FORMER Cebu Doctors’ University emergency room nurse Francisco Villamor III, who is now based in London, first thought the moment the Philippines qualified for the Asian Cup for the first time last March 27, 2018 was to inform his manager that he would be filing a leave early January so he could watch the games live.
And that’s just a few months after he already filed a leave so he could marry the love of his life in Cebu in August. His first leave was for his first love Kate, the second leave was his love for his other love, football.
“I saved a lot, then booked a flight and a hotel,” he told me in Cebuano. “Then we left on Jan. 6 at 4 p.m. and there were only two other Filipinos on the flight.”
The two Pinoys sat in front of them but they didn’t get to interact. However, they would meet them again in the hotel where the Azkals were staying.
As luck would have it, the two other Filipinos on the flight were the parents of Curt Dizon and the two were introduced. Villamor is no ordinary fan, he has access to Dan Palami as he was part of the noisy Kaholeros during the first game of the Azkals in Cebu almost seven years ago. Palami was also their wedding sponsor.
He had the time of his life in the hotel as he was the only fan allowed in and he got to interact with the players, even telling both Javier Patino and Phil Younghusband to score a goal. He left with Dan going to the team bus but had to go back to the hotel to get the tickets for Dan’s family.
He also met the European scout of the Azkals, Alfons L. Schunk, who managed to link up Patrick Reichelt, Stephan Schrock and the Ott brothers. The scout said some 15 Europe-based players have committed to the team, including one who could potentially replace Neil Etheridge should he call it a career.
A few months back, I told Francis to try and get some photos at the stadium and he said he’d try to sneak in a camera. He got past the first security check, thanks to a kind kababayan, but got snagged in the X-ray check. As he was on his way to deposit his camera, Francis, who at that time already had a full face paint of the country’s colors, was interviewed by two media groups.
He told me that there were a lot of Filipinos in the stands—in the pre-match, it was highlighted we had 450,000 kababayans in Dubai alone—and though some of them were not familiar with the game, they did their best in cheering for the team.
After the game, he said the Azkals approached the fans per their tradition to thank them and that none of the Filipinos were disappointed at all despite the loss. Heck, it really didn’t feel like a loss, considering the caliber of South Korea and the 1-0 scoreline.
Heck, if Patino only went to the far post in the first half, we could have even taken the lead. Then again, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that loss and what a feeling it must have been for Villamor and the rest of the Pinoys in the stands.
Up next for Francis is the Jan. 7 game against China. Though he has tickets for all the games, he has to go back since his wife’s leave doesn’t cover the Kyrgystan game. Still, these two games should be more than enough to last a lifetime.