THE long wait for the country’s first ever national football league is coming to an end as the Philippines Football League is finally set for takeoff.
With everything in place, the PFL hopes for sustainable success in the latest bid of the sport’s stakeholders in the country to leave a mark and embed the beautiful game in this hoop-crazy nation for good.
The league officially starts on Saturday when Kaya Makati F.C hosts Ceres Negros F.C at UMAK while FC Meralco Manila visits Stallion Laguna F.C in Binan.
“As a player before and as an official, I'm so excited that this is finally coming to reality. Before we're just dreaming about this and now it's a reality,” said Philippine Football Federation president Mariano ‘Nonong’ Araneta.
Years of hardwork and uncertainty in turning that football league dream into reality has finally come to fruition. But despite the satisfaction of seeing the PFL’s grand launch last month, the league’s stakeholders believe the real challenge is just beginning.
“It’s finally here. Day has dawned for a new era in Philippine Football so we’re happy with the way it has gone so far,” said Dan Palami, owner of Global Cebu FC and chief benefactor of the Philippine Azkals.
“I was talking to one of the other owners and after the event I said, now the hard work starts,” he added.
Critics of such a grand project have begun to point out flaws, especially in the marketing side. But the organizers understand that the biggest challenge they face if they hope sustain the dream in the next few months is logistics.
The league’s ambitious home-and-away format has been something that hardcore football fans have long sought, and for good reason. It finally gives the fans from the provinces easier access to a sport that arguably has a larger following in the provinces than in Metro Manila.
But money will have to be spent - not only on travel but for stadium maintenance, security, hotel stays. Other leagues from a different sport have tried that approached and failed, but if it is what it takes to finally get the sport going, then the stakeholders are definitely up for the challenge.
“Primary challenge will be the travel. Because they're gonna be traveling from one end of the country to the other end. Some teams will be tired, but holding matches every weekend will minimize that,” said lawyer Edwin Gastanes, PFF secretary-general.
“But that's the way it should be. Football should be held home and away. It needs to be seen live not only in Metro Manila but in all corners of the country,” he added.
Other stakeholders seem to be more optimistic. Take for example Stallion Laguna F.C. owner and head coach Ernie Nierras.
The outspoken coach expressed confidence that the league, and its member clubs, will sustain operations over the long haul. For him, the activity of the fans, or each team’s ‘Ultras’ will be the key factor in determining how far the league will go.
“The money part, we won't be here if we cannot foot the bill and all the teams are here, they're committed. This is a long-term program,” Nierras said.
“We've been doing this with the UFL for awhile. That cost us money, too. So that won't be much of a difference. The good thing now is that there are potential for main sponsors to come in and that would help the clubs to sustain this,” he added.
The competition between these clubs starts and ends after the final whistle. But the owners and the people behind the league are united in seeing the PFL prosper.
The optimism surrounding this league outweighs the uncertainties and these owners are certainly ready to do everything in order for PFL to grow.
“It's the culmination of the hardwork of the PFF, the former UFL, football alliance and all the team owners,” Nierras continued.
“We're not just putting money, we're putting our effort, reputation, everything on the line just to make this successful. It's important we get together and do what's best for the league.“