03 May 2015

Travelling to Sparta, Where the Pitch is for People not Horses

After almost 40 years, a bit of closure to a football pitch story.

I think it was 1979 when I visited the then-fairly new Alabang Country Club for the first time with a few of my DLSU football varsity teammates. The father of one of them was a member of the club, which allowed us access to what I reckoned was then a members-only facility.

Used as we were to the moon-like surface of the DLSU football field – or the Rizal Memorial, where we played matches and which was not much better – the well-manicured polo field was just too tempting to resist.

We had brought a football along and got down on the field to do a kickabout. It was easy to imagine that one was at Wembley because the surface was so even and the grass was so lush. It was as close as one could get to a footballer’s heaven; or at least in this country at the time.

Before long, however, one spoilsport of a guard with his whistle was shooing us away. The field was only for horses, he hollered at us crossly.

Horses! The very thought of it was criminal. That was a certifiable only-in-the-Philippines moment. I mean, elsewhere manicured fields were the domain of people. Here, horses took precedence over people. Personally, I did not think that horses would have cared as much.

Sparta, a new sports facility with an artificial indoor football pitch, among others.

The hallway leading up to the football pitch.

Almost four decades later and I finally attained a bit of closure to this unfortunate incident. I had been hearing online of this fairly new sporting facility called Sparta in Mandaluyong; and that among its offerings was an indoor 7-a-side artificial grass football field.

It was easy enough to assemble a group of lads willing to go; and just as easy to book the indoor court for a Saturday afternoon engagement. As seems to be the story of my life, there just had to be something challenging along the way.

My travelling party left Lipa at ten and we were at the Petron complex to have lunch in no time at all. By twelve noon, we were ready to depart for Sparta. The MMDA app said both EDSA and C-5 had heavy traffic. Things being equal, the latter seemed the shorter and, therefore, logical route.

Big mistake! We were fairly confident that we would arrive at the venue with time to spare. It was the Saturday of a long weekend, after all. What we did not count on was that C-5 would be something of a truck parking lot!

I could not believe that there could be so many trucks on one stretch of road all at the same time; and all we could do was inch along in the midday heat. I estimated the back of the van to be at least 40°C. It was so hot that the vehicle’s airconditioning was absolutely useless; and I was sure that we all had hard-boiled eggs inside our pants.

I was sure the scorching heat was the work of Helios, the Greek sun god. We were, of course, travelling to Sparta. What would the odds be that among the players in our small party was one of half-Filipino half-Indian Parsi descent by the name of – fanfare – Cyrus?

What were the odds of Cyrus returning to Sparta? (Oh go review your World History!)

Our booking at Sparta did not come cheap. Half of our group was made up of students who probably had to pinch part of their weekly allowance to pay their share of the rental. I was worried that if we did not get to the venue on time, the kids would not be getting their money’s worth.

With just fifteen minutes to go, God sent us an opening that allowed us to escape C-5 into EDSA where the traffic, if heavy, was at least moving. We arrived at Sparta in the proverbial photo finish.

We had all started to change into playing gear while still riding along; and a good thing that we did. We all stretched and warmed up quickly and went straight into scrimmage in no time at all. For me, the experience was, for lack of a better word – and pardon me if you are PG-13 – almost orgasmic!

Almost forty years on, finally playing on a quality pitch where nobody would shoo me away to keep it safe for – goddammit! – horses!

A WORD ABOUT THE VENUE

A tad narrow, but the artificial grass was exquisite!

The quality of the pitch at Sparta is excellent; but then again, I have not played on any other artificial pitch. The length of the pitch felt right for 7-a-side; but probably a tad narrow. It was difficult to get into any sort of passing rhythm partly because we were all too eager and partly because the pitch could have used a couple of yards more each side.

The low steel trusses supporting the roof cost us a ball after one of the boys kicked high and hard during warm-up. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a minor inconvenience probably because I had taught most of the boys their football and we have always liked to play along the carpet.

There is a nice lounge just outside the football pitch; and the locker room was clean if in need of a couple or so benches. Moreover, the shower stalls had both cold and hot water. Finally, a football facility that cares about the football player!

The locker room could have used benches; but there was hot water in the showers!



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