20 December 2010

McMenemy: Not A False Dawn in Philippine Football?

Please nobody accuse me that I have turned this into a football blog. After almost half a century of not having anything of note to cheer about where the exploits of our national team are concerned, suddenly I just went through an unbelievable joyride of a fortnight. It is merely a human foible to milk every drop out of one’s personal euphoria.

Besides, until the men in blue line up again in the Asian Football Confederation’s Challenge Cup early next year against Mongolia in a home-and-away tie, what football will there be to write about?

Mongolia… Hmmm… I have visions inside my head of snow-capped mountains, vast prairies, furry mammals, leather-faced men sitting atop horses and National Geographic adventurers traveling the offbeat roads to bring us programs on cable television. A football team is the last thing I would imagine that nation to have.

On the other hand, the same thing could have been said about us just a month ago.

I have also read in somebody else’s blog – but do not quote me – that we will be participating in the qualifiers for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. My word; other nations take participation as a matter of course. Why do I even think this remarkable?

So there… This will probably go on for a while yet, but all in good time, out will come the mundane stories that this blog is thematically all about. Albeit, the hit statistics will probably plummet back to the unremarkable levels of pre-Azkal folklore.

I believe the team is due back home tonight from Singapore where it had a stopover from Jakarta. A ticker tape parade will be on the overboard side; but the lads can still expect a warm welcome from this suddenly football-conscious nation. That is, if the discussion boards on the Internet are any indications.

I carry this silly superstition in my head that if I pray to God Almighty for a win, I will not get it and just because God has a wicked sense of humor. Last night, as we chased the game in the last quarter of an hour, I threw caution into the four winds and prayed for a miracle. And of course we lost the game with God clucking His tongue and thinking yah-shoulda-known-better…

Of course, it has been written that God works in mysterious ways. Now that I have no recourse but to accept that Christian Gonzales is Indonesian and that he has ruined all our dreams, I am also of the mind that the miracle of the Bung Karno was not that we would win the game despite the odds but rather in that there was a whole nation biting its nails in nervous expectancy while the men in blue toiled to unlock the secrets of the Indonesian defense.

Indeed, as Ronnie Nathanielz – a Sri Lankan by birth, so who is to say what a Filipino really is – in his column at the Inquirer web site wrote that Studio 23’s coverage of the first game against the Indonesians actually had more viewers than the previous day’s PBA matches. His figures, of course, did not include those – like me – who were tuned in to Star Sports or watched choppy live streams over the Internet. When, pray tell, did this ever happen?

So why are my thoughts being invaded by the phrase flash-in-the-pan? I rather suspect it comes from having seen too many false dawns in almost half a century of being a football fan in this country. When I was in college, our youth team defeated Indonesia in an Asian youth tournament that we hosted at what was then called the University of Life. We all crossed our fingers and hoped this was the start of better things to come.

In 1991, we reached the semi-finals of the Southeast Asian Games that we also hosted at the Rizal Memorial Complex, so we once again crossed our fingers and hoped this would also be the start of better things to come. And of course, each time, we sunk back into the abyss from where we came…

Dare I think that the run in the AFF Suzuki Cup and two wild semi-final matches watched by eighty thousand at the Bung Karno Stadium are not another false dawn?

A word to Simon McMenemy, Knight of the Order of the Azkals… Somebody please tell me that he does not look a tad like David Beckham; or is it just my eyes just begging for a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles! I am a fan of another team in red, but I will not begrudge him the resemblance.

It would do Mr. McMenemy a lot of good to know that he is not the first European to take charge of the national team. The others who did left with sour tastes inside their mouths. I love this country with all my heart; but I am not blind to our own idiosyncratic traits, among which is that everyone sometimes tends to think that he has a better idea.

The English press, of course, is noteworthy for its savagery against its own national team; so, in this regard, McMenemy may have the edge over the other Europeans who were his predecessors. The secret – I would imagine – is to stay true to his own visions and leave detractors to rot in their own personal hells. There is, when you come to think about it, a lot of wisdom to sticks and stones… And believe me, the criticisms will come…

It would also do McMenemy a lot of good to keep in mind that we have been “found out.” It is one thing to come out of the qualifiers as the unexpected package; and another thing to be a team scouted for all its strengths and weakness, even the color of the socks that the boys wear under their jeans.

McMenemy, of course, is British and will be only too aware of the Hull Citys and Portsmouths of the world who rise from Division II football to take the Premiership by storm, only to be sent back to where they came from after a year of two at the top flight. Yes, after they have been found out.

I know next to nothing about the man, but anybody who turns my country from whipping boys into cup semi-finalists gets my utter trust and respect.

By the way, for those who did not know; the term “whipping boy” has medieval origins. Since European royalty were more or less regarded as untouchables, if a young prince had been naughty and had to be punished, one young boy from the court was brought in to be whipped in his place. So that – if you can see the logic in the practice – the prince would feel enough pity for the boy to not be naughty again…

Silly Europeans…

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