It was 1999 and I had just joined an IT services and consulting comany in Makati. It was inevitable that I would be drawn into football, the beautiful game, as my Scottish-born, British-passport-holding-boss was an avid fan. EPL, FA Cup, Champions League â€¦ these were words that I heard as often as client visit, change request, documentation. I started scouring the net for information, just so I could put in a word or two when heâ€™d say heâ€™s off to watch a game. I got to the point where I could name the star players for each team, and recognize them by sight. I found it strange at first how a Frenchman could be a goalie for an English team, and how Arsenalâ€™s lineup was more Latin than caucasian.
But two major events that were about to happen in my life would cement the foundations of my football fanhood. One was meeting the man I was going to live with for the rest of my life. He introduced me to the football the rest of the world played. I quickly learned the difference between FIFA and UEFA and the Euro, Conmenbol and Primera Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga. I assimilated his admiration for Real Madrid, and with him followed the odyssey of players from one team to another. Soon I became as quick as he is to shout â€œoffside!â€ and I proved indispensable when it came to â€œtranslatingâ€ the English of football commentators, which often sounded greek to him.
The other event was the World Cup 2002.
The World Cup Korea-Japan and the days that led to it put the Kalayaan-Jupiter-Makati Avenue area in an absolute tizzy. Almost all the bars advertised LIVE matches, some even opening in the morning if there was a scheduled game, and putting on special menus as an added come-on. There were streamers and blinking colored lights everywhere, but it was all third-person limited to me until one afternoon when my boss suddenly came into the dev room and crooked his finger at me. “Bring your mobile,” he said. I thought we were going on an urgent client call. Then as I found us walking down the length of Rockwell towards Kalayaan, I realized the urgency, but it was not for a client. It was Spain vs Slovenia. He was rooting for Spain. He had made sure I had my mobile so the people back at the office could contact us if they needed to. They didn’t.
I was up for a week’s leave after that, and my boyfriend (now my husband) and I used my time off savoring game after thrilling game. During the Brazil vs England quarterfinals match our group even got into a tumble with an expat (he was a Brit and we were cheering for Cafu and the boys) which could have landed us in the evening news if cooler heads had not intervened. In the evening of that same day, a couple of drunk Englishmen accosted my boyfriend’s brother who was wearing the Brazil yellow and green jersey. I’m here to cheer for Germany, he declared. The Englishmen backed off, they were cheering for Germany too. The Germans were playing the Americans.
When the practice became too rich for our pockets we settled for the Yahoo tickertape coverage on the internet. The screen would click everytime there was a shot, and something that sounded like a cowbell would ring if there was a goal. It was a great boon to us when the championship game between Germany and Brazil was shown LIVE on a big screen at the Rockwell parking lot. We sat on the cement steps with a group of boys from Don Bosco, heckling the female host who pronounced the French superstar Zinedine Zidane’s name to rhyme with Spain—Sine-din Zee-deyn—she said. We shouted Mag basketball ka na lang!
As my husband and I count the days till World Cup 2006, there are games to watch on ESPN and Star Sports. On nights before a LIVE match we set alarms for 3am and sleep before 10pm. Our daughter claps her hands at every goal she sees in the daytime roundups, and her father is thinking of getting her the kiddie-sized Real Madrid kit he saw at the Shangri-la mall. Her brother can’t wait till we move to a bigger place with enough room to kick a ball around. A genuine football family we are, because it really is the beautiful game.