LONDON – Last season, only superior goal difference saved Philippine Football Club (PFC) from being relegated in the West Hertfordshire League, north of London.
The UK's first amateur Pinoy team, who compete in Division 1, are determined to make sure they are not in the same position again by the end of this campaign.
PFC kicked off the 2012-2013 season on September 1 at their home ground in Watford.
The British Filipinos faced the Oxhey Jets, who dropped down from the Premier Division last term.
PFC began the brighter side and nearly went up within the first five minutes. A strike from the edge of the box by forward Raymond Tordecilla steered just wide of the post.
Oxhey settled into a rhythm, testing PFC's fullbacks with raking diagonal balls. Their pressure eventually paid off when left-back Cliff Gay-ya tripped an Oxhey player in the box. Oxhey converted the spot kick to go up 1-nil.
PFC almost produced an immediate response when another shot from Tordecilla, which was creeping into the bottom corner, was deflected out.
The Pinoys came close again after some neat passing on the edge of Oxhey's box created an opportunity for central midfielder Michael Cepillo. The PFC captain's side-footed strike forced a smart reaction save from the keeper, who tipped the ball over the crossbar.
Oxhey started to command proceedings and looked the more dangerous side, enjoying most of their success down the left wing.
PFC struggled to retain possession and sat deep as Oxhey piled forward. When PFC did win back the ball, there was a lack of support for their man furthest up the pitch – Mark Manangan – who was often isolated.
PFC reminded Oxhey the match was far from over though when attacking midfielder Chris Merca pinched the ball in the final third. He passed it to Tordecilla whose tight angled shot was pushed onto the post by the goalkeeper.
The teams went in at the half with Oxhey 1-nil up.
PFC started the second half slow and if it weren't for three superb saves by stopper Engelbert Cepillo, the score would've been 4-0.
Then, PFC sprung into life. The next few moments turned the match completely on its head.
After an Oxhey attack broke down, PFC launched a swift counter, which led to a two-on-one opportunity. Manangan squared the ball to Tordecilla, who side-stepped before drilling the ball into the bottom corner. 1-all.
Within a minute after kick-off, Tordecilla struck the post again. The ball fell kindly to Manangan who slotted home the rebound. 2-1 to PFC.
Manangan grabbed his second of the day shortly after when he beat the off-side trap. The make-shift striker rounded the keeper before scoring. 3-1.
In an attempt to bounce back, Oxhey changed formation and played three up front. They lumped high balls into the box, hoping to take advantage of their height over the Pinoys.
Confusion in the PFC box following a free-kick led to an Oxhey goal. 3-2 to PFC.
Oxhey continued to rely on their aerial threat up to the end of the game. It nearly paid off in the final second when a free-kick drifted to PFC's backpost. An Oxhey player got on the end of it, but miscued.
After last season's poor showing, coupled by a lack of players, PFC recruited a few new members in the off-season.
Manangan, who received the man of the match award, is pleased PFC won their campaign opener considering the circumstances.
“It was a new team. There are new players in the squad so we're just starting to gel with each other again. It's another season where we are starting from the beginning, building the team up,” he said.
“Hopefully we'll have a whole lot of other players to play throughout the season. We'll see how we go. Hopefully we'll get promotion this time around,” Manangan added.
Manangan usually plays in the central holding midfield role for PFC, but he relished his time up front in the game against Oxhey. He hopes it will continue.
“It was good to be playing football again, especially with PFC, with the Filipinos. I'm just enjoying it now. Just hope to be playing up front for the rest of the season,” he said.
Goalkeeper Engelbert Cepillo, who kept PFC in the game with some big saves, feels the team's fitness and resilience played its part.
“Today was a good day. We had a slow start in the first half, but in the end we pulled through. Second half we dominated, as usual, and the domination paid off. It was a good win in the end,” Cepillo said.
PFC's poor showing last season was attributed to a number of factors like injuries, lack of depth, not enough training and the changing of coaching personnel.
Most of PFC's players also made a mid-season trip to the Philippines, which they admit compromised their league position.
Manangan believes PFC's final position last season is not an accurate reflection of the team's true abilities.
“We are a lot better as a football side and we've proved that we can be there with the best of them,” he said.
“I don't see why we can't progress this season. Hopefully go into the Premier League now,” he added.
The 2012-2013 season is PFC's fourth in the West Herts League.
There are 12 teams in Division One. The top two at the end of the season move up to the Premier Division, whilst the bottom two are relegated.
Endorsed by former PFF President Mari Martinez, PFC was created with the purpose of giving British Pinoys a venue to play, and to spot talent that could be considered for local teams, or even the Philippine national team.
Currently, three of PFC's attackers – Jason Arroyo, Ben Tolete and Aaron De Rama – are training in the Philippines, aiming to get signed by a United Football League (UFL) side.