23 April 2013

Mang Erning and the LSFC Jeepney

Many of DLSL’s more recent varsity players – and football players, to be more precise – take so many privileges for granted and do not have a clue that things were not always like they are these days. In the present, teams get two sets of uniforms for free, travel to matches in airconditioned vans, get food allowances for match days and – in the college – even get full athletic grants.

These are fairly recent privileges; and certainly the school could not afford any of these as recently as just over a decade ago. For instance, when I first started coaching in the early eighties, athletes had to pay for half of the price of their playing uniforms. If my players wanted jackets, everyone knew that they all had to dish out the cash for these.

When we first joined the RIFA in 1987, in fact I had to collect the registration fee from my players themselves. The fees for the match officials were supposed to be shouldered by the two schools playing and were paid at the end of every match. I had to make collections every game just to be able to pay our share of the officials’ fees.

Nobody complained. Everything was done for love of the beautiful game.

We had no pretensions. We travelled to other schools for matches in jeepneys because these were what the boys could afford. It was always a source of amusement for my players whenever our jeepneys drove into the campuses of the more sosyalin schools and we always got the what-in-hell-is-that stare from the local students.

Years passed and one day I just sort of realised that I didn’t seem to see Erning’s jeepney plying his route anymore. It was not until a few more years had elapsed before I finally discovered why. I had a chance conversation with a colleague who used to be his neighbour and I just remembered to ask about Erning.
At the end of the day, it is never about the vehicles that teams take to matches and all about the football that is played. In the eighties, in our particular, my teams put to shame those who came to games in their airconditioned buses.

My players had to pay the rental fees as well for the jeepneys we took to our games. Part of my match-day rituals once everybody boarded was to collect money from each of the players like I was the kundoktor so I could pay the driver.

Although initially, we used to hire jeepneys from several drivers-cum-owners, eventually one of these became our sukî. To my players in the eighties and nineties, he was known simply as Mang Erning.

He was this jovial little man who got along with all my players. He was not an educated man; and neither was he a football fan. But from years of watching my teams alone, he learned to appreciate and sometimes even critique the players’ performances.

The main reason why he became our sukî was because he kept his fee constant even through several oil price increases. He felt sympathy for the boys, he once told me; and if at all he had to ask for a raise, he always sounded apologetic when doing so.

With some of the other drivers, the ride to and from Manila could be as perilous as a bombing raid over Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam war. With Erning, it was the opposite. He was always aware that he had students in his care and drove along at a steady and, therefore, safe pace.

Erning also didn’t mind if we passed by the big malls after matches or how long we window-shopped. The more well-to-do among my players brought money along to eat at the fastfood joints inside the malls. Those who were hard-up sensibly brought along lunch boxes and kept Erning company in the jeepneys while the others ate.

It was not only for matches that we hired Erning’s jeepney. Once in a while, especially during the summer breaks, my players would ask to go on outings. So, it was Erning who drove us to this cold-water spring resort in Dolores, Quezon; or this private property up in Tagaytay; or even this one time when we spent a day at the Villa Escudero on they way back from the STRAA in Lucena.

This was way before the era of text-messaging. So, whenever we needed to book Erning, it was either through one of my co-teachers or any of my players who chanced upon him plying his normal route.

Those who were fortunate enough to ride his jeepney on their way to or from school always rode gratis. Erning would not take fare from the boys, many of whom he called by their first names. Neither would he take fare from me, which is why I would sometimes hide whenever I saw his jeepney in the distance. I was embarrassed by his generosity.

By the latter part of the nineties, the school had acquired its own vehicles; and we started to depend less on Erning for our match-day travels. I would still see him occasionally and he was as jovial as ever, still refusing to take fare from me even when we stopped hiring him altogether.

There was no hint of bitterness at all when I first tried to explain why we had not been hiring his jeepney. In fact, he was glad that players didn’t have to pay anymore just to be able to play. His sympathy for the boys had not wavered.

Years passed and one day I just sort of realised that I didn’t seem to see Erning’s jeepney plying his route anymore. It was not until a few more years had elapsed before I finally discovered why. I had a chance conversation with a colleague who used to be his neighbour and I just remembered to ask about Erning.

My colleague’s eyebrows shot straight up as she asked if I hadn’t heard. Erning had been dead for a couple of years already, apparently having succumbed to a bout with illness.

I was shocked to hear that piece of news and felt deeply saddened. This little man who was not even a football fan and who had absolutely no clue what the rules of the game were had eventually learned to appreciate not only my teams but the game itself.

So much so that he celebrated whenever we scored and won and learned to console the boys on the not-so-good days. He had become part of my football teams and certainly was more than just the team driver.

The Good Luck Bus 2: Baked Into Tarts
Driving Through the Smoke of a Grass Fire




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