What a year for Ceres
The trophy and plaque stood on the table, a few steps away from the LED screen showing highlights of Ceres-Negros’ 2017 campaign as blue and green lights illuminated the dance floor and rap music blared on the speakers.
The players take turns for selfies with the club’s newest precious possession—the Philippines Football League trophy—as well as the AFC Cup Asean zonal championship plaque from the Asian Football Confederation.
The relentless Busmen not only play with swag, they also celebrate in style.
And on this Saturday night in the middle of December, the country’s newest football champions booked one of Bacolod City’s top restaurants for an exclusive victory party marking a banner year for the club, after the Busmen subdued Global Cebu, 4-1, for the PFL title at Panaad Stadium.
On the far end of the room, the club’s low-key owner Leorey Yanson smiles, letting the moment sink in.
A few hours ago, much to the prodding of his players, Yanson finally stood on top of the podium, lifting the trophy in front of an adoring throng at Panaad Stadium.
For the youthful owner, this was a year in which his club punched more than its weight, stunning some of Southeast Asia’s top clubs like Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia on its way to the AFC Inter-zonal semifinals last September.
Despite lagging in the scheduling due to their AFC Cup campaign, the Busmen then still got the job done in the PFL, with the depth of its squad keying a strong finish.
“This year is undoubtedly, a great year for us,” said Yanson.
“Clinching the AFC Cup 2017 Asean zone title and the Philippine Football League Championship title would have not been possible without the hard work and sacrifices that each of the players and coaching staff have put in.”
No less than International Football Federation (Fifa) president Gianni Infantino cited the club’s historic season in the PFL.
“It gives me great pleasure to send my warmest congratulations to Ceres-Negros FC for winning the inaugural edition of the Philippines Football League!” said Infantino in his letter to Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta.
“This title is the result of the determination of everyone involved and my congratulations go to the players, the coach, the administration, the entire technical and medical staff as well as the fans for this great achievement.”
The club also won the AFC Cup Fair Play award for the first time after picking up the most points for positive play, conduct on and off the field and behavior of supporters.
Ceres has come a long way from five years ago when it was limited to the national club championship.
Working its way from the second division of the now-defunct United Football League, the Busmen made a strong statement, ruling the top flight in 2015, leading to a first AFC Cup appearance.
“Our learning curve was five years,” said Yanson, reflecting on a banner season. “We kept on learning from our mistakes the previous year and kept on improving.”
Staying on top, of course, will be a totally different story next year with a slew of challengers to the Busmen’s throne both in the PFL and the AFC.
Hit by the departures of Iain Ramsay, Roland Muller and Josh Grommen, the Busmen face a tough task of putting together a strong squad that will continue to contend for trophies.
The Busmen won’t have much time as they start the season on Jan. 16, when they face Shan United of Myanmar in an AFC Champions League qualifier. A duel with Brisbane Roar awaits the winner of the tie.
“It will be tough next season, but we’re really excited of what 2018 has in store for us,” said Yanson.
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