Off the field: the players of the UFL
It’s a balmy Friday night and the rest of Manila’s yuppies are getting ready to drink and party, but 23-year-old Paolo Pascual’s day has just begun.
While urbanites flock to the city’s bars in crisp dress shirts and heels, Pascual, goalkeeper for the top-seeded Global Football Club, drenches his uniform while making passes and practicing saves. At the Turf football field in Taguig, the adrenaline runs high. Pascual and his teammates have been training all week. They have so far won all but two matches this season, and they are taking no chances.
Global last won the Division 1 championship of the United Football League in 2012. The Metro Manila-based UFL is currently the de facto national league. Since its inception as a semi-professional league in 2009, it has grown from 16 clubs to 21, and the players have competed in prestigious international tournaments like the Asian Football Federation’s President Cup.
In 2011, UFL signed an exclusive five-year, P150-million coverage deal with Aksyon TV, the sports channel of the TV5 network owned by tycoon Manny Pangilinan. Thousands more watch the weekly matches live at the Emperador Stadium, also in Taguig.
The stakes are high, and no one in Global has any misgiving about how to reclaim the title — even on weekends and erratic weather, they train.
That’s hardly enough time for Pascual to squeeze his studies in. But away from the prying eyes of his 13,000 Twitter followers, the good-looking Cebuano hits the books as regularly as he hits the gym. Before moving to Manila, Pascual used to attend the University of San Carlos and play for its varsity team. Now he is currently taking Business Management on a home schooling program and is expecting to graduate next year.
“I don’t really go out and party,” says Pascual, who, on top of regular training, also follows a strict diet. He has been playing football since he was in high school, and he stresses that discipline is the name of the game. He says it is important for players to be always in top shape.
For Pascual’s teammate Papiniano “Paps” Macayan, that means a lot of time away from home, and the 32-year-old midfielder is also a single father.
“Mahirap, pero ganun talaga (It’s difficult, but that’s the way it is),” says Macayan, who’s had to hire a nanny to look after his son.
Macayan is older than most players in his team and in the league, and has often wondered why Global’s coach Dan Palami still drafted him. But he’s not complaining, and he is only too aware that he has been given a rare opportunity.
“Nagpapasalamat ako kay coach at sa management, at hindi ko sasayangin ang opportunity na ‘to (I’m grateful to our coach and the management, and I won’t waste this opportunity),” he adds.
Macayan also coaches football in private schools in his spare time to augment his income. In the top teams in UFL, football players make anywhere from PHP 50,000-150,000 a month (Smaller teams pay significantly less, or provide allowances). But he says it’s not uniform for all the members of the same team. “Siyemre depende yan sa galing, sa level mo (It depends on how good you are),” he says.
With a son to send to school and bills to pay, Macayan doesn’t really mind the two-hour commute from Taguig to Rizal, where he lives. He used to work as a clerk in the Light Rail Transportation Authority, earning minimum wage and barely making ends meet. Now he wants to give his son a good future.
A shot at success is also what’s attracting a lot of international players to the nascent Philippine football scene.
Their love of football has brought compatriots Valentine Kama and Gabriel Olowoyeye from halfway across the globe to the Philippines. They maybe on two different teams — Kama plays for Global, Olowoyeye for Green Archers United — but this hasn’t changed anything between the two Nigerians.
“Valentine’s like my brother!” exclaims Olowoyeye, whom his teammates prefer to call “Gab.”
Olowoyeye has been living in the Philippines since 2008. He was just 17 when he was drafted to play for the Cavite State University varsity team. He has since played for two football clubs — he was at Kaya before he transferred to Green Archers—and now has a degree in Information Technology.
OIowoyeye plans to start a business someday, like his friend Kama, who owns a gadget store in Nigeria. “I’m thinking it would be food, because Filipinos just love to eat!” he says of his future enterprise. He unwinds by getting massages and travelling, and he recently went to Baguio and Angeles by himself to “chill out.”
On normal days, he stays at home with the other Archers in the “Archers’ house.” It’s a communal residence just a few blocks away from the sprawling Alabang Country Club, where the team regularly trains. “We’re like a family,” Olowoyeye says, and adds that he’s never been happier in his career.
The senior players of Green Archers also get to coach their U-17, U-15. U-13 and U-9 groups. Olowoyeye and his teammates enjoy it, because they get to pass on what they know to younger players.
“It’s a form of giving back,” says Green Archers winger Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong, whom, at 32, many of the Green Archers look up to as their kuya. Caligdong is also the vice-captain of the national team Azkals. He is a Ten Outstanding Young Men awardee for his contribution to promoting football in the country.
Caligdong relates that his teammates have come to him for advice on matters relating not only to football. “May unity ba, may pakikisama, (There’s unity in us),” he says of his relationship with the team. On a Sunday morning, when he could be at home with his wife and two kids, he is under the baking sun, making sure every eleven-year-old has had his turn playing in a friendly match.
Caligdong’s right foot is fractured, and he has missed a couple of Azkal’s friendlies overseas in the past weeks. But after the match is over, he calls his boys for a huddle. Towards the nearest shade, he walks with them, unflinchingly, and congratulates them for a game well played.