Limpag: Phil’s Philippines

Mike T. Limpag

FIFTY-two goals in 108 matches, both national records. That’s what the numbers say of Philip James Younghusband’s 13-year-career for the senior team, 14 years if you add the Under-23 stint in 2005. But I don’t think you can really quantify what the former Philippine captain has done for the Philippine football.

Friendlies. I smiled the first time I saw the word friendly used in a headline. Nobody in Philippine sports media--save perhaps for a few--knew what a friendly was pre-2010. Caps? Well, for most, it’s the capslock. But that all changed post-2010, when Philippine football finally got into the mainstream thanks to the Hanoi Miracle.

But the Hanoi Miracle didn’t happen overnight. It started in 2004, got a mighty push in 2005 and a hell-of-a-kick in 2006. The end of a winless streak in 2004, a Southeast Asian (SEA) Games victory in 2005 and qualifying in the AFF Championships in 2006. We lost miserably in the first two games in the AFF Championship, 4-0, to Malaysia and Thailand but boy did we show heart in that 0-0 draw against Myanmar.

We weren’t doormats anymore. We played to win and that 7-0 win against East Timor in Bacolod in the qualifiers--with Younghusband netting four times--was something special. That’s where the whole “We Believe” thing started for me.

And, would you believe, Younghusband’s entry to the Philippines is a story stranger than fiction?

Some gamer tinkering with his lineup supposedly found out that a couple of brothers in the Chelsea reserves were eligible to play for the country and alerted the Philippine Football Federation. I asked Younghusband about that, back in 2005, he couldn’t confirm the gamer’s story. But what he did say was that one time in the locker room at Chelsea, the guys were saying that they should play for the Philippines. A few days later, they got the call.

The rest of the Philippine media, at that time, may have been slow to catch up but those from our football-hotbed neighbors surely weren’t. I remember one pre-SEA Games press conference and all the Thai journalists wanted to talk about were Phil and James.

They appreciated them before we got to. But thankfully, five years later, the rest of the Philippines caught up.

An incident after Hanoi 2010 made me appreciate Phil’s impact on Philippine football. It was just an ordinary game but after a player scored on follow up with his weak foot, someone beside me said, “Kuyawa, mura man si Younghusband.”

Phil, of course, scored that insurance goal against Vietnam with his left.

I still watch that video. Sometimes, when I get bored and when I feel shitty about the direction of PHL football, I watch that and remember. I jumped so high I almost hit the ceiling.

Eight years later, No. 50 for Phil sent us jumping again as we celebrate our Asian Cup entry for the first time. Between that second goal against Vietnam and No. 50, Phil took the Philippines to a journey of firsts. There were heartbreaks of course, but they were heartbreaks because Phil made us believe.

And more than the 52 and 108, for me, that his legacy. Phil made us believe. Thanks Cap, happy retirement.