08 April 2017

The Crazy Three Matches in One Weeked


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Although I looked forward to my final NCAA season, and particularly because my bout with hepatitis almost cost me my place in the team, the season ultimately turned out to be something of an anticlimax. For one thing, the start of the tournament was delayed. Apparently, some of the schools weren’t even sure that they were going to have teams to enter.

Next, while there were still matches scheduled at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, too many of the other games were to be played at La Salle Greenhills or San Beda College. I wasn’t fond of the San Beda field at all; and I didn’t like the Greenhills field any better. It was wide, yes; but the grass was bad and the field uneven, with many bare patches in the middle. The pitch at the Rizal Memorial Stadium wasn’t very good; but in contrast to the one at Greenhills, it looked like Wembley Stadium.

Because the season started late, if memory serves me right, only one elimination round was played. After this brief round, we headed straight into the knockout semi-finals. But this wasn’t the weird part. After the conclusion of the elimination round, when as expected Mapua and ourselves were again the top teams, we weren’t even sure when – and if – the semi-finals were going to be played.

It was so late in the school year but finally Dima told us that the semi-finals and final were going to be played over one weekend; and that this weekend was to be right after the week of the final exams at DLSU. Because of the finals, Dima cancelled training for the whole week. Those of us who could arranged to train on our own. The situation was not ideal at all.

Then there was the small matter of club football. I had been attracting the attention of some clubs even in the previous season. Gigi Sanchez, the Spanish coach of the Division I club Magnolia – which was supposed to be the farm team of the champion club San Miguel Corporation – had seen me play at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. He sent word through my DLSU teammate Jojo Nicomedes, who was already a Magnolia player, inviting me to join his club.

I was flattered by the interest, but Magnolia and San Miguel trained early in the morning at the Xavier School field in San Juan. I was never any good at getting up early in the morning and San Juan was too far from where I lived, so I declined.

However, most of my DLSU teammates who were alumni of Colegio San Agustin in Makati were being recruited by the Spanish coach Tomas Lozano to play for the Division I team San Agustin Football Club. I was recruited as well. The monthly allowance was less than half of what players of Magnolia received; but training was in the afternoon and did not conflict with ours at DLSU. Most of my best friends in the DLSU team were also recruited, so it was an easy decision to accept the invitation to play.

The problem was, that weekend of the NCAA semi-finals and final, we had Division I club commitments as well.

We defeated San Beda comfortably in the semi-finals and had every reason to feel optimistic about the final the following day against who else but our perennial rivals Mapua. The problem was, we had limited training for almost two weeks and, to put things metaphorically, had a limited supply of gas. We played reasonably well against San Beda, but in the process expended most of our gas and had little left in reserve for the next day’s final.

Whoever scheduled the semi-finals and final, I can say without fear of contradiction, was a complete idiot! I mean, did anyone even pause for a moment to consider the recovery time essential after a match? My body was still painful in parts from lactic acid when we played Mapua. Although we lost the final narrowly, our performance was, at best, quite weary. It wasn’t really Mapua that beat us but, or so I felt, whoever that idiot was who scheduled the matches over two consecutive days.

To make things worse, many of us still had to play in the afternoon for San Agustin against U-Tex in a Division I game. The match was at the Amoranto Stadium in Quezon City. Normally, I was resentful if I wasn’t named to the starting eleven. This was one game when I would have welcomed not playing at all.

Wishful thinking, I knew, because I had started in all of San Agustin’s Division I matches and knew that I was probably starting this match as well. How I survived even the first half, I didn’t have the foggiest. To this day, I can still remember having been simply been overwhelmed by weariness, to the point where it took supreme effort to push one foot ahead of the other. At halftime, I asked to be substituted, the only time during my days in competitive football that I did so.

That night, because I had consumed three bottles of Lipovitan, all the while unaware that caffeine was its most potent ingredient, I desperately wanted to sleep but couldn’t. Every inch of my body felt like it was on fire, but sleep wouldn’t even come to relieve me of my misery.

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