A FEW days ago, I saw a few videos of the Philippines vs. Singapore friendly at the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC) in 2012, the Azkals’ first home match in Cebu. It was in November of that year and I remember it was the culmination of a few months of frantic preparation by the then Cebu Football Association (CFA), one that saw the greatest crowd gather for a football match in Cebu.
Aside from that, during that time period, I believe Cebu had the best natural grass pitch in the country. Until of course, we destroyed it for the annual Sinulog.
It all started simply enough. I remember that summer, the CFA hosted Dan Palami and while I know there were already initial talks about a potential match in Cebu, I managed to get the conversation going on again since I managed to sit between Sir Dan and Sir Ricky Dakay, the then head of the CFA.
I asked Dan again about a possibility of a friendly and to cut it short, he simply told Sir Ricky, “If you have the field, we’ll bring the Azkals.”
Ricky took a quick glance around the table, where the rest of the CFA officers sat, looked back at Dan and the deal was sealed.
You have to remember it was summer and we all know that every summer, the CCSC field is a dust bowl, with only islands of green in a sea of brown sand. But somehow, the CFA greening effort, led by engineer Rodney Orale and Dino Musni with help from the two golf courses in the city, did the unthinkable.
About five weeks before the event, when then coach Michael Weiss checked the CCSC, the field was far from done. He took a ball and kicked it around and it bounced around like the surface of the cheap billiard halls we used to play in in college. He was shaking his head. I remember, he took me aside and asked me silently, “Can they really do this?”
I didn’t have an answer so I passed the question to the CFA. The confidence in their reply was just assuring. Just wait three weeks.
And by god did something magical happen in three weeks. The next time I visited the CCSC, I could see the semblance of stripes. Is that stripes? I asked. This is just the first attempt, they told me. Days later, everyone who managed to see the CCSC pitch for the first time since summer couldn’t believe it was the same pitch.
The CFA did its part and a few days later, the Azkals, thanks to Ed Sacapano, did theirs, delivering us a 1-0 win against Singapore.
What a memory.