More Iconic Azkals and a national stadium in UP Diliman

By Paulo Alcazaren

I received a lot of e-mails from readers regarding the “First Azkal” article a few weeks ago. Majority were excited to find out about Paulino Alcantara and his exploits at FC Barcelona. Another sent a picture of a local 1920s “football star” J. Melendez but his biography is missing. One of the most recent to reach me is of great significance to Philippine football and was sent by the grandson of another Azkal, who apparently played ahead of Alcantara.

J. Melendez appeared in pre-war magazines but his sporting biography is missing.| Photo by
First, from the excited fans of Philippine football. From Rafa Rodrigues, MD, assistant manger, Union FC, “Kudos for your recent article in Philippine STAR. We have been trying to drum up support for Paulino Alcantara, one whose name remains buried in oblivion; if you are interested we are actually in communication with one of the younger Alcantaras who also want recognition for his grandfather. To date, and you are correct, he holds the record for FC Barcelona as the highest goal scorer ever with 357 goals. Thank you also for your support for Philippine football. Articles like these will put us back on the world map of the world’s beautiful game.”

Thanks Rafa. The Azkals are already putting the Philippines on the world map. The task is to put football in the maps of our own people, corporate sponsors and government (basketball courts are a favorite politico project, but very few if any football fields are built). I will touch on this issue at the end of this article.

Setting records straight

The next e-mail is from Jonathan, “I really appreciate your article in STAR. I share the same deep love for the sport as I, too, was a varsity football player from grade 5 until 4th year high school at La Salle Greenhills. But I never knew that the greatest player of FC Barcelona, Paulino Alcantara, was a Filipino! Mabuhay! What an ultimate testament to our natural ability for the game. I agree that Sen. Drilon should erect a monument to honor him in Iloilo, and that his story must be told again and again, so that his name is etched in the halls of great Filipino athletes, maybe even bigger than the big names in Filipino basketball.

“I also share the same deep belief and sentiment that Filipinos are more suited to playing football than basketball. There are many theories why football declined in popularity but I guess one of the reasons could be the rise in popularity of basketball because of the Crispa-Toyota rivalry in the 1970s. But the epitome of the irony was last year, 2010. When the whole world was enraptured by the World Cup Finals in South Africa, and intense close-fought games were witnessed, when big name countries lost to other smaller nations in the Group Stage (Spain included), Filipinos were more enraptured by Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals.

“I do remember, too, that by the time I graduated from high school in 1985, football’s popularity was really on a decline as the school leagues that used to be big before (e.g. RIFA & PRADA) started closing down. RIFA didn’t continue after 1983. PRADA followed suit I think after 1985 (I’ll have to confirm that). But the fact is that by my senior year in high school (1984-85), our school opted to just compete in the American High Schools league, and briefly in PRADA.

“So, I’m really happy that our national team is having good success in the international arena, and that local leagues, like the United Football League, are sparking a return to the love for the sport. Let’s help in fanning the flames of interest in football, and I believe in time, as our children take on the sport, that there will be a growing love for it and in time, our country will qualify for the World Cup Finals (just like Japan and Korea).”

Thanks, Jonathan. First, I never was good enough to play at varsity level, just the intramurals. Not that I didn’t want to. Basketball also became more popular also because less and less space has been available in cities and towns as our urban population has exploded (no thanks to the Philippines’ lack of population management — or PM as opposed to RH or RP …potato, potatoe).

An earlier Azkal!

Then I got this e-mail from Jonah Amechazurra, a great-grandnephew of another Filipino football player of yore, “I read your article in STAR, and it was great but there are some flaws and is kind of misleading. To set the record straight, Paulino Alcántara Riestrá was not the first Filipino to play in Europe. Manuel Amechazurra was the first Filipino who joined the Football Club Barcelona from 1905 to 1915. FC Barcelona also won The Pyrenees Cup four times, from 1910-1913, with him. The Pyrenees Cup is the first football international in Europe. But the tournament stopped due to the beginning of World War 1 in 1914. It’s sad because our bisabuelo is not recognized here in the Philippines despite the fact that he brought so much glory to the country.

 Amechazurra was also featured in his own player card from the early 1900s.| Photo by

“Manuel Amechazurra was born in Bacolod City, Philippines. He was called el capitán and played as a defender (compared to striker position that Paulino Alcantara played).

“Manuel Amechazurra had a Basque bloodline. The clan’s roots came from the Basque region of Spain. Cheers and God bless. Embrace the love and more power to our very own Futbol Filipinas.”

Thanks Jonah. And I’m still waiting to hear from any other descendants of Azkals of the pre- and post-war era. Filipinos are a peripatetic race and our Diaspora is continuing. There must be dozens of athletes of Filipino blood who have gained success in sports not too popular with today’s Filipinos.

Field of dreams

Finally, from AN in Manila, “Excellent article! Who says talent does not exist in the Philippines. Japanese and Koreans have shown us that height is no advantage in football…and talk about all the great players, many are of Asian average height. So what if it is true that our Azkals are Fil-fors? I am still 100 percent confident that pure Filipinos, given enough exposure, can do as well. Give them a good field and a ball and what Filipino kid would not like to kick it and run around. All we need is access to field and the game will flourish.”

This brings me to an element necessary to our task of bringing success to Filipino Football in particular and Philippine sports in general. That missing piece is the lack of a modern, fully-functional and well-maintained National Sports Complex. We had the Rizal Memorial complex for close to 80 years but it is now hemmed in by a crowded city. Then we had the University of Life (which has since become the University of Death …remember the Wowowee stampede? But I digress). The UL also sits perilously close to the West Valley fault, its facilities are inadequate, and its buildings are now filled with Department of Education offices or leased out to all manner of private schools.

The only large space that can hold a National Sports Complex, and at the same time benefit its host institution and the city where it is located, are the grounds of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

The UP’s expansive 493 hectares of land is badly planned and underutilized. The university’s sports complex is rundown and its facilities scattered. It is almost totally devoid of the architectural gravitas that a national university campus deserves. Related to this deficiency are the university’s severe lack of student and staff housing, dimly lit streets and open spaces, transport links to the metropolis and an internal transport system that is half and century old.

Creative funds

Of course the main constraint is the usual one. No funds.

A creative way to address these multi-pronged problems is the building of a national sports complex at UP Diliman. But to be feasible, I suggest that it be done within a framework of hosting an important regional sports meet like the South East Asian or Asian Games. The needs of such an event are the same as the needs of the UP — housing, world-class sports facilities, mass transport links to the metropolis, internal circulation systems, landscaped open areas, security and lighting.

University of the Philippines in Diliman

We host the SEA games every 10 years or so and spend hundred of millions on temporary facilities or renovations of these that inevitably just go to pot. Come to think of it, we spend tens of millions every few years to host the Palarong Pambansa (PP) in provincial locations. Many PP complexes are white elephants now and are crumbling from lack of use and the absence of maintenance.

Funds for both can be consolidated in a project to build a National Sports Complex at the UP. There are also other sources of funding available. FIFA has wanted to help build a proper football field for the Philippines for the longest time but infighting within the local association/s have reportedly hindered the project. The same is true, I hear, with baseball. Then there are the billions reportedly being raised for a PBA stadium.

Why not gather all these funds and pour them into a complex that can be built on the former UP golf course along Commonwealth Avenue? A regional event would also require housing for athletes (up to four or 5,000 beds would be needed, which is about what the UP needs for a campus of its size).

With proper management the National Sports Complex at UP (NASCUP) can be a viable source of recurring revenue for the UP. Funds for its maintenance can be generated by its regular hosting of the PP (possibly alternating with provincial venues to reduce any complaints), and the SEA Games every 10 years. A new media center needed for these events can serve to bring the university’s mass communications college into the 21st century (apparently some of its broadcast equipment are still from the ’70s). Hosting PBA, NCCA, football and baseball leagues would keep it in the black.

Ancillary facilities like food courts and mini retail complexes would also improve the campus’ overall functionality and add to its bottom line (the complex should be run by a professional company — a PPP arrangement).

Iconic location, Iconic architecture

The complex with its location can also serve as a buffer to encroaching urbanization. The LRT 6 line is already planned to pass along Commonwealth and the NASCUP can serve as link to the rest of the campus. In fact, the complex’s car parking facility can be part of a UP park and ride system that can ensure that internal combustion vehicles can be left at the fringes and the rest of the campus can be serviced by EJeepneys (and they could now be called E-kots or E-tokis).

Build it and they will come; goes the famous saying. The field of dreams for Philippine sports, be it in football, baseball, track and field. And, yes, even basketball, can be created and housed in just one-fifth of the UP’s extensive campus.

A lot of the campus’ planned new facilities can also fit into the complex (this is very green in terms of planning and architecture), so there cannot be any opposition to the idea. The continuing loss of green open space in the campus is mainly the function of inefficient planning and sprawl-based development anyway.

The NASCUP can also help boost Quezon City. Come to think of it. The city can and should contribute to this project because the complex — especially if the architecture is iconic — will help define it for the future.

Ultimately the NASCUP benefits the whole country as well. We will need a national stadium for when the Azkals play the deciding home game at a Suzuki Cup or an even larger competition in the near future. It’s not only a question of if, but how soon…and most importantly, where? Source

* * *

E-mail is welcome. Please contact the writer at