LONDON - While the Azkals are receiving recognition for their heroics in The Suzuki Cup, thousands of miles away, players from another Pinoy football team are quietly going about their business as they push for promotion without coaches.
Philippine Football Club (PFC), formerly known as Philippine United Football Club (PUFC), exceeded expectations and convincingly won promotion from Division Two in their maiden campaign last season. The UK's first Pinoy football team looked to build on their success in Division One of the West Hertfordshire League.
Although PFC is currently ranked fourth, indicating a steady progression, the team has had to overcome several set-backs. The unexpected happened. Within the space of three months, three keys figures left the club.
In August, just before the start of the season, Leo Jensen, founder of PUFC, walked away due to personal reasons. He started another team closer to his home in the city of Manchester and in doing so took the original name and emblem of the club with him. Six league games into the season, Head Coach Norman Parkin and Assistant Coach Steve Conroy then followed suit.
The 30th of October proved to be the final straw for the coaches. PFC was due to host league rivals Harpenden Rovers A at their home ground in Watford, just outside of London. Parkin arranged a team meeting to take place before the game to discuss several issues, however several squad members arrived late, which infuriated him.
The coaches departed before kick-off, heading north, home towards Sheffield, 128 miles (206 kilometers) away. The players were shocked and put in a disjointed first half performance, going in at the break trailing two nil. PFC's players managed to regroup during half-time and came out with all guns blazing for the second half. The match ended 4-2 to PFC.
The following day, Parkin sent an email to the team citing tardiness, the lack of solid financial backing and the high number of injured players as reasons for leaving. He even joked he was going to “reserve a private ward at Watford Hospital...lol” for the team.
Parkin and Conroy posted PFC's paperwork to the players shortly afterwards and have not been involved with the club since. Despite what happened, Parkin did say he wished the team well for the future and will continue to support the club by updating the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) in Manila of their progress.
At the time, the players understood why the coaches were angry, but they still felt the decision was rash and slightly unclear.
In the absence of coaches and a secretary, three players have taken the reins and are currently running the club: Vice Captain Renee Banao, Goalkeeper Keith Townsend and Clubman Jesse Arroyo.
Banao said, “I totally understand their frustration at players being late, but injuries are something no player can help”.
Townsend added, “We play in a physical league against players on average twice the size of ours.
“The main reason given was players not turning up on time, which I do sympathize with... when you realize that Norm and Steve were usually there on time despite travelling from Sheffield you can see where they are coming from.
“It is always sad to see managers go, however I cannot agree with their decision. I feel there are more factors to it that have not been expressed”.
Since the departure of the coaches, PFC's record stands at 7 games played, 5 wins, 2 losses. After overcoming the initial shock of losing Parkin and Conroy, there are signs of a positive spirit within the camp.
Arroyo says, “As a team we have replied with great unity – on and off the pitch. Each player believes in the team and our potential to spread and promote football within the community”.
Townsend adds, “In some respects I do feel this is good for the team. We now determine the direction of the club and with us in charge it opens news doors for possibilities”.
PFC's financial situation is safe until the end of the season, but the trio did say the club would welcome any sponsorship to help purchase new team kits. They say they are fine with currently running the club, but they all agree on the need to eventually appoint a new Head Coach to guide the team.
As the season approaches its mid-season Christmas break, the players of PFC are determined to maintain their push for promotion. They are currently fourth in Division One of the West Hertfordshire League. To gain automatic promotion to the Premier Division, PFC needs to finish in either of the two top spots in their division when the season ends in the middle of 2011.
PUFC (now PFC), inaugurated in 2008, was endorsed by former PFF President Jose Mari Martinez. It was formed with the aim of promoting football and to give British-born Filipinos the opportunity to compete in an amateur league. PFC's long term vision was to discover talented UK based Pinoys that could possibly be considered for the Philippine national team, or local teams in the Philippines. To date, one PFC player, Jason Arroyo, has been given the opportunity to train at a boot camp with some members the Philippine national team earlier this year.
Since the recent removal of Martinez, PFC's players have voiced concerns that his departure might be detrimental to their chances of being acknowledged or even noticed by the new PFF regime.
Townsend says: “As much as the Martinez situation is a set back to this project, the players understand that it's business as usual. What counts at the moment is we keep playing football”.
For now, it remains unclear whether interim PFF President Mariano Araneta Jr. will support his predecessor's endorsement of the team.
The PFF is currently caught in the midst of a legal battle following recent news that FIFA, the world governing board of football, will not recognize Araneta as the new PFF President. In a letter from FIFA deputy secretary-general Markis Kattner, the organization said they viewed the ousting illegal and will continue to recognize Martinez as PFF President.
FIFA has called upon the PFF Board of Governors to organize a vote in the near future to decide on who they want to lead the PFF.
Despite all the off-field furore, the Philippine national team is currently preparing for a historic semi-final clash against Indonesia in the Suzuki Cup on the 16th of December. The players of PFC are throwing their support behind the Azkals and they believe a berth in the final of the competition will be a huge step in continuing to promote a sport in the Philippines, which until now has taken a back seat to the likes of basketball and boxing.