01 February 2017

Ah Yes... the Football...


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By the time I was in high school, I was not even in the running for any academic honors. The Math subjects had become more complicated and, therefore, less interesting. The only thing that really caught my fancy was the football.

Ah, yes. The football.

While my family was still living inside the air base, I and the neighborhood kids would sometimes play this kick-and-rush game on the lush fields of the golf course.

Even as a very young boy, I was always the sporty type. Mom bought me a scooter which, I suppose, gave me a sense of balance at an early age. In fact, I learned to ride a bicycle on my own. My mother was in shock when she saw me get on a bike and ride it around the street, but it was really a piece of cake.

Of course, just like most kids in the neighborhood, I also loved to run and run and run. Among the perks of being an Air Force brat was that the streets were safe for scooters and bikes and there were plenty of open fields for running games.

In retrospect, adding a ball to all the running was, perhaps, a natural progression.

If I were to give one definite reason why I chose football, not even in the present day among this country’s more popular sports, it would have to be that there was way too much basketball in the household.

Both my father and my older brother were great basketball fans. This meant that the nightly fare on the family’s one and only television set – black and white still in those days – was what else but basketball matches.

I loved watching American sitcoms even as a young boy; but the only way to get a look in was to throw a tantrum. This could lead to arguments. In fact, when our trusty old American-built Zenith set broke down, my mother refused to buy a replacement for a few years because, she would contend, at least there were no more arguments.

Thus, I was damned if I tried to learn basketball. I picked up football, when I come to think about it, because I was just so annoyed with basketball!

The first real instruction in the game of football that I received was from SOs – PMA graduates who had joined the Air Force and were students learning to fly planes, hence the term Student Officers – who probably could not stand the kick-and-rush game that we were playing and offered to teach us.

One of these was a young officer named Eduardo “Red” Kapunan, Jr. Yes, the very same Red Kapunan who many years later would attain a bit of fame as part of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and just this decade also a bit of notoriety for his alleged involvement in a celebrated murder case.

Back then, he was this soft-spoken young Ilonggo officer who was patiently teaching us kids, none of whom he even knew, the basics of the game of football. I know he had a bit of bad press in recent years; but in my mind, he will always be this lean and skillful young man whose Adidas spikes and hooped knee-length socks were the first that I ever saw.

Long before I heard of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff, there was Red Kapunan, my first-ever football idol and to whom I owe everything that I became in the beautiful game.

I suppose the point of all these is that by the time I was nearing graduation from high school, I was just coasting along. I enjoyed high school like all teenagers do, the football in particular; but I did not have any specific academic goals. Because my poor Mathematics grades had persuaded me that becoming a pilot was probably not for me, after all, I was left with no particular career targets, either.

I loved my football to excess; but it was never going to be a career path, at least in the mid-seventies. I have always taken pride in being a patriot, and I love my country deeply for all its many imperfections. But when I paused to ponder why a professional career in football was cruelly never among the options open to me as a young man, yes, there were moments when I wished I was born in a football-playing country.

Not that I didn’t realize that there was really pretty much nothing I could do about it, so I just went along admittedly aimlessly and just waiting to see where the winds would blow me.

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