THE Thirsty Football Cup kicks off this Friday at Cebu City Sports Center football grounds. The 13th edition of Cebu’s longest running football festival opens this Friday afternoon with three divisions—Mixed Under-7, Men’s Open and Women’s Open.

“It’s unbelievable that it has lasted this long. It shows how much our commitment is to sports,” said Pages Holdings CEO Bunny Pages during yesterday’s press conference at their Kan-anan Restaurant in Robinsons Galleria.

The Thirsty Cup used to be the biggest tournament outside of Manila in terms of entries but has since been supplanted by the Ceres Cup of Bacolod City. The lack of a suitable venue has forced organizers to limit their number of entries.

“We are never wanting in participants and in fact, we have to turn some teams down. It’s getting stronger every year and credit goes to Charlie (Pages), Chad (Songalia) and Milky (Cañete) who have been with us since the beginning,” said Pages.

The Thirsty Cup was the first to use the festival type tournament in Cebu and its ground rules are often used as the basis for the ground rules of other tournaments.

Since its first edition in 2003, it has become the baptism of fire for young players who debut in the Players 7 division—the youngest age group in the tournament—and some have moved on to the national team or to Manila schools.

“Most of the players here grew up with the Thirsty Cup,” said Songalia, citing former Don Bosco Technological Center standouts Miguel Caindec and Val Calvo as two of the first Players 7 winners who are now playing in Manila.

This year, Don Bosco and other Cebu standouts Paref-Springdale, Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu and University of San Carlos, will be challenged by the elite teams of San Carlos City as well as teams from Davao, and football hotbed Iloilo.

Ramos said that San Carlos City coach John Carmona is eager to return the favor to Don Bosco, which beat San Carlos during the Pintaflores Cup last year.

“Excited na sila manimawos,” said Ramos, who will be fielding his Palaro-bound team in the 18-Under division.

The Men’s Open, which has the most entries with 38 teams, and the Women’s Open divisions starts on Friday but will continue until the last day.

On Saturday it’ll be the turn of the Mixed Under-9, Mixed Under-11, Girls Under-23, Girls Under-18, Girls Under-15, Boys Under-23 and Boys Under-13 categories.

On the final day, along with the continuation of the Men’s Open and Women’s Open division, it will be the Boys Under-18 and the Boys Under-15 divisions.