JEROME Clemente often works the afternoon shift at a call center along Quezon Ave., usually taking off at 7 p.m. at the earliest. But on Saturday, the 27-year-old Malabon native clocked out early to make it to the Smart-Araneta Coliseum in time for Gilas Pilipinas’ game against Singapore that tipped off at 7 o’clock.
“Pang-hapon (ako), pero nagpa-adjust lang ako ng schedule ngayon para makapunta tayo dito,” Clemente said in a chat with SPIN.ph a few minutes after he reached the Big Dome.
He and fellow like-minded people usually make that small sacrifice during football matches of the national team as members of Ultras Filipinas, one of the renowned and most organized booster squads in the country.
But on this night and the next few nights, they cheered at the top of their lungs not for the Azkals but for their basketball counterparts in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (Seaba) Championship.
They cheer unconditionally, paying for their own tickets to watch the matches live. But this time, Clemente said he coordinated with Sports5 president Patricia Hizon, who gave the group complimentary tickets for the duration of the tournament.
“Ininsist niya na bigyan kami ng ticket,” Clemente said. “Kung hindi kami binigyan, okay lang din sa amin. Bibili kami ng tickets. Mas prefer namin yun actually, para maiwasan yung pupunta lang para sa libreng ticket. Ayaw namin ng ganun. Parang manufactured yung ganun eh.”
“As much as possible, yung unwritten code ng mga Ultras sa ibang bansa, gagayahin natin,” he added.
In the first three Gilas games, the Ultras Filipinas' infectious cheer brought life to dull, lopsided games. The group even starting human waves around the Big Dome, and turned on their flashlights that sway the rest of the fans to try it out as well, creating a daze firefly effect inside the venue.
The Ultras can go on and on, actually. They’re used to cheering for much longer as football matches run for ninety minutes almost without disruption, unlike basketball games where stoppages are common.
“Ang daming interruption dito eh: may PA system, yung announcer maya’t-maya, so medyo natatabunan yung pag-cheer natin,” Clemente, brother of former national Under-11 youth team booter and now San Beda high school standout Shane Clemente, admitted.
“Yung mga Ultras songs talaga, mas bagay sa football, kasi dere-deretso dun, walang hinto eh,” he added. “Hihinto ka lang pag naka-goal, pag magce-celebrate.”
Their songs certainly sounded appropriate with Gilas as well, with their “Hala Bira! Ang bumangga, tiyak magigiba!” cheer aptly describing how the Filipino dribblers have bulldozed their way past the opposition so far, posting a winning margin of 69.6 points in the first three games.
One thing they like about cheering during basketball games is their voices are heard better compared to cheering at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
“Ang difference lang naman ay indoor ‘to at outdoor yun,” Don Vacalares said. “Kumbaga naa-amplify yung ingay kasi kulob. Mas madaling tatalbog.”
“Energy level lang para lang may gana din yung players natin, madagdagan natin yung energy nila, kasi dapat sixth man tayo,” he added. “Kaya yun ang sinusubukan namin gawin dito.”
It's the more the merrier for Ultras Filipinas, which was why it welcomes people of varying ages and from different backgrounds, like Nathan Rojas, an eight-year-old Ginebra fan, who joined their cheers.
“Gusto ko lang (sumali),” the Grade 3 student said. “Medyo po nakakapagod, pero nage-enjoy.”
While they understandably get drained, Gilas stars are definitely getting more spring in their step with Ultras Filipinas egging them on.
“Nakakagana, syempre,” June Mar Fajardo said. “Sila din yung parang binu-boost nila energy namin as well as yung kumpiyansa namin.”
“Grabe suporta, nakakatuwa lang,” the reigning PBA MVP of San Miguel Beer added. “Sana ipagpatuloiy nila pagsuporta at the same i-include kami sa prayers nila.”
Clemente, an Ultras member since 2011 and now one of the booster squad’s leaders, is hoping their support of Gilas would encourage hoop fans to do the same for football, still a growing sport in the country.
“Magandang exposure ‘to sa grupo,” Clemente, a basketball and Johnny Abarrientos fan who shifted to football at the start of the Azkals’ rise in 2010, admitted. “Yung football circle, medyo maliit lang yun, so mas maraming audience dito. Hopefully, yung mga basketball fans, ma-reciprocate yung suporta natin sa football.
“May bago tayong liga, ‘di ba? So hopefully, kung ano yung ginagawa namin dito, sana sila at least makanood ng PFL maski sa TV o mas maganda sa stadium,” he added. “Ano lang, share your support – quid pro quo.”