MANILA, Philippines — Over the past few months, Ricardo Ocampo Jr. has looked forward to playing football during weekends on a concrete basketball court in Payatas, Quezon City.
Friday would prove extra special for the Payatas Elementary School sixth-grader and other Filipino kids as they mingled and played with their football idols—David Beckham and the rest of the Los Angeles Galaxy—who gave a clinic on the Rizal Memorial Stadium pitch.
“I was nervous, I might make mistakes,” Ocampo said in Filipino of his experience with the high-profile club. “I could not imagine that I will be on the same field with my idols.”
The Galaxy is playing the Philippine national team tonight before heading for Australia. On Wednesday, it beat Indonesia, 1-0, on the first leg of its Southeast Asian tour.
The football clinic was also a dream come true for 8-year-old Fernando Antonio “Andy” Roxas, a student of the Ateneo grade school.
“He loves the sport so much and he’s very happy,” Roxas’ father, Monti, said of his son. The young Roxas has shown immense potential playing for Ateneo in football festivals in Manila, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The father said his son Andy received a compliment from Beckham, who told the boy that his ball control reminded him of Argentine great Diego Maradona.
“Beckham is a player he (Andy) always wanted to emulate,” the father added. “This experience will only continue to inspire Andy.”
Chasing the dream
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena encouraged Filipino football players to “work hard” and “chase the dream” of competing internationally.
Ocampo said his experience would only inspire him to achieve his twin goals of becoming a professional player and a computer engineer.
The Galaxy team taught kids the rudiments of the game, exchanged high fives with them and gave words of encouragement during the two-hour clinic.
About 1,000 people watched the clinic, mostly relatives of the Filipino kids.
All told, about 200 children participated in the clinic, which charged P14,000 per participant. But 90 of the kids, including Ocampo of Payatas FC, were allowed to take part for free as “beneficiaries.”
“This is just a great experience for them,” said Roy Moore of Fairplay for all Foundation, which runs Payatas FC.
“This is just one of the reasons why football is such a beautiful game,” said the 23-year-old British national, who brought 20 kids to the clinic upon the invitation of Azkals manager Dan Palami.
“It shows how football can open up opportunities regardless of the background of the person.”
The other beneficiaries of the clinic were kids from Bantay Bata, Unicef and the Futkaleros.
Dream come true
Angelica Jade Sagun was still giddy as she shared her experience of getting a pat on the back from Beckham.
“He’s one of my idols. It’s a dream come true for me,” said the 10-year-old Sagun, whose father works as a truck driver. “Life is difficult in Payatas and this is just a nice experience for me,” she said.
Los Angeles Galaxy president Tom Payne said the clinic was part of the club’s thrust to promote the game and that the club had been fortunate to have one of the best ambassadors for football in Beckham, a Unicef goodwill ambassador.
“David always loves working with the kids,” said Payne.
Having a dream
Besides taking part in the clinic, Beckham also visited a Unicef-supported shelter in the Manila suburbs and met with a group of former street children. The children all shared a tale of domestic abuse, crime—some fell victims to drugs or were abandoned by their parents.
“It’s so important to have a dream,” Beckham told them.
Wearing a black Unicef t-shirt, the 36-year-old former England captain listened intently in a private conversation with five children and told them how he started playing when he was 7 years old before eventually achieving his dream of playing for Manchester United.
Unicef asked that the names of the children and the shelter not be disclosed to protect their privacy.
Conan, a 17-year-old abandoned by his parents when he was 7, told Beckham he dreamed of joining the Philippine team and later becoming a coach. He played in the Street Children’s Football World Cup last year in South Africa, where the Philippines beat South Africa 2-1.
One 12-year-old girl named Shaina said she wanted to be a nurse to help the sick. She often held Beckham’s hand as she and the other children guided him around the facility, unfazed by the elaborate tattoos that adorn his arms.
Beckham told the Unicef staff it was incredible that the children had gone through “so much in such a short space of time in their young lives” and learned responsibility and respect.
He said he was lucky to have had the support of both his parents and it was “so sad to see so many children that don’t have that support, don’t have that love.”
He later listened to JM, a former drug user who turned 18 on Friday, sing a rap song in Filipino on how drugs ruin lives. After a staff translated the song for Beckham, he gave him a double thumbs up, saying, “You’re good!”
Happy, inspiring place
The shelter that houses 136 kids has a small football field surrounded by separate cottages for boys and girls, a school, a basketball court and a training facility where children learn to sew clothes and cut hair.
“What struck me the most about coming into the center was it was a real happy place, a real inspiring place,” he told the Associated Press (AP). “They are teaching kids unbelievable values. Every child I spoke to today—they all have dreams, they all have inspirations.”
A father of four young children, Beckham said it was “heartbreaking to think majority of these children haven’t got parents, or haven’t got parents to care for them and love them.”
A highlight of his visit to the shelter was a brief practice followed by a short football game in which he joined one half of the shelter’s team.
The star sweated under the midday sun as he helped their shoeless goalkeeper. His side lost 1-0. With a report from AP