ONE thing I discovered in my years as a football journalist, nothing makes the beer flow more than when veteran footballers recall their experience in the Coke-Go-For-Goal tournament, the Under-16 tournament that was run until 15 years ago.
And the fun-filled sessions would rival that of kids who engage in that classic, “Akong lolo,” contest as footballers of different generations chime in and compare their experiences.
Of course, I’d butt in sometimes.
“We had a teammate who could...”
“Naah,” I’d interrupt. “My brother could score from the corner with his weak foot.”
There are other more memorable tournaments than the Coke-Go-For-Goal, but I guess for a few generations, it was the most prestigious. And since formative years is also the time when bonds and habits are formed, it holds a special place for some.
A kababayan posted a picture of the only team from our place to make the Coke-Go-For-Goal national finals. That was 27 years ago, but based on the comments of friends and those who made the team, the memories are still fresh.
I didn’t make that team; an injury and being second fiddle to a more talented brother made me the first cut, but I was, and still am proud of that team. Called the Saints, though like most of the 16-Under in any generation, most weren’t saintly. The team, or rather the school’s highlight in its whole Coke stint was beating the reigning champion in the Mindanao finals, which was a highlight of the town’s football tradition.
And, just like most of the present crop of coaches, or even referees, who grew up in the tournament, we’d scoff at the spoiled generation of players who won’t play sans any allowance, yaya or his cliché in the crowd.
“Among iro ra ang mutan-aw.” One would say, and we’d all laugh, not withstanding the fact that as football dads none would dare let his kids go through what they’ve gone through.
One thing that leaves me impressed with these recollections is that guys who can’t remember their numbers or where they left their keys can recall specific moments 30 or even 40 years past.
“Kato si kuan...buang to iya kung gi-siko sa...” One would say and start a comical recollection of players they’ve faced. Famous players, or players who’ve gone on to achieve something more post-Coke are also a favorite topic to touch.
“Kana s _____, itoy-itoy ra namo sa una...pero pagkahuman, di nami ka-gukod.”
“Nag-atbang ming Nonong sa una...maayo gyud (Nonong being the current Philippine Football Federation president). Media, too, becomes a topic as they’d recall seeing only one guy in the field, the legendary Jack Biantan, though there were times he’d get the names wrong.
I’d butt in too and recall that time I was named the goalscorer when I was a year removed and was merely watching. The guy who actually scored? He’s now the close-in bodyguard of Digong (President Rodrigo Duterte).
However, there’s no contest among us when it’s about the importance of the tournament and we all wish also that the event could have been continued up to this day.
But why it was ended though is another favorite topic that needs more Mandaue water.