Payatas kids play football to pursue dreams

Natashya Gutierrez

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Roy Moore, co-director of the Fairplay For All Foundation, watches his team.

MANILA, Philippines — The dusty field saw much action from a soccer tournament Saturday afternoon. Several goals were set up and players milled around in their jerseys waiting for their next match with anticipation.

It was a dramatic day. 

One football club had lost three of its players in a span of one day to injuries, including a broken arm. A fight broke out in their semi-finals match, a match which led to a shootout, and which the team eventually lost. Tears of anger and frustration filled the players’ faces as their dreams of a Finals spot disappeared. 

Earlier, the same team had scored the game’s first goal and their jubilation was comparable to celebrations in the World Cup. All emotions were. A player punched the ground after missing a shot. The referee was yelled at numerous times. Coaches shouted instructions to their team with intensity. There were fights, there were cheers, there were tears.

The difference was, this was a children’s tournament. The kids of this football club wore sneakers, not cleats, because they couldn’t afford it. Their jerseys were oversized, down to their knees, worn like dresses. 

They are the Payatas Football Club.

Naomi Tomlinson, woman with a vision

On the sidelines stands Naomi Tomlinson, a petite, pleasant 20-year-old British. She is the co-director of the Fairplay For All Foundation (FFA) along with Roy Moore, another Brit who shares her vision. The Foundation aims to empower street children of the Philippines through football. 

Thus, the birth of Payatas FC.

“It has so many benefits like growing confidence, communication, trust,” says Naomi, about the training camps they hold for the children every Saturday morning in a covered court in Payatas, Metro Manila’s largest dumpsite. From about eight months ago when it was first founded, the football club has come a long way.

Just last week, during British-Filipino Friendship Day, the children received uniforms and balls from Mitre, after the football brand sponsored a training session for the kids led by Azkals players James and Phil Younghusband. The team has also been invited to tournaments, offering them an opportunity to meet new people and compete with others their age.

They are blessed too, in the overflowing support literally poured over them by Naomi and Roy. When Naomi talks about the children, one can hear the pride and happiness in her voice. She is smiling from ear-to-ear and the pride she exudes is that of a parent.

“Neither of us get paid for what we do,” she says. “So sometimes it’s like, I’m so broke. But then you get a hug from a little kid, or you see a smile. They’re so grateful for it that it just pays you. It’s so unbelievably rewarding.”

Naomi Tomlinson inspires players like Angelica Sagum.

Femme fatale Angelica Sagum 

The U-10 team of Payatas FC cruised their way to the semifinals, largely due to the efforts of 10-year-old superstar Angelica Sagum. She is the only girl in the team full of boys.

Angelica is shy and reserved when interviewed, but Naomi said, she is one of the most energetic and outspoken on the field. She scored two goals in this tournament alone, and hopes to be appointed team captain. One of the over 100 children who showed up in FFA’s first training camp, Angelica has been going ever since.

When not on the field, Angelica goes to church or attends school as a third-grader, but she admits that she finds the most joy in soccer, even when they lose.

Hindi naman po [ako nalulungkot pag natatalo kami] kasi po masaya rin po maglaro ngsoccer kahit hindi kami nananalo,” she says. (I don’t get sad when we lose because it’s also fun to play soccer even when we don’t win. 

Asked why she loves the sport, she sits for a while in silence, and finally looks up, “Marami po akong napupuntahang ibang lugar (I get to visit a lot of new places),” Angelica says with a smile.

Next Azkal Ricardo Ocampo

He munched on junk food after the semi-finals game, his eyes still red from a disappointing loss. He knows they could have won, he says. Football to 11-year-old Ricardo Ocampo is his passion. He loves it because he gets to spend time with his friends and it takes his mind off things.

Ricardo Ocampo idolizes the Azkals. 

Panlibang (distraction),” he says when asked why he plays.  

The third of four siblings, he is the only one who plays football, and Ricardo, who plays defender for the Payatas FC U-12 team takes his job seriously. He explains that while his idols are Azkals Chieffy Caligdong and Angel Guirado because of their ability to bring up the ball on the pitch, he says his role for his team is to help the goalie guard the goal.

He tries his best not to miss a single practice.

While introduced to the sport only through Roy, Ricardo’s skills on the field are stellar. He dreams of playing for the Azkals one day, but for now, he is working on another dream.

“[Sanamanalo po [kamilagi,” he says. “Para magkaroon ng mukha ang Payatas, hindi lagi yung sinasabi na basura lang ang Payatas.” (I hope we always win so that Payatas can have a face different from that always associated with just garbage).

Follow the reporter on Twitter: natashya_g

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.