A major chapter of Philippine football has come to a close.
A week ago, James Younghusband surprised many with his sudden announcement to leave the sport. In an Instagram post, he expressed his gratitude to everyone who became a part of his success.
Now, both him and Phil, who bid goodbye last November, have officially hung up their cleats.
Theirs were illustrious and unforgettable careers that put Philippine football on the map. Phil retired as the Philippines’ most successful goal-scorer with 52 international goals. James also built quite a résumé, earning 101 caps and scoring 12 goals while representing the flag. Locally, they equally triumphed and reached the apex with their professional clubs. For the longest time, they became the faces of a sport that once longed to escape from obscurity.
As the main protagonists of football’s rise in the country, they were part of many historic moments and reached different milestones with the national team. These include two of our biggest victories: the “Miracle in Hanoi”, which skyrocketed the Azkals into mainstream fame and the momentous win against Tajikistan that ushered the Philippines into the AFC Asian Cup for the first time.
They are considered as humongous achievements not just in their careers, but for Philippine football in general.
But looking back, the brothers agree on a stint that paved the way for them. A moment that gave them that craving to come back and don the country’s colors consistently in the international stage. They recalled on a recent “Crossover” podcast how their first tournament in the Philippines swayed them into staying here for good.
Fifteen years ago, Phil and James were called up to participate in the under-23 division of the 2005 Southeast Asian Games, making their first appearance as part of the national squad.
Prior to joining, they spent most of their young careers playing for Chelsea FC’s youth team in the UK. When they got here, they understandably had difficulty with the transition.
James said: “When we first arrived, we weren’t used to the training camps. Especially when we came to tryout for the national team. Me, personally, I struggled with jetlag. I also struggled with the heat conditions. And then when we first came for the training camp, we weren’t used to the intensity. It took me a while to get used to it. Those three weeks before the camp were tough, but looking back, we really appreciate it. Just getting used to the culture and the Philippine football coach.”
Seeing that this was the case, the local football coaches made sure to give them that famous Filipino hospitality.
Phil narrated: “Coach Aris (Caslib), his staff, and all the players, they really made us feel at home even though, to be honest, we were feeling very homesick. We were 7,000 miles away. We weren’t in Manila. It was our third time in Bacolod. We weren’t even in Bacolod City, we were an hour outside the city, so we felt very lonely. We have to give credit to the players and the staff for how they made us feel because they did everything in their power to make us feel at home.”
But the hardships, as it turned out, were a buildup for what’s coming. During the tournament proper, they were greeted by passionate football fans who packed the venues and eagerly watched them play.
“When we first played in front of the Panaad audience, we didn’t expect it to be that busy. And I think that’s when we really fell in love with the Philippine supporters. Thirty-thousand people. People willing to climb trees to watch the games. It really was a fantastic experience,” James said.
His brother echoed the same sentiments.
“When we got to the tournament and we saw our kababayans, supporting us, the full stadiums . . . Everything that we felt was tough. It was meant to be tough, because we were coming from a different culture, a different style of play, a different mindset. But when we saw the crowds of people, the games, that made us so happy,” Phil said.
The Filipinos’ relentless support in that tourney apparently made every future decision to come back easier.
They didn’t end up at the podium that year, but what they gained was more than any other medal can give.
“I don’t think we realize what role we were gonna play. At that time we were really proud to play for the Philippines,” James said.
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