win in Basketball in South East Asia, or in Asia, more often than not when we cheer for our team in Basketball, the other country does not cheer back. Certainly not with as much passion as we do. More often than not, they just don’t give a shi_.
These factors set the stage for a Football Revolution in the Philippines. The only question was, how? The Philippines had become a whipping boy of Football since the 80s, when the popularity of Basketball rose to its highest peak, and where Filipinos slowly abandoned Football. Our Football team was being treated as a practice team by the rest of Asia, and losing by margins of at least three goals was common. We even once lost to Indonesia by double digits.
Enter Dan Palami, and the new-look Azkals, with their Fil-Foreigner Football players who were raised and trained in Football-crazy countries. And suddenly the Filipinos have a team that they could be proud of, a team that will fight, and not let them down that easily.
For the Philippines, it was the chance to finally be one with the rest of the world, to abandon our loneliness and unrequited love for Basketball. It was the chance they were looking for, and boy, did they jump in and grabbed it.
I’m still not sure if Football will continue to remain in the hearts of Filipinos in the years to come. I hope it will, and much of that will depend on how the Azkals play. Its not only that the fans hope that the team will continue to win, I think as long as the Azkals keep from being blown off the pitch in terms of the score and give the rest of the Asian Teams a good fight.
With Football, when we cheer for our team, almost always the other country will cheer back with as much passion as we do.
I have this nagging feeling, that when the World Cup comes around again in 2014, there will be a lot more Filipino fans than ever before, as we finally become one with the rest of the world in the spirit of Football.