The Beautiful Game Where the Players Have to Swap Boots at Halftime
A Soccer Dispatch From Abroad That Every Player and Parent Should Read
The incredible attributes of the round stitched object we call a football has been well documented all over the world.
It has broken down walls, it negates language, it crosses cultures and class systems. The moment you put that ball on the floor everything melts away - wealth, poverty, class, pain, hunger, language and race. They all cease to matter.
As a missionary in the Philippines, I have witnessed this first hand. I was born and raised in England where the love and passion for the game is mandatory and later moved to Southern California where I was involved in the AYSO and special needs football programs. Having lived on 3 continents and experienced football in each, I cant help but find myself asking some serious questions about the game in the West. It's not that the football is bad, on the contrary the football is quite excellent, however with the money, expertise, facilities and equipment available to the average person on the street quite frankly it should be.
The Philippines are a long long way from having many if any of the facilities we take for granted in the West. The first would be a piece of flat ground without animals grazing on it. Stateside, you can go most anywhere and play on pristine grass and astro surfaces, most of which could easily grace the home grounds of many lower league clubs in the U.K..
Here things are quite different.
I coach here firstly as a means to help the kids out, to get involved in their lives. It’s a chance to get to know them and learn how life plays out for the average kid. As you would expect its very different from the highly organized AYSO and club scene in SO Cal. Spartans F.C here in Dumaguete City is a mixture of young and older kids. It's not a proper club, the kids chose the name because they thought Spartan warriors were cool and tough, good enough reason I suppose. It's just a name; there’s no kit, no clubhouse, backpacks, training strips or fancy water bottles or even a field for that matter - not much of anything at all, just the common bond of playing for a team and a sense of camaraderie.
Many of the kids are from the poorest neighborhoods in the town. Most don’t have boots, or socks, certainly not shin guards (most use cardboard) and I don’t know of one child who owns his own ball. Well that’s not true, there is one and that’s because I gave it to him. A handful own shorts and/or shirts, but most borrow to play and practice in.
Nevertheless, the sentiment is the same the world over; if Messi wears it, you buy it and it’s a given it will automatically make you a better player. These kids only dream of owning the Messi or Ronaldo shirts and boots that have become an expensive luxury the world over. These kids turn up to practice in flip flops ( AKA chinela). I routinely dump out some 30 pair of different size boots (donated by friends at FOBD - Field Of Broken Dreams, the name of the team I played with in Orange County). Some of the lucky ones will find a pair that fits! Most don’t but are just happy to be wearing boots and not going barefoot. People don’t generally own socks because they wear flip flops most of the time.
Shin guards have been a source of amusement on several occasions, not least was a recent game I attended where I was with the coach of the local high school team, many of whom I had coached. The Ref lined the teams up on the cow field for inspection. It quite literally had a horse and goats grazing behind the goal. The Ref noticed that 2 players had no shin guards and the cry "hala" went up (which is a word exclaiming a "Oh, bummer" or a sense of shock). No sooner had the words left their mouths they shot off into the woods behind the goal (the one with the grazing horse who by now was very intrigued) and I soon heard cracking and the sound of splintering wood. They appear a few moments later looking very pleased with themselves. I was dumb founded. They had found a bamboo plant, broken it off and split it in half somehow and had ready made wooden shin guards. I have to say they didn’t look overly comfortable and at the conclusion of the game my observations were born true as both players had red grooves running up their shins.
The Ref however thought they were good enough to play in. I gave it 10 out of 10 for ingenuity, but although a sustainable natural product and biodegradable I just don’t think they will catch on, unless maybe they could be sold with band aids!
Substitutions here can be a lengthy affair due to the fact the subs often do not have boots, so on a few occasions the departing playing has to remove his socks and boots and shin guards to exchange with the oncoming player.
This takes time but has a drawback in as much as you can only switch boots with players with the same sized feet. This in reality does not happen, its almost for sure they won't fit. Either way, making boots fit using sweaty socks and wearing bamboo shin guards these kids are raring to go!
You see, they don’t live with the notion that they cant play because they don’t have the latest boots and paraphernalia, the latest shirts and fitness trackers. They know when they have run a lot when they just cant run anymore, it's simple really. There's no computer or smartphone required - just run 'til you cant do it anymore.
It’s a far cry from the polished and affluent world of club soccer in the USA. Even AYSO is light years ahead and would put it all to shame here.
But despite all the commercialism that surrounds football it is still just a game. These kids just want to play football with their friends. We live in a consumer society in the West that convinces us that we would play better with lots of fancy equipment, but I beg to differ. I’m pretty sure that Messi in a pair of Speedos wearing flip flops would still run rings around most of the finest in the world. So is it really the stuff or the player that counts? For me it’s the player, for me it’s the heart that counts.
These kids have very little in life and quite honestly don’t have much to look forward to. My job here as a missionary is to try to give them some enjoyment in an otherwise harsh and cruel world. I try to give them some hope and let them know that they do matter and that they have a future and that someone cares. I use the Bible as my teaching guide to them as I am a Christian and believe that God cares for them and calls me to care for them also. That’s my mission here not just with these kids but people wherever they come from and whatever age. It just so happens I love football and these kids love playing - a match made in heaven, quite literally.
NOTE: If you would like to donate towards Simon's ministry, you can send checks payable to Simon and Leah Young to PO Box 4256, San Clemente, 92674.
Or you can go on the website www.pastoraltraining.org and look for the Youngs page for more information and donation details.