Azkals, the name, not the team, is a story about fans

(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Feb. 29 edition)

IN EARLY 2005, a group of Pinoy football fans who met regularly in an online forum came up with a plan, to come up with a nickname for the national team that would compete in the Southeast Asian Games (Seag) that Bacolod would host later that year.

MOVING FORWARD. After announcing the new coach, Freddy Gonzalez (left) said the PFF is dropping the Azkals nickname. (PFF FOTO)

Some may recall the series of fortunate events differently, but this is what I remember, after a series of Animal-based suggestions someone suggested Calle Azul, Streets of Blue, as homage to the Philippine flag, the user even suggested it could be Azul Calle or Azcal for short.

I checked that forum regularly and boy were we a lively community. When I saw that post, I jokingly replied, “Sure we can use Ascal but not for Azul Cale but for Asong Kalye, the street dogs! And in a moment of inspiration, I reasoned (remember, this was 2005), Philippine football doesn’t get the attention from the media and Pinoy fans, yet it survives.

Both Azcal and Askal lost, Azkal won. But the PFF never liked it, that movement only survived when then head coach Aries Caslib posted, “The players will be proud Azkals.” It was a shaky time for the Philippines (remember Hello Garci?), and our Seag team got the preparation it needed, thanks to Pocholo Borromeo, the identified godfather for Seag football.

The media never used it and in 2008, then president Mari Martinez even actively campaigned to have the name changed, the same president who was caught in a scandal. Because it’s football, it was never reported by Manila media.

But everything changed in 2010, when Hanoi happened. Suddenly, the Azkals, the nickname, not just the team, was mainstream.

A few months later, I learned Dan Palami had it trademarked. I asked why and he said it was because it wasn’t trademarked, anyone could beat the PFF to it. But anyone was free to use the name, as the Azkals Sports Bar in Cebu learned.

I think the Azkals—the nickname—achieved what no other movement in the Philippines achieved when I saw an ukay-ukay peddler selling basketball jerseys with the name “Azkals” at the back.

That evoked a smile.

And now the PFF, wants to drop it, and the media will tow the PFF’s line.

Perhaps they will succeed. But to be honest, it’s an unnecessary divide between fans, the PFF and media at a time when fans want to support the new PFF admin.

If the PFF doesn’t like the name, it doesn’t have to use it. It’s that simple. It doesn’t have to justify such divisive plan by mentioning the players’ ethnicity when the name was never about the pedigree of the team but the attitude.

The story of the nickname is the story of how fans got together because of a dream, to do something to get more people to support the team, to make football more popular.

A story the current PFF, through the media, wants to end.

A wrong move because sports fans who can’t tell the difference between a keeper and striker now know who the Azkals are.

What a waste.

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