WHEN I first covered a Cebu football match in 1997, I was quite impressed with the turnout of teams, even if it was just the men’s open.
I was surprised, too, with the zeal of some of the teams, even if they had no chance at all of winning the title and the chance to represent Cebu in the regional qualifiers.
To understand the impact of the Aboitiz Football Cup, first you have to understand the setup of football tournaments in the mid 90s. All FAs had football tournaments, but all of these tournaments were designed as qualifiers, elimination rounds, to determine an FAs representative to the regional qualifiers of the national tournaments--Coke Go For Goal, Adidas Under 19 and the Men’s Open.
That’s what I grew up with in Mindanao and for a while, Cebu operated under that setup and suggestions to add other age groups were turned down simply because they were not in the PFF agenda.
Then, the Coke Go For Goal Under 16 went bellyup early last decade, before the Adidas Under 19 followed suit a couple of years later, leaving the men’s open as the only national tournament left. Under 16 and Under 19 tournaments in the FA level all over the country died, too, since the cash cows that were Coke and Adidas stopped funding local elims.
But in Cebu, something different happened. The age group tournaments mushroomed, thanks to the Aboitiz Foundation’s continued support of the Aboitiz Cup. From just the men’s and women’s open in the late 90s, the Under 7s, Under 9s, Under 11s, Under 13s, Under 15s and Under 18s were added because the football community was growing.
Unlike other FAs, the Cebu Football Association then added these tournaments not because there was a national open, but because there was a clamor and that’s what makes the Cebu football community stand out against other FAs.
“Most of them hold tournaments for compliance only,” said CFA president Ricky Dakay.
Which is what makes the Aboitiz Cup the only tournament of its kind in the country.
Sure, there are bigger tournaments in other FAs that attract a bigger field, but on any given day, an 11-a-side tournament trumps these seven-a-side football festivals.
I hope the players, coaches and officials know how lucky they are to have a group like
the Aboitiz get so invovled with a sport that it has spent millions over 17 years, expecting nothing in return but for the growth of the sport.
Pray that Cebu football’s Most Valuable Partner extends its support for another generation.