Azkals: 100% Pinoy Pride
In the cab on our way to Rizal Memorial Stadium, the driver said something that many of us have heard one too many times.
He had his radio tuned to the news, which (of course) was doing pre-match coverage of the game between our Azkals and Kuwait. And he told us, “Karamihan sa kanila hindi naman Pinoy (Most of [the Azkals] aren’t even Filipino).” My ears burned but I couldn’t articulate my thoughts in Tagalog fast enough.
Shiela, however, did. With the right amount of patience mixed with exasperation, she explained how everyone playing for the national team had Filipino blood.
Many non-football fans are unaware that recruiting players from other countries is not unique to the Philippines. Commentator Bob Guerrero says, “The United States, for example, has recently capped two Germans, Jermaine Jones and Timmy Chandler, who happen to have American servicemen fathers. Turkey has also employed Germans of Turkish extraction. Indonesia’s Irfan Bachdim has a Dutch mother and Indonesian father and grew up in the Netherlands, where he developed in the FC Ajax Amsterdam system. The French are particularly fond of fielding mixed-heritage players. Les Bleus great Marcel Desailly is actually Ghanaian-born, while Liliam Thuram was born in Guadeloupe, a former French colony.
“Other countries also naturalize foreign players so that they can play in their national team,” Bob continues to explain. “Indonesia defeated the Azkals last December 2-0 over two legs, both goals coming off the foot of Uruguayan-born striker Christian Gonzales, who was granted an Indonesian passport after scoring 173 times in the Indonesian league. Singapore features Serbians Aleksandr Duric and Mustafic Fahrudin, as well as two naturalized Chinese players.”
Bob adds, “The Philippines, to my knowledge, has yet to naturalize a foreign player.”
But for Manong cab driver, and many other critics, judgement had already been passed.
“Ang paborito ko lang dun si ano (My only favorite there is what’s-his-face),” the all-knowing man said, not being able to recall Chieffy Caligdong’s name. Or the existence of the other homegrown Filipinos in the team for that matter.
I have to admit I can be extra sensitive about this topic because I’ve spent every year since I moved here from the States being an outsider. (To think I’m 100% Pinoy-blooded.) In a country that prides itself in being able to speak great English, I’ve encountered many people who would rather not speak to me because English makes their noses bleed. But as I try to learn Tagalog, I get made fun of for my accent.
But does this make me, or anyone else who grew up elsewhere, any less Filipino?
According to the ignorant, it does.
Filipino American-born defender Anton del Rosario. Photo by Craig Burrows.
Maybe they’ve decided to categorize us alongside the few who have that stuck-up walang-ganyan-sa-States (it isn’t like that in the States) attitude. Maybe they can’t understand that it’s only natural for someone living in another country to have a different way of speaking and thinking, while they do their best to adjust to a new home.
But we’re trying. Believe me, we’re trying hard.
We just need room to work at it without others making fun of us as we assimilate ourselves into a place we didn’t have the privilege of growing up in. They also have to accept that we are bi-cultural; that the other half of us belongs to another home at the same time.
American-born Aly Borromeo was raised in the Philippines.
Now think about what these so-called “Fil-Foreign” Azkals opted to do: make their Filipino half their sole identity by choosing to represent the Philippines internationally, in a sport where we rank only 162 in the world. Yet the only time you’ll ever hear about any of them bowing their heads in shame, is in apology when they feel they’ve let our country down.
James Younghusband, Manny Ott, and Rob Gier after the match which advances Kuwait to the next round in the World Cup Qualifiers. Photo by Craig Burrows.
Bob puts it this way: “At the end of the day, if your momma knows how to cook a mean adobo, then you have to be considered Pinoy. Even if you are raised abroad and have never been to the Philippines. The reality is there is a huge Filipino diaspora living abroad and their children have every right to represent the Philippines in sports. It would be mean and unfair to use only full-blooded and Filipino-born Pinoys in the team.”
Filipino-English goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and one of his brilliant saves during the Azkals vs. Kuwait home game. Photo by Craig Burrows.
Filipino-Iranian Misagh Bahadoran comes in to substitute Spanish-Filipino striker Angel Guirado. Photo by Craig Burrows.
“Would I want to have more homegrown Pinoys playing for the Azkals? Absolutely,” he says. “But we just can’t do that yet. Hopefully what will happen with the emergence of the Azkals is that football will become so popular that the local leagues and youth leagues get more attention, and more money. That will equate to more competition, more player development, and better homegrown players. This will be a long process that will take some time.”
Icelandic-Filipino defender Ray Jonsson during the Azkals vs. Kuwait home game.
“We shouldn’t just find the next Phil Younghusband or Stephan Schrock. We should also DEVELOP the next Ian Araneta and Chieffy Caligdong. But until then,” Bob says, “the Fil-Foreigners deserve our support.”
Striker Phil Younghusband and brother James are English-Filipino.
German Filipino Stephan Schrock calls his mom “Nanay”. Photo by Craig Burrows.
In a just-concluded DZMM Teleradyo interview with some of the Azkals, Boyet Sison asked, “How Filipino are you now?” English-raised Rob Gier answered, “We’ve always been Filipino.”
At the end of the day, the Azkals should simply be thought of as this: the Philippine Men’s National Football Team. It’s one team, fighting for the same goal, for the pride of one nation. Our nation.
They all play with their hearts on their sleeves. If you look closely, you’ll see that those hearts come in the form of the Philippine flag.
Thanks to Bob Guerrero for his participation in this story, and to Craig Burrows for sharing his photographs. View more of Craig’s shots on Pinoy Football.
Special thanks to the Dario brothers for helping me get those fantastic tickets to the Azkals vs. Kuwait match, and to Nikki Del Carmen for the LX3 loan. Like Life’s My Trip on Facebook and view all of our Azkals albums.