Can Marikina become a football mecca?
MANILA, Philippines – The Marikina Sports Center is certainly a unique venue. Not only are the stands painted with different pastel shades, but there is a Romanesque arch on one end, and Grecian statues of athletes on pedestals ring the track.
I'm here for opening day of the 2nd Philippines Football League season, to see if the home side, JPV Marikina can take on the might of Global Cebu. But it's no ordinary home game. Not only is it the first match of the season, but it's the first ever JPV Marikina match on their own pitch. All last season, JPV played their “home” games in other venues, usually Rizal Memorial or in Biñan.
“As MSC is a multipurpose stadium, maintaining the condition of the pitch was definitely one of our biggest challenges,” explains Leona Yap of JPV.
Only a week before the venue got the thumbs up from the league to finally host a game.
The pitch is ragged, a moonscape of patchy grass and dirt. But as rough as it is, it's still vastly better than what it used to be, says the team. Kyo Nagami, the team's Japanese CEO, says a grass cutter was brought in and the club also paid for fertilizer to get grass to flourish on the previously bare ground. A bicycle track that ringed the field was also removed, and now the playing surface is 64 meters wide, the minimum for most top leagues.
“It took months to fix and grow the grass. It's not yet 100% perfect but it's playable,” says Warren Reyes Sira, who works with the City government in the maintenance of the facility.
“The fact that the field is a multi-use facility, we can't avoid the field getting damaged from some activities. The facility is well maintained so preparations and fixing for other requirements were minimal,” adds Sira.
The coaching staff helped spruce up the field, including goalie coach Joel Villarino. Coach Joel and I have a laugh before the game reminiscing the time when we were last in Marikina together.
It was 2005, and the stadium was host to the SEA Games women's football competition. We watched the Pinays take on Myanmar. One of our friends, Celine Lopez, a former Ateneo and Women's futsal national team player, had smuggled in a Coleman of alcoholic brew. National team player Jimmy Dona was caught drinking it during the game, and was hauled off to the nearby police station, where Villarino, his fellow Navy enlisted man, had to convince the cops to set him free.
I bumped into Global's Spanish striker Rufo Sanchez and the memories come flooding back of the last time he played in Marikina. It was a UFL Cup game in 2012 when Sanchez was still with Stallion. His five goals resulted in a rout of second-tier Sta. Lucia, 6-1.
Sadly, Sanchez does not take part in the game against JPV and is unable to add to his Marikina goal haul.
One person excited for the game is Tetel Siasoco. The former Miriam varsity player has lived all her life in nearby Barangay Malanday. She has been volunteering for Marikina football for as long as anyone can remember, coordinating open plays on the pitch and helping out with youth soccer, like with the free youth sports clinics in 13 different sports that are offered in the summer.
She can barely contain her excitement for club football in the Shoe Capital of the Philippines.
“Now that we have a home base to play in, our fans know that we have a stronghold to protect, and Marikeños are known for their pride, and passion,” says Siasoco,
“We are excited to have them come out to our fortress here, at Marikina Sports Center, to cheer their squad. Basta dito sa Marikina, JPV lang ang bida, manalo o matalo, buo ang suporta namin sa kanila.”
(Here in Marikina, JPV are our heroes. Win or lose, we pledge our total support to them.)
“I think that the support has always been there in the sense that Marikina sports center has always been a symbol of sport in this city.” continues Siasoco.
“When you mention sport to Marikeños, this place is the first thing that comes to mind. Now that we have chance to compete with the rest of the country, I think opposing teams will know right away that they aren't only entering hallowed ground, but are playing in a place already rich in history, even before the first kickoff takes place.”
The MSC contains facilities for many sports, including tennis, basketball, swimming, and martial arts. The track is open to the public on most nights, and hordes of Marikina residents pay P5 to walk or run there every night. Thanks to these earnings, the facility, opened in 1969, is clean and well-maintained.
It appears unlikely that the field will ever get converted into an artificial pitch. The floodwaters from Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 rose up above the goal frames, according to Siasoco. See the flooding here.
A similar deluge would wash away the rubber infill of any artificial turf, and would be costly to replace.
Marikina is no Barotac Nuevo, but football does play a part here. While there are no native Marikeños in the roster, midfielder Boyet Cañedo and assistant coach Frank Muescan have coached here in the past.
Both of Kaya FC's young goalies, Zach Banzon and Ace Villanueva, are Marikeños, so when Kaya comes to visit, it should be emotional.
The club continues to create a bond with the community. They will partner with a local Boys Town to spread youth football. JPV also intends to pitch in with the city's football clinics over the summer.
At precisely 7 pm the match kicks off. I take my seat beside an old officemate, Jerry Hizon, who lives in Barangay Sta Elena, barely a kilometer away. When we worked in the same ad agency and either the World Cup or Euros was being played, he showed up to work bleary eyed from watching matches in the wee hours. Now he has his own hometown team to cheer for.
We are seated in the West Stand, and have been told that the East Stand is closed for spectators. It's unfortunate because the East Stand is closer to the pitch. The West has basketball and tennis courts in between it and the track. I hope in future games they open up the East.
The game is scrappy thanks to the uneven turf. Dust is kicked up into the air at every movement of the players. But that doesn't stop Keigo Moriyasu, the club's new Japanese attacking player, from volleying in brilliantly from long range for the opener after 25 minutes. That causes a decent crowd of a few hundred to erupt in glee. Admission is free but the turnout is impressive considering the fact that the match was only announced a few days before.
At halftime I chat with Lazarus Xavier, the PFL CEO, who is delighted with the match atmosphere and the stadium.
“There is lots of activity around the stadium,” says the Malaysian. “If they promote their club well this could be a really good venue.”
Xavier is referring to the numerous business and government establishments that surround the stadium. It literally is in the heart of Marikina. Plus the West Stand entrance is on Shoe Avenue, where jeepneys pass. Getting to a match in the MSC is not difficult at all.
In the second half the Marikeños double their lead with a smooth finish from Ryuki Kozawa, another Japanese import. It is said that JPV, descended from a team formerly known as Manila All-Japan, stands for “Japan-Philippines Volt-in,” and all four of the foreign players are Japanese. Some of the overseas-born players are also of mixed Filipino-Japanese heritage, like Allen Angeles.
Global pulls one back late with a sensational free kick from Dominic Del Rosario. But it's not enough to prevent the home side from inaugurating their home with a 2-1 win.
At the final whistle the boisterous crowd breaks into an “Ole, ole ole ole” cheer as the players take a bow.
Pun intended, football has taken a foothold in the Shoe Capital of the Philippines. – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.