Bacolod’s field of dreams
Coach Paps Macayan and his team took almost 24 hours to reach Bacolod City from their hometown in Tacloban City that was ravaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” almost four years ago. They traveled by bus and ferry, but the long journey was just a minor inconvenience to what turned out to be a memorable weekend for his 14 players.
The young Tacloban booters, collectively known as Kidz United, got a taste of competing against some of the country’s best in the fourth Ceres Cup, an event that has evolved into the country’s biggest football festival in terms of the number of clubs and players participating.
“The players loved the level of competition here,” says Macayan, who is also a government employee. “Most of the players are Yolanda survivors and it was their first time as a club to compete in a tournament of this caliber.”
For a club that is also looking to get more support for its programs, the second-place finish in the boys’ Under-16 division is just about what they need to promote the sport in Tacloban.
“Our players turned to football to cope with the tragedy in our city,” Macayan says. “It would be a big help if the players get recognized for their efforts. The players are the closest thing that we have to the Azkals here and I hope they serve as an inspiration to other younger players to take up the sport.”
For their expenses in the Ceres Cup, Macayan says the team passed the hat with players and coaches pooling together funds for their trip.
“The more fortunate players helped their other teammates who could not afford to make the trip,” he says.
Kidz United ended up beating several highly rated squads like Ateneo Cebu, Bago City and Bacolod Juniors on their way to the finals, where they fell short against Koronadal City in a penalty shootout.
There are other poignant stories of fulfillment and triumph that have shaped the Ceres Cup and sparked its immense popularity. With a staggering 465 teams spread in different categories—the youngest at 9 years-and-below; the oldest at 40-and-above—the festival was a testament to the Filipinos’ enduring love for the Beautiful Game.
From middle-aged street vendors to business executives, close to 5,000 football players vied for their teams in Bacolod last weekend. Even Mindanao was well-represented with clubs from Basilan, Davao, Iligan and Masbate battling teams from the City of Smiles.
The matches were all seven-a-side with Ceres’ well-kept training pitch in Ayala North in Talisay boasting seven fields as the main venue. Seven more fields hosted matches at a nearby school. The Sta. Maria pitch near Bacolod’s famous tourist spot, The Ruins, also prepared an extra 14 fields. The teams were ferried from one pitch to another by numerous Ceres buses while close to 400 staffers, led by Ceres-Negros FC administrator Nicolas Golez, tirelessly worked behind the scenes.
Bayawan City FC coach Lloyd Tenefrancia says his players have always looked forward to summers vying in the Ceres Cup. Represented by 60 players in this year’s tournament, the group travelled six hours by bus to Bacolod.
“We’ve been here since the start of the Ceres Cup three years ago,” Tenefrancia says. “We are fortunate that the local government sets aside a budget for us to go to the festival.”
Not one of Tenefrancia’s teams made the finals of the eight categories they joined, but the players brought back happy memories.
“We started with 306 teams in 2014, then 408 and last year we had 440. It’s the club’s way of contributing to the growth of football in the country,” says organizer Warren Concepcion.
For veterans like former national team star Norman Fegidero, the tournament also provides them an opportunity to roll back the years and play the game that they love. Now the coach of Ceres-La Salle’s collegiate side, the 47-year-old Fegidero still led Bacolod United’s march to the title in the 40-above division, beating a team that travelled all the way from South Korea.
“It’s tournaments like this that keep our love and passion for the sport,” says Fegidero, who scored the winner for the national team when the Filipinos stunned heavily favored Malaysia in the 1991 Southeast Asian Games in Manila. “As much as we love football, nothing beats the feeling of being there in the heat of the season competition. The festival provides everyone a chance to do that, no matter how old or young a player is.”
Whether it’s a grassroots event or just mere recreational play, Bacolod’s Ceres Cup has turned out to be a Filipino footballer’s top tournament choice this summer.
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