Leaving a light on
BACOLOD CITY—The uncertainty surrounding the future of club football in the Philippines has not stopped reigning Philippines Football League champion Ceres Negros from staying true to its mission of raising the country’s football stock internationally.
With club football in the country at the crossroads following the pullout of several clubs over the past year and the Philippine Premier League yet to be launched, the Busmen are focusing on bigger goals next year.
“We’re closely following the situation in the league, but we just can’t wait what happens there,” says Ceres club chair Leorey Yanson, who has used his personal resources to make sure the club runs smoothly and is up to standard when it stages its home matches.
“We have a big responsibility to do well in the AFC Champions League and maybe in the AFC Cup. We just can’t let our guard down so we really have to prepare well for these very important tournaments.”
After a stellar year in 2017 when they bagged the AFC Cup Asean zone title and became the first PFL champion, the Busmen started this year with a stunning run in the AFC Champions League that was only halted by Chinese powerhouse Tianjin Quanjian.
A return to the AFC Cup Asean zone final, where they lost to Singapore’s Home United, left the Busmen even hungrier and more determined than ever heading into the new season.
Road to redemption
It’s the same feeling a couple of years ago when they missed out on the United Football League title. After that disappointing campaign, the Busmen went on to their so-called road to redemption, taking the AFC Cup by storm.
“We’re always looking to improve,” says Yanson. “When we first started Ceres, we knew that it would take a lot of hard work and resources to reach the level we are now and stay at that level.”
Yanson has established close ties with players like Stephan Schrock, Martin Steuble, Manny and Mike Ott, Patrick Reichelt, who, in truth, can play in the top leagues in Southeast Asia, but have opted to stay on with the club as Ceres carries the Philippine flag in AFC competitions.
Half the story
“We love representing Negros, we love playing at Panaad,” says Schrock. “We have an owner who really looks after us and who consider a great friend off the pitch.”
But results on the pitch are just half the story for Ceres. With the AFC Champions League match against Yangon United set to be played at Panaad Stadium on Feb. 5, the club is bracing for another hosting job.
Teams in tournaments of this magnitude subject themselves to strict AFC International Standards with sanctions and fines meted if those are not met.
“It was quite an experience for us because we really just had to learn along the way,” says club administrator Nicolas Golez, who spearheads the local organizing committee for local matches.
“We try our best to make sure that the pitch is in the best condition and improving the lighting at Panaad. It was worth all the hard work when we saw the big crowds for the matches.”
Giving back to fans
Through it all, though, the club has allowed fans free admission to matches, despite all the hard work and the money that is being spent in every international tournament.
It is Yanson’s way of giving back to the fans for the support and his effort to nurture the Negrense fans love and passion for the Beautiful Game.
“I just want the city and the province to be recognized internationally for football,” he says.
“Of course it’s all worth it. To tell you the truth, we are humbled by our results because it’s not easy. We are committed to be the best club that we can be.”
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