part TWO of my football story: stepping back from the abyss of azkal maniaPosted: November 28, 2011
As the appointment to the position of PFF Treasurer is made by the PFF’s Board of Governors (BOG), it took a while for my joining the PFF to happen as the next BOG meeting was scheduled at the end of April. Nonong essentially had to ask individual members of the BOG for authority to make an interim appointment in my case until this could be formalized at the BOG meeting. I also surmised that with Nonong’s own appointment as PFF President continuing to be challenged by the ousted president, he did not want to act unilaterally.
In the meantime, I had started to ask questions about the circumstances surrounding the departure of the previous president and treasurer. Upon the advice of well-meaning friends, it was imperative that I at least know what I was getting into. This was a little difficult at first because there were so many stories floating around. The people at the PFF were also thick into the preparations for the first leg of the Challenge Cup match at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod against Mongolia.
Eventually I gathered that the alleged financial shenanigans involved the siphoning off of about P3.1 million from the PFF coffers. This only includes the amount which could be documented to form the basis of a legal case meaning that the total amount involved could actually have been more. The money was transferred to the personal account of the PFF Treasurer for what was termed as “safekeeping”. When the PFF started missing the payment of bills, the BOG through its Finance Committee launched an investigation which uncovered the transfer of funds. When asked to explain, the president and the treasurer only made vague references to the amount being in investments. The two were asked to return the money to the PFF and when they were unable to do so, the BOG voted to remove them from office. A civil case is currently pending in court against the previous treasurer. The BOG opted to defer the filing of a case against the previous president for humanitarian reasons after learning of his serious health problems. (Note: I am only able to write about this as the filing of a court case makes this information publicly available. The respondents are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law).
I eventually began work at the PFF in the first week of March. I also got to meet the new Finance Committee Chairman Jun Pacificador of the Laguna FA who was instrumental in many of the initiatives that we were able to implement. The first task was to assess the true financial state of the Federation and what I found was initially bleak. Bills from the hosting of the match against Mongolia were coming due and funds were forthcoming but as of yet, unavailable. We had to scramble a bit by rescheduling some of these bills and we were eventually able to secure assistance from the Presidential Management Staff to tide us over. This was the only direct financial support that the PFF received from the government and while significant at that time given our precarious financial state, it eventually ended up accounting for less than 2% of what the PFF spent for the year.
The second task was to assess the procedural protocols of the Federation in the release of funds. The objective was two-fold. The first was to find out where the deficiencies were and how these led to the problems of the previous administration and secondly, to set up policies and procedures to ensure that the chances of this happening again would be minimized.
Two important things happened or were happening around this time. The first was the signing of the partnership agreement with Smart Communications which facilitated the release of P8 million which was budgeted for the Smart Club Championships, support for the national team and grassroots programs. This helped significantly alleviate our funding issues which at this time was focused on supporting the Men’s National Team. The Azkals were in Japan preparing for the second leg of their Challenge Cup match against Mongolia this time in UlaanBataar. This was the other important thing.
Fresh from their thrashing of Mongolia during the match in Bacolod, the team was in high spirits heading into the second leg. Nonong had invited me to accompany him (at my expense, of course) to Mongolia. The day before our departure, Japan suffered the disastrous earthquake and the tsunami that it unleashed. One of the hardest hit cities was Fukushima. Our team was supposed to have trained in the Fukushima facility of the Japanese Football Association (JFA). Through some twist of fate, our team ended up instead in Gotemba as the Fukushima Training Center was unavailable.
Our team, though shaken, was okay. We did have a couple of players who got stuck on their planes (Simon Greatwich and I forget the other one) which landed as or soon after the earthquake hit. Through the remarkable effort of the JFA, our team was eventually able to leave for Mongolia two days before the match. I related some of the experiences with the earthquake as well as Ray Jonsson’s 30-hour odyssey to Mongolia in a previous post – the philippine azkals and their continuing search for home. Our group which included Nonong, Dan Palami and some of our players’ parents was finally able to leave for Mongolia on the day before the match.
Mongolia was cold. After a long flight from Manila via Incheon, we arrived in UlaanBataar – the capital of Mongolia close to midnight. It was probably 20 degrees below zero. Our exit from the terminal was also delayed by Mongolian officials initially denying entry to Ray Jonsson as I relate in a previous post. Upon our arrival at our hotel, we were met by Philippine camera crews with their bright lights who had arrived earlier and were seeking interviews with Nonong, Dan and Ray.
The game was set at midday purportedly to take advantage of “warmer” conditions. As most things in the world are, everything is relative. “Warmer” in the Mongolian winter meant 5 degrees below zero. I woke up early and joined the team for breakfast. At the team meeting after breakfast, I was first introduced to the team. The meeting was largely handled by Coach Michael Weiss with the assistance of Chieffy Caligdong who did the overview of the offense and goalkeeper Eduard Sacapano who did the defense. After a light lunch, we were off to the stadium.
The stadium wasn’t particularly large – maybe 10,000 capacity. I sat in the stands with about 50 other loud and raucous Filipinos. That was apparently half the number of Filipinos in UlaanBataar. These OFWs toil in the frozen tundra of Mongolia as accountants for the mining companies, as entertainers and in other service industries. After the game, some players even walked into a restaurant with a Filipino band playing.
Our team got off to an awesome start when James Younghusband scored in the 4th minute. It was downhill from there, however, as the biting cold took the measure of our players. A couple of defensive lapses led to a penalty and another goal. We lost 2-1 but it could have been worse had it not been for the otherwise stellar play of Eduard in goal in place of the unavailable Neil Etheridge.
While the result allowed our team to advance to the next round of the competition due to having scored more goals (we won 2-0 in Bacolod) in the two-leg match, the mood in the team bus on the way back to the hotel was depressingly quiet. Despite the conditions and the challenges of getting to UlaanBataar in the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan, the team felt it should have won this game.
We arrived in Manila two days later at around 1 am. This was after another eventful trip back which almost had Ray missing our connecting flight in Beijing.
Waiting in Manila were KPMG auditors who had come to inspect the PFF’s books in the wake of the previously mentioned financial improprieties. FIFA provides the PFF and all other national football associations with $250,000 annually under its Financial Assistance Program (FAP). The use of FAP funds is strictly regulated. It can only be used for certain items. This was what the auditors were checking up on. Their report to FIFA would determine whether the PFF was going to receive its FAP allotment for 2011.
The problem was that the PFF could not really challenge the findings of the auditors which did point to the irregularities. The facts are the facts – so to speak. The PFF BOG had used these same irregularities as the basis for the removal of the previous president and the previous treasurer. I eventually answered their request for comment by saying that while we agreed with the findings, the new PFF administration should not be held liable for acts committed over which it had no control over. We included in the letter the actions taken by the PFF which included the removal of the officials responsible and the codification of policies and procedures meant to address the structural deficiencies which led to the misappropriation of the funds.
FIFA eventually agreed to release the FAP funds after finding merit in our position.
Our team went to the next stage of the Challenge Cup in Myanmar. This successful campaign included one win and two draws. The result allowed us to move to the final round of the Challenge Cup to be held in Nepal in March of next year. It was also around this time that the Kaholeros were born.
The Challenge Cup games in Myanmar were only shown on a delayed basis due to restrictions imposed by the host country. My brother invited me to watch the replay of the final game against Bangladesh at the National Sports Grill (NSG) in Greenbelt. He, in turn, had been invited by Ebong Joson aka “the Blue-Haired Fanatic”. Ebong and my brother had watched the game in Bacolod together. It was in Bacolod where Ebong in his blue-wigged regalia ran across the Panaad pitch (a big NO NO) and was briefly detained by the police in their own full-battle gear. After his brief detention, Ebong went on the crash the victory party of the team later that night.
I had always harbored the idea that our team should have a dedicated booster squad. My model was Sam’s Army – the booster squad of the US Men’s National Soccer Team. Members of Sam’s Army travel the world in their distinctive colors to watch and cheer for the American team. My first thought was to maybe just have a school-based booster squad (e.g. the Blue Babble Battalion) play this role at least for our home matches.
Seeing Ebong at NSG that night, however – something just clicked. Who better to lead and form the Azkals booster squad than someone who actually got arrested in the exercise of his fanaticism. While his alleged inebriated state at that time may have slightly impaired his mental faculties – still :-). Whatever the case may be, I ended up asking Ebong whether he wanted to do this. Ebong’s reaction was like a fish taking to water, a bird learning to fly, etcetera, etcetera – in other words, it was a natural. The rest, as they say, is history. The Kaholeros have grown to become a force of 500 at our home matches with chapters all over the country and even in Singapore. Great job Mr. Fanatic!
Finally, at the end of March, the draw for the Asian Preliminaries for the 2014 FIFA World Cup was held. We had drawn Sri Lanka as our opponent in the first round. We were going to host a World Cup Qualification match – the first one in over 10 years. The question was – where?