Send PH Love to the EU
Updated: Nov 19, 2019
By Marilyn Importante, GK Beneficiary and GK Worker
Football is one game often mistaken as a game for the affluent. Over the years, this has been proven wrong by teams who have brought together players regardless of their social status, race or creed, winning game after game because of dedication, teamwork and perseverance. People who play simply because of love for the game. For the 3rd year now, Gawad Kalinga (GK) through Sipag, has been sending deserving kids to Europe, giving them equal opportunities to be globally competitive. Although initially challenged with financial constraints, GK and Kaya FC Academy spearheaded by Coach Thomas Pfyl worked hand in hand to eventually come up with a successful program for the kids. This has shown us that in every endeavor, when lines are not drawn, color is not an issue, wealth is not a starting point, victory is not a far shot.
This is the first time Kaya FC Academy joined GK SipaG to represent the country in a legitimate football tournament overseas to inspire Filipino youth to excel and succeed. Kaya FC Academy has actually been sponsoring GK SipaG kids in its Kaya Football Academy since 2014. The GK SipaG program is a youth leadership and empowerment program that specifically uses sports such as football as a medium and a teaching tool to mold leaders among underprivileged youth through the pillars of values formation, life skills, positive communication, and child rights/protection. These youths were selected not solely based on their athletic ability, but more on their potential to contribute to their community as youth leaders and role models. The kids come from GK neighborhood communities which have no football fields to speak of and most of them train with GK. On their own and considering personal economic conditions, they have no chance to travel abroad to play football, or to even be in the Kaya FC Academy.
More so, to compete in international youth football tournaments. With this lifetime opportunity given to these kids, there is a sense of pride in having to represent their families, their communities and their country, an attestation of resiliency in the midst of poverty.
Recounting our memorable trip - the team’s first stop was in Zurich, Switzerland where the kids had the chance to visit the FIFA Headquarters. We were given a tour around the facility and had the chance to use their locker room and even play in their field where all of the famous football players practice. An amazing experience! When we visited the FIFA Museum, the boys were in awe when they learned that the Philippines is one of the oldest national teams in Asia, as early as 1930. They promised to set a record in football history for the Philippines, looking forward to a better performance with their next game in Bayern Trophy, Germany and scheduled games all over Switzerland.
Arriving in Germany, the weather was warm and the team took a walk to Olympia Park Munich to register. The park which was constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics, almost 40 years have passed but it’s still beautiful. When we arrived to register, at first, the organizers could hardly believe that there was a small local FC from the Philippines that would be joining the International Bayern Trophy. During the tournament, everyone was very welcoming, they also played our national anthem and some called their Filipino friends to support our game. We beat the local German and Italian teams, however we lost the game against the Czech Republic who belonged to a second division team. Losing to a clearly stronger opponent but giving it their best shot was still inspiring and meaningful for the kids.
At the end of the day, they were still winners. On the second day in Germany, the team qualified to play for the Challenge Cup, eventually winning 2nd! This was just one unforgettable and awesome experience.
Some highlights of our trip were the friendly games we had with different clubs in Switzerland:
FC Zürich Academy (FCZ) - we are thankful enough as they were the first team we played with, to set the mood of the kids in joining the Bayern Trophy. We won 3-0 but we called it an expensive victory as we had three injuries that forced our players to rest for at least 5 days before they could play again. Thank you FC Zurich for allowing us to play with your 15U. It’s an honor playing with a club that plays in the Super League, the first tier in the Swiss football league system. The women team of the club is remarkable that Its first team plays since the founding of the Swiss national league in 1970 in the first division.
Grasshopper Club Zürich (GCZ) - we are grateful for a friendly game with Grasshopper-Club Zürich in their home ground at Letzigrund stadium. They gave us a real tough football game — the game that became a benchmark in all of their games for the duration of the trip. Losing the game made the SipaG Kaya FC team work harder. GCZ holds the records for winning the most national championship titles and one of the most recognizable football club in Switzerland as they also hold the most successes in the Swiss Cup tournament, with 19 victories recorded in the competition.
FC Regensdorf – we are blessed that the club allowed us to train many times in their pitches and used their locker room. Playing with their 15U was one of the notable games we had- where at the first half we had zero and they already scored four. On the second half, the boys fought back and ended the game with 4-4. It’s another testament that if you really want something, with hard work and perseverance, nothing is impossible. Coach Thomas said” Let the boys fell, commit mistakes and the learnings will make them better players”.
Grasshopper Club Zürich U17 (Girls) is one of the remarkable experience we had. Indeed, Football is more than just a ball game. It teaches us lessons of perseverance, teamwork, respect and discipline. Our game started at 7:30 pm — temperature kept dropping and the boys had an intense warm-up to keep them going during the game. We were leading with 6-0 and during the second half, Coach Thomas Pfyl said we would play two red cards. It means we would have to proceed with two players less. He said “football is a fair game, we play less to allow our players to play harder and to let our opponent catch up. We are not helping the kids grow if we just let them score.” I can see the boys struggling but no one stopped. Instead, they played tougher and we ended the game at 6-1. The snow fell after the game, confetti of sorts and sweet victory for everyone.
FC Wil 1900 - A day before our flight, we played with a Swiss football club in the town of Wil, east of Switzerland. We were blessed with fine weather and surrounded with Filipino families and friends. Wil was leading with 2-0 but the boys just fought and we were able to score two goals during the first half. It was intense, 2-2 and we couldn’t contain our excitement. Maybe it was because the Filipino community cheered loudly, the boys were able to score one more goal at the last minute.
After all the hard work, we also made sure we had fun.
Switzerland - Besides from the breathtaking view in Unterwasser, Toggenburg where we stayed and friendly friends we met along the way- Sir Martin and the family of Daniel Ress. Another stunning experience we had is the up close and personal with the FC Zürich professional team and had a chance to chat with Marco Schönbächler, their left/right wing. Our aspiring goalkeepers — Reniel, Nathan and Raymond cheered Yanick Brecher while showing up his skills behind the fence. Marco told the boys to just chase their dream and never forget to study hard because it is also important. We also watched the semi-final game of FC Zürich vs FC Basel where everyone witnessed how lively the football fans were, with more than 36 thousand people in attendance and undeniably a crazy day for everyone in the stadium.
Germany - If you heard about Germany- for football fans, they will always think about Allianz Arena. The football stadium in Munich, Bavaria, Germany with a 75,000 seating capacity and where the FC Bayern Munich hold their practices. We had an English tour to the stadium and we were able to enter the locker room of the First Team. We also let the boys watch the live game of VfB Stuttgart vs Borussia M’gladbach together with more than 50 thousand spectators. But it’s not all about football — we also visited the famous Europa Park, Germany’s largest theme park where we let the boys enjoy time whiling away with unlimited roller coaster rides.
We cannot contain our happiness — this one of the lifetime experience which was not possible without the support of Kaya FC academy coaches and parents, Pioneer Insurance, GK USA, GK Europe through Olivier Girault, the donors of #SendPHlovetoEU and to the Filipino family and friends in Switzerland and Austria.
On behalf of #SipaGKayaFC — thank you!