The Bleacher Pundit (Azkals vs. Sri Lanka)

Philippine history marks July 3, 2011 (The Philippines vs. Sri Lanka football match) as a momentous triumph, with its epic 4-0 win in favor of the Azkals. In my cerebral calendar, that happens to be my christening in the world of local sports. Prior to this significant day, not once did I dabble in athletics, participate as a spectator in any stadium, gym or public game or come to think of it, root for any local or university team. This makes my attendance in the Rizal Stadium the most out-of-character activity I’ve ever engaged in all my life; to this day the conundrum remains unsolved.

                                                                                   

However, as they say, there’s always a first for everything. Being a newbie on the bleachers, I could say, I was swept by the torrent of strange behavior, over exaggerated empathy on every stumble, roll and smack on the local player, and the faux performance of the prawn sandwich brigade (Philippine chapter). The field of football spectatorism is definitely a new class on its own, with its own interesting story apart from the field action. In fact this is where I was drawn and nearly missed Chieffy’s first momentous goal in pursuit of the ignorant whooping (which were everywhere) and riot starters (those face painted blokes).

Rather than rant and rumble over this barrage of mind-boggling observations, I have listed them for the benefit of the newbies and non-athletics who hope to catch the next Azkals game. Football fanatics most likely will roll their eyes at the matter-of-fact gist, but some points may aid in your survival in our tropical, low-seated stadium.

1. Just a recap on Geography: The Philippines is located in Southeast Asia, which lies rather near the equator, and we know what that means—ours is a tropical country that experiences slight monsoon especially during the month of July. Isn’t it a bit mean to forbid life saving essentials such as umbrellas or small water bottles? I mean go ahead, ban the Ruffles and pizza boxes for all I care, but thirst is a melee humans can never contend with. Which brings me to point number 2.

2. Stash some water, even in your socks, undies or cologne bottle. Rizal Stadium at 2pm in the afternoon was like having an immersion in a deep fryer, further exacerbated by the fact that merchants were selling all sorts of drinks except water! Vitwater may boast of being sugar-free but hey, water is water and that’s all we want! And Moo, well that’s a totally different story, especially if you’re located the farthest from the toilet. Might as well hide it in the field. All items being sold were sugary and sweet, a major repellent for diabetics, dieters and old people.

3. The Seats. The upper grandstand had seats a couple of inches higher than the floor. Well my Asian height permitted me to endure the strain, aided by minor stretching whenever seatmates moved or stood. My brother had it worse, long-legged with no place to stash his excess height. It was like shoving him in a box in the most uncomfortable squat position. Since we can’t do anything about the height, bring a cushion the next time around. That, I believe, is not a banned item. If it suddenly were, ask them when in the history of football has there ever been a pillow fight.

4. The Hoot, Howls and Barks. Cheering for the team is one thing, but excessive, incessant and uncalled for shrieking can really turn an exciting match into a shouting fest. Add the blaring vuvuzela right behind us and it’s adios sense of hearing for the next 10 years. I nearly slapped my forehead a couple of times for forgetting my ear mufflers at home. I cannot understand why people have to stand whenever the ball crossed the line near the Azkals goal, why they have to hoot every time the ball is in the hands (or feet) of any local player despite the slim chances of it reaching the goal. It does not take a trained eye to know that nothing electrifying is about to take place, so why can’t we just watch in hyped up peace and learn to cheer when necessary? After all, the view is WAY BETTER when everyone is seated, honestly. Apparently, only my brother and I noticed that.

5. Cam whoring. It seems that the only gauge for social networking popularity is by the volume of pictures posted, notwithstanding the fact that they go by the hundreds and only focus on one face and pose—of the photographer/s and not even the players! This is one thing unforgivable; we’re here to cheer on our team, and jeer at the competition, not our seatmates. If I took a video of my seatmate’s cam-whoring and turned it into an Internet meme, I’d be as famous as Chieffy’s goal in Youtube!

6. The Wave is the collective rhythmic and perfectly timed motion of the stadium viewers in an effort to stretch those abs and of course, do that group team thing I never really understood. I missed the wave twice. On purpose.

I wanted to see its impact on group morale but I was nothing but an ant on a hill and my experiment simply yielded no interesting results. No wonder my side of the stadium was never shown on TV!

7. Heat. In addition to number one, additional things to stash given the bi-polar Philippine weather:

  • Fans and glasses – To ward off the heat and possible whiff of body odor.
  • Sunblock – Despite the shade, UV rays are at their most destructive until 3pm.
  • Stash of water – Vitwater + Moo overload = sugar rush or bathroom emergency. Either way, it ain’t good.
  • Candies or mints – If you’re craving for the good ‘ol fish and chips, dream on. Hotdogs and popcorn fill the stands so rather than abstain, pop some candies from your own stash.
  • Anything scented – In case that toxic whiff happens to sit next to you.
  • Tissues – Rain or sun, tissues are a must. And don’t forget the catsup stains.
  • Cushion, pillow or anything soft
  • Jacket or umbrella – Only the Azkals have a right to get wet when it rains. Other than the players, anyone wet just looks sucky.
  • Chips – My brother swears he saw someone rip open a bag of Ruffles in the middle of the game. If he can do that, then so can we!
  • Ipod – Early birds have it worst—maximum sun exposure, boredom, hunger, decreased energy level and boredom.
  •  Last but not the least, anything to smack, strike or just throw on any unappreciative, unnecessarily raucous and feeling cam whoring seatmates. They can be very callous to the annoyance of others, perhaps having built this thick skin over their vanity and the only way to bring them back to Earth is to wake them hard from their faking stupor.

 

8. Fathers. Football games make the perfect setting for the father-and-son bonding session over gleeful howls and fistful fouls. Unless dads are too busy BBM-ing, too ignorant of basic football rules or just forget they came to the game with their son. Yep, we just love dads.

9. Enthusiasm. Filipinos and enthusiasm have a long history and managed to spawn words like pakikisama, pagkakaisa, bayanihan and all others words with more than 4 syllables. Too much enthusiasm though can cause this side of Taft to vibrate so hard, the earthquake belt may bear a new sibling right at the heart of Manila.

This “enthusiasm” caused me to bob up and down whenever the ball came halfway down the field, not because I myself am a zealous Azkalero but because I couldn’t see the Azkals’ footwork with all those ignorant excited heads in front of me. Having experienced this tiring up and down motion simply tells us one thing: ignorance.

 

10. Ignorance. Despite my indifference to the world of sports, I have enough instinct and life experience that tell me whether a ball is about to get lucky and hit the goal or is just rolling aimlessly. I also know about throw-ins and foul fakers. What I cannot understand is why people badly react to balls, kicks and this-obviously-isn’t-a-goal move.

If you can’t downplay the ignorance, at least read up on Football and the Azkals. After all the Younghusbands are not the only players and yes, there are 2 of them.

I may be a self-proclaimed prawn sandwich brigade member, but at least I don’t pretend to eat the fish and chips too.

 

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