Azkals’ match in Rizal Memorial stadium to be a full-blown fan experience

By Mav C. Gonzales and Earl Victor Rosero

Didn’t fully enjoy the Azkals’ game in Pana-ad? Didn’t get to go to Bacolod at all? Just watched the match on television or Youtube?

Fret no more because the upcoming World Cup qualifiers match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium is bound to be a great experience for the fans.

The Philippine Football Federation wants to “create an atmosphere where the people will enjoy being there” at the home leg of the Azkals versus Sri Lanka series.

According to Bonnie Ladrido, chairman of the local organizing committee for the World Cup Qualifiers, the PFF will try to make fan shirts available so expect a sea of either blue or white across the newly-renovated stadium.

But more than the shirts and the comfier seats, what the fans should really watch for is the “booster squad” which will lead the crowd in cheering the Azkals on.

Memories and lessons of Panaad

“I was at the game in Panaad last February. The fans felt a little lost when it came to cheering for the team. Fan support for the Azkals is pretty much young, so the cheers could really be worked on,” said football fan Joes Santos.

“But I really hope they don’t use the theme song from Pinoy Big Brother again. It was as cheesy as it was annoying,” Santos remarked.

The Fan Management Committee led by Richard “Ebong” Joson – the guy with the face paint and blue wig during the Panaad game – will put together the booster squad. It will be made up of about 50 people who will create organized cheers for the Azkals.

“Due to time constraints we are keeping our targets modest. I will be forming a booster squad that will be positioned en mass strategically at the bleachers section to lead the cheering and chanting,” said Joson via a Facebook message.

Through some Facebook fan pages devoted to the Azkals, fans have been urged to bring empty 5-gallon, hard plastic water containers with flat bottoms. The idea is to use these large bottles to create sounds that will echo all over the Rizal stadium. Surprises are in the works, according to the fan page administrators.

The enthusiasm was definitely there in Bacolod. It just so happened that not everyone there may have understood how the game worked so there was room for improvement in the fan participation department.

“Well the crowd [mentality] at Panaad, just like the rebirth of Philippine football, is still in its infancy, gaining that atmosphere in stadiums all over the world,” said hardcore football fan Quico Muñoz.

He said that hopefully, the crowd will refrain from using basketball cheers which they are accustomed to. The fans gathered at Panaad shouted “defense” whenever Mongolia had the ball.

Great expectations

Munoz suggests that the booster squad use Filipinized traditional football chants and songs.

“In my opinion we shouldn’t use the moniker ‘Azkals’ in our cheers. Traditionally the name of the country is the one used,” he added.

And the chanting is not just for the spectators. The players actually look forward to these cheers too.

“Sobrang saya at sobrang init ng pagtanggap ng mga fans sa amin and nakakatulong talaga siya sa aming mga players. Sobrang saya ko talaga na nakalaro ako sa harap ng libu-libong fans sa Panaad,” said Azkal Ian Araneta.

While some may consider Panaad the home of Philippine football, Ian believes that they will get the same warm reception now that the game will be played in the heart of Metro Manila.

“Sa Rizal, sa tingin ko dudumugin din ng tao ang game namin ngayon pa na unti-unti na minamahal ng mga Pilipino ang football. Basta ang laban namin sa July 3 sa Rizal ay laban na rin nating lahat,” he said.

The Azkals pledged to play their hearts out and behind them, there is going to be a huge crowd screaming at the top of their lungs. GMA News