Why we miss UFL

By: Jesse James Baban - twitter: @agentjcstrike

Sun. Jul. 22, 2012

By Jesse James Baban and Issa Gaspar

MANILA, Philippines - It has been nearly a month ago since thehistoric third season of the United Football League (UFL) was concluded with Global FC crowned as champion, the second club which captured the League title after dethroning the champions of the firsttwo seasons, Philippine Air Force FC.

Just like other Filipino football aficionados, it is now become a weekend habit for most of us to watch the UFL games whether on television on Saturdays or trooping to the game venues on Sundays and selected weekdays. But whether we admit it or not I’m sure we all miss our local guys in action every weekend.

Here are the five reasons why we miss the UFL.

1. Finally: A league of our own

It took us a long time to have a solid league of our own. Most football enthusiasts were keen on watching their European leagues like the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and the World Cup.

But then the young United Football League is now here so there’s another good thing to look forward in Philippine Football and it is now on our home turf.
Media coverage became the important milestone for this season. It's influence rapidly spread the word of the “beautiful game” to every Filipino household. The integration of instructional segment also provides young ones who want to play football to the basics of the game.

The expansion of the football pyramid system contributed as well to the development of the league. At the start of the season three teams from Division II gained an entry to the top flight: Nomads FC, Stallions FC and Pasargad FC. Six more clubs joined as the Second Division expanded with twelve clubs while the 1st Division was composed of ten teams. With more clubs in both divisions, different rivalries were formed and fans witnessed more intense football action.

The arrival of local players based abroad also boosts the improvement of the league. Kaya players Nate Burkey, Jason Sabio and Lexton Moy; Global’s Fil-Spanish trio of Carli de Murga and the Guirados: Angel and Juani, were among the National players from overseas decided to continue their football careers here. With more Filipino players coming home plying their trade in the next season (Dennis Wolf and Jason de Jong to name a few), we are sure that it gets more exciting for us fans to watch.

2. Birth of New Football Rivalries

What makes a league in any sport in general colourful in nature is the spirit of rivalry. For modern day football, they would commonly call it as derbies. With a young league like the UFL, it takes time to create as such. But this season really proved that as quick as a snap, extreme competitions between clubs could form small rivalries to a much bigger one.

For years, the competitive matches between AFP clubs: Air Force, Army and Navy dominated the local football scene. This season, more interesting matches were seen with the addition of Kaya, Loyola Meralco Sparks, Global and Stallions. This is evident during some matches of clubs involved that fans and players had some intense moments during the game, prompting officials to step in to neutralize the situation.

This form of rivalry is just small flame for now. As the UFL develops to a more mature league, this would become a part of our local football culture and a part of life of every Filipino football fans.

3. The Club vs. Country Drama

Finally it has arrived. No one thought the day will come that the issue of “Club vs Country “would be a discussion in our local sports news. Just like the other countries who had issues with clubs releasing players for non-FIFA calendar games or tournaments, our own booters were not even spared with this circumstances as well.

Club commitments became a point of discussion in the middle of the league tournament and during the gearing up for the Challenge Cup in Nepal when regular national standouts were not released by their
mother clubs. There was also an occasion that the league and an Azkals
friendly match were played at the same day, but on a different time.

The UFL calendar was directly affected with the rescheduling of games, thus prolonging the season (not mentioning the weather disturbances on some games). The leadership of the Federation and the League eventually proposed a win-win solution for both parties, stating the importance that one would help the other, in this time of development of football in the country.

The club and country drama in the league will be always a story that will make waves every season and as the league grows. It will make big headlines whether between the two operating bodies of the sport, or a high profile player will not be released in an all important major competition.

4. New booters to cheer for

Whenever we talk about Azkals, we always talk about the usual players suiting up for the National Team. Known figures were the likes of the Younghusbands, Caligdong, Borromeo, Araneta and among others.

At some point as discussed earlier, club commitments and injuries hamper some of the usual standouts in putting on the Azkals’ jersey whenever they have to be called up for training camps and international tournaments. For the fans and followers, they would usually worry if the team would perform below par without these key players, which had become evident during the preparations for the AFC
Challenge Cup.

The development of the league allows other players who were not a part of the Azkal’s team to show off their skills and talents. Coach Hans Michael Weiss was practically impressed with some of them and called those players for national duties. To name a few were Stallion’s Ruben Doctora, Jovannie Simpron and Bervic Italia; Loyola’s Anto Gonzales and Roxy Dorlas. And to top everything off is the return of former national player Freddy Gonzalez, who came out from retirement and played for the newly promoted club next season, Pachanga FC.

Foreign players also made a mark not just for their club, but also for the league as well. Players like Global frontman Izzo El-Habbib; Kaya first choice shotstopper Saba Gamaroudi, the trio of Alu Kigbu, Eric Dagroh and Prince Boley; etched a name for themselves in the local football scene. The influx of foreign players elevated the style of play of the league. Local players benefitted from this as well because they also have to play at the same level.

5. The most important of all:were the fans.

The most vital element to the success of this tourney were the passionate fans. Whether they bring in their own drums, banner, pompoms, sparklers or toilet paper rolls, you have to hand it to these people for cheering on their teams. Maybe it’s our experience in being good fans of ‘inter-barangay” or were just natural jesters but you have to hand it to this amazing people who keep each game fun.

At the start of the season, fans would troop into the games supporting their favourite clubs in small numbers or as individuals. Social media became a converging area for fans as slowly a local fan base for every clubs came into place. Names like Ultras Kaya, Stallions Stampede,Sparks Squad and Global Force were born.

As the season progresses, a core of supporters would come together to form a much more solid voice in supporting their respective local clubs. With a nice piece of action on the pitch, fans at the stands had their own battleground as well. At some point during the tournament, there were some rowdy fans that created a noise of their own. In the world
of football, this is normal. But still at the end ninety minutes of action, just like the players, respect for the counterparts will always be there.

Having writing match reports for months, we had witnessed how the league grew starting as an advocacy from a small group of enthusiasts to revive the sport to a semi-professional league that it is right now. There are still some flaws in how the league runs. In reality it is a part of the learning process, but we still have a long way to go.

The birth of the UFL to consciousness to every Filipinos showed us that love for Philippine football should not just rest on the “Azkals” but also it should go beyond from what is reachable to every fans andsupporters. Now,we have no reasons to miss the Azkals’ games during friendly matches and international tournaments, because the UFL is
here, and it is here to stay. EG-JJB

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