Thursday, December 09, 2021

Limpag: Best night in Philippine football

Fair Play

A post by Graeme Mackinnon brought me back to the best football experience of my life in Bacolod.

I think every football fan in the country found themselves in Bacolod that Feb. 9, a decade ago. That was the birth, too, of the Blue-Haired Fanatic. Crowd guesstimates ran to 20,000 in a stadium that comfortably sits half that number.

It was obvious as an hour before the match, when most of the fans were already there, we were seated comfortably. Minutes after the whistle was blown, the grandstand was tighter than a 13C jeepney pre-pandemic, and we didn’t mind.

Photographer Ruel Rosillo and I took the bus to Bacolod and half-way there, we learned of Angelo Reyes’s suicide.

Though we talked about that, later, we learned that there were a few other Cebuano fans who were with us going to the game. They weren’t the only fans we would meet for the first time.

It was my third football-related coverage in Bacolod but it was the first time to see a packed press conference, with members of the national TV even coming in. The last event before that, the 2006 AFF Qualifiers, only had a handful of mediamen present.

Some of the questions were ridiculous but that didn’t dampen the atmosphere.

The night before the game, Graeme and I met Dan Palami and a couple of Englishmen, who asked if it would be okay if they’d bring a St. George flag. Considering that the core of the team learned their football in England, we all thought it was okay.

On the morning of the match, Smart called us and said they booked us a suite at a swanky hotel. That’s nice, I thought. And when we announced on social media that we’d be doing some face painting for fans, the front desk got bewildered by the barrage of calls before they figured out that Ruel was doing free face-painting lessons. It wouldn’t be Ruel’s memorable story of the day, though.

A few minutes before the match, we all know what happened when the Blue-Haired Fanatic grabbed a Philippine flag and ran to the track, cementing his legend.

“YOU EMBARRASSED ME!!!!” was what the city’s police chief told the Blue-Haired-Fanatic when I met him for the first time a few weeks after. Drunk as a skunk, he was tail-gating (the first case of tail-gating in the Philippines) with another famous football commentator before the match.

“It was our flag,” said one of the Cebu-based fans who would become a regular drinking buddy.

The night, of course, was magical. We all screamed when Chieffy Caligdong scored that magical goal.

Later, I laughed loudly when Ruel told me of a funny experience. You see, he usually had a Good Morning Towel, which he uses to wipe sweat from god-knows-where. During the post-match press con, while he was checking his pictures, a few fans got into the room, and he dropped the towel just as then an Azkal dropped by.

Two girls saw the towel, assumed it was from the player and fought over it. The one who got it, brought it to her nose and smelled it. I wonder if she still has that towel and sniffs Ruel’s perfume from time to time.

So many things have happened in Philippine football since then. But for me, that was the Special Night. It wasn’t a night of firsts, it was simply a night when Philippine football was all that mattered.


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