05 December 2011

The Air Force Football Philosophy Earns a Cup Final


In early 1995, an Air Force football team filled with Philippine internationals underwent a training camp at Fernando Air Base for a couple of weeks. Since we were, for all intents and purposes, the only decent football team in the vicinity, we were invited to scrimmage against the team.

Naturally, I said yes. This was one of those occasions when there was everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose. I had still not taken over the college team – which my high school team used to beat with double figure scores, anyway – so I brought along a team of high school juniors to the Base.

Of course, we lost the match; but the 0-6 scoreline was nothing to be ashamed of. The Air Force played at pace; albeit, its players were also careful not to hurt my boys. What was so pleasing from my point of view was seeing the Air Force players coaching my boys during the game itself, particularly when they made mistakes. It made the short trip to the Base well worth the bother.

I had a pleasant chat with the Air Force team’s management and, therefore, had the chance to exchange a few notes about playing philosophies. Knowing as I did that the Air Force team was made up mostly of Ilonggos, and knowing as I did that the Ilonggos sometimes took a rather cynical approach to the game, I asked the coaching staff why the archetypal Ilonggo cynicism seemed to be missing from the team.




Indeed, the Air Force team played neat, skilful, quick and attractive often one-touch football. The emphasis was on team play, patience, balance and short passing. As an education, the experience for my boys of being on the same field as the Air Force team was priceless.

Yes, members of the Air Force’s coaching staff agreed with me. The Ilonggos in the team grew up learning hard football on the public parks in and around Iloilo. They would grow up thinking that that brand of football was just the way that the game was played, I was told. It was normal for these boys to take whacks at each other and still be able to laugh about it even while the game was going on.

But once these boys were recruited into the Air Force team, I was told, the coaching staff took particular care to remove the sleazy part of their game and concentrate, instead, on skills and team work. It was like unearthing rough diamonds and polishing them to brilliance! These were the two bases of the Air Force team’s playing philosophy.

It did not mean that the Ilonggos in the team completely lost the tough edge to them. In the Armed Forces Olympics, I was told for instance, they could still give as much as they could take. It was significant, however, that the Air Force team would never be the one to initiate the rough play. It was a proper football team, after all.




That much I can attest to. I had played against the Air Force even during my active playing days when I was still in college. In the old Division I, the team was similarly known for its flowing patterns and quick one-touch play. The team that my boys scrimmaged against, the coaching staff confirmed, was simply continuing an institutional footballing tradition.

This is a tradition that I can relate to. It is the same philosophy that I tried to impart upon my players down the years. I have never appreciated scrappy football; and being a boyhood Liverpool fan, I have always believed that proper football is best played on the floor. This philosophy, handed down the generations by the legendary Bill Shankly, has also apparently been subscribed to by the Air Force football teams down the years.

A fortnight ago, I had the privilege of watching the current Air Force squad in a training session. I was introduced to the team’s head coach, the former national player Edsel Bracamonte. I only spoke briefly to him, but I immediately saw that he kept a happy training ground, something which is always good for building up morale.

I only stayed for a short time; but the drills that I saw had the same emphasis on keeping ball skills sharp and on keeping ball possession with short quick passes in limited spaces. Typical Air Force, I thought to myself. And it was the same with my teams. The personnel invariably changed because of the nature of high school football; but not the philosophy nor the preparations.

Last night, the team booked its place in the final of the United Football League Cup by comprehensively defeating its rivals Global FC, 2-nil, in the semi-finals at the Rizal Memorial stadium. Global is an expensively assembled multinational football team, with the likes of William Gueridon, Misagh Bahadoran and Angel Guirado playing alongside several African players.

In the end, there was only one team that showed up. For all the talent available to it – not to mention an obvious advantage in size – Global could not string together passes and played unimaginative counterattacking football. Air Force settled as early as the first half, although clear chances were limited at both ends.




As soon as the second half started, the Airmen pushed up a gear and had Global on the backfoot. Ian Araneta hit an upright and had a shot drift narrowly wide. In spates, the football that Air Force played was lovely to watch. It was a simple reflection of a footballing philosophy handed down from team to team.

Global had its chances; but whenever it broke through, Edmundo Mercado Jr. in the Air Force goal was in scintillating form. Although not tall, Mercado has this knack of being at the right place at the right time and foiled Global time and again.

In the end, it took two opportunistic strikes by the veteran Yanti Bersales and Jalor Soriano to settle the contest. Air Force was the team whose defence the commentators were concerned about. However, it was Global’s defence that creaked when stability was needed most.

For the first goal, a cross by Chieffy Caligdong was deflected by a Global defender right onto the path of Bersales, who reacted quickly and sent the ball past goalkeeper Paolo Pascual. In second half added time, Soriano robbed the tiring David Basa to put the Global out of its misery. Global would probably be embittered that it was the victim of some really dodgy refereeing. That said, it never really matched up to Air Force in terms of desire, not to mention the sheer quality of the football.

The Airmen will be facing Loyola Meralco Sparks FC in this Saturday’s final. The Sparks trailed Kaya FC 0-3 at the half in the first semi-final; but turned the game on its head in the second half with five goals as Kaya underwent an unbelievable tactical meltdown. The final score was 5-4.





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