Miguel Larrauri is a football devotee. He’s more than a follower—he’s a zealot, fanatic, activist. He worships the football on an altar. Last December 15, Miguel flew to Jakarta. He watched the PHL Azkals play the Indonesian team in Game One of the AFF Suzuki Finals. From Cebu, he was, quite possibly, the only person to witness the game first-hand.
“I have experienced many football games in my life including a championship between bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barca in the Camp Nou,” said Miguel, “but it could not compare to the atmosphere inside the Stadium Utama Gelora Bung Karno.”
When I asked Miguel how much he adores the game of Pele and Maradona, his email reply summed it all: “I LOVE FOOTBALL!!!! I have loved it ever since I first played football. You see, I come from a family of football players. I don’t mean just my immediate family members, but even my cousins and close family friends. We would play in the beach or any park we could play in.”
The excursion to Jakarta? “I got myself to Indonesia to watch our boys play because I really felt they could beat them. I wanted to watch the eliminations in Vietnam but could not go due to work. My brother and I helped arrange the team meeting with President Noynoy Aquino on Monday, Dec. 13, in Malacañang Palace.
“Then, we had dinner with the team that evening in The Fort. I stayed with the team in the Sultan Hotel in Jakarta and watched them train. I could only watch the first game but that was good enough for me. The team was very positive and truly believed they could beat the Indonesians. Sadly, the Indonesian team had twelve players on the field versus our 11. By that, I mean the crowd in that stadium. They truly love their team and they will boo you to death.
“I came out of the dugout with the Philippine flag over my shoulders before the game and the crowd booed me as if I was giving them the finger. I literally had to wear a jacket to cover my Philippine jersey to get to my seat or else the crowd might just throw something at you. Luckily I was staying in the VIP section and the president of Indonesia was five rows behind me. Getting out of the stadium was another story. If we won, it would have been very dangerous but ‘El Loco’ Gonzales made sure it did not end that way.”
In our talk yesterday while he was vacationing in Boracay, Miguel described the Jakarta experience as frightening. The trip from the hotel to the football stadium, he said, was only a five-minute walk. But the players took the bus, complete with police escort, and it took them 30 minutes.
“All the streets, all around, everywhere,” Miguel said, “it was filled with Indonesians. And, believe me, I never saw ‘the finger’ so much in my life! These Indonesians fans were rowdy. It was scary.”
That Game One morning, the Azkals assistant coach Aris visited the stadium. “He made a mistake by wearing the Philippine jersey,” said Miguel. “He was chased by about 10 to 15 Indonesians straight to the hotel!”
Miguel, who played football varsity for Ateneo de Manila University for 12 years (“from Grade 4 until I graduated in college,” he said), wanted to celebrate his team by painting the PHL flag on his cheeks. Absolutely not! he was warned.
Even the Filipinos in Jakarta, knowing the craze and fanaticism of football in Indonesia, were cautious with their cheering for the Azkals. “After that first game, as expected, our players were kinda down. Etheridge felt guilty; there was a miscommunication between him and the defense that resulted in Gonzales’ goal. It was so loud inside the stadium,” said Miguel. “After the game, I arranged for a team dinner with the expat community. We ate at a German restaurant called Die Stube. There was a big community of Filipinos there. But, here’s the funny part. Many of the Filipinos did not watch the game live. They were scared. Many were told not to go. Instead, they gathered in a coffee shop to watch. Everybody was praning.”
FULL INTERVIEW WITH MIGUEL:
“I love football!!!! I have loved it ever since I first played football. You see, I come from a family of football players. I don’t mean just my immediate family members, but even my cousins and close family friends. We would play in the beach or any park we could play in. luckily I went to school in ATENEO DE MANILA and we had BROTHER OZCARIS there. He formed Lightning Football and this is what made ATENEO produce a lot of good players. It was called lightning football cause it was fast and short football. It was played during lunch time in the Ateneo grade school field. We only had 15 minutes to play. It was classroom vs. classroom and I was the top scorer almost every year. Brother Ozcaris noticed me right away and asked me to join the RIFA MIDGETS C TEAM when I was grade 4. Well, from that year until the year I graduated from college, I played every year in the varsity team of ATENEO. That was for 12 great years!
“When I went to high school, my mentor became Cris Monfort and this guy believed in me. He took time off to train me just by himself and this really boosted my self confidence. On my second year in high school, he accelerated me from Aspirant B (taking me away from my batch mates who I had been playing with since grade school) to the Candidates team which was usually all seniors. To make things even more difficult for me, he made me first eleven and put me as the winger or right forward position. I was not really a skilled dribbler or had fancy footwork. What I had was pure speed and a killer’s instinct to score a goal. During the COKE GO FOR GOAL tournament in Barotac, I played for the NCR team and I scored my 2 most memorable goals of my life in one game there. Playing in Barotac is one hell of an experience for a young boy. First of all, unlike in manila where maybe 20 people will watch a game, in Barotac 2000 people will watch a game and even the lolas will know what an offside trap is. Over there, if you were good, the kids will ask for your autograph, just in case you get famous in the future.
“In college, my mentor was not only Cris Monfort, but also Bert Honasan. I played for the Ateneo UAAP team for 4 great years. I never won a UAAP medal for football but I actually won 2 UAAP medals for track and field, both in the 4×100 meter relay. GO FIGURE. After college, I joined first division and kept playing competitively till I got married. I even formed a couple of first division teams like LE COQ SPORTIF, MEGAWORLD, EMPIRE EAST, and ICTSI. I played one year in the Philippine Youth team and 2 years in the men’s team. My football days kinda ended when I broke my back and my L4 vertebrae started to subloxate or move interiorly. But my passion for football never ended.
“I always supported the Philippine team and actually would hire some of them to play in the first division teams I formed. During the 2006 SEAG games, I went to Bacolod to support the azkals. During that tournament, we already had the so called FIL-AMS (I don’t understand why they were referred to as that when they were mostly from England) like the Younghusband brothers. Aly Borromeo was already in the team then and he was actually my teammate a few years earlier when he joined our team during the MINI WORLD CUP in Nomads.”
HOW WILL THE AZKALS’ SUCCESS IMPACT PHIL. FOOTBALL?
“The result was huge, huge. I’ve never seen this kind of attention on Phil. football. The games were shown on TV. During the Suzuki Cup, the bars and restaurants were full—everyone was watching. It was like a Manny Pacquiao fight. In fact, the ratings during those games were higher than the PBA games. Plus, the Mizuno shirts were all sold out. This is nice to see. What’s important is this: we should not let go of the momentum.”