I love getting to commentate the games of the Azkals for ABS-CBN. But I love being a fan of the team as well.
Ever since I got the commentary gig in February of 2011 I have basically been at work during Azkals games. It's fun work, but work nonetheless.
When I learned that AKTV, and not ABS-CBN, would be covering the games, I was thrilled beyond belief. Freed of my commentary duties, I would be able to be an ordinary fan once again. The last time I watched an Azkals game live as a fan was in 2006, when I traveled to Bacolod and saw them beat Cambodia 1-0.
I wasn't going to let this opportunity pass. It was time to make the most of it and let it all hang out.
Wearing outrageous and outlandish outfits to games is a time-honored tradition for Football fans. It's a colorful way of expressing your fanaticism for your team. And Pinoy Football fans have followed suit. I've seen multicolored wigs, all manner of face paint, and gigantic sunglasses at Azkals games. I've also seen massive letters painted on bodies, like in Cebu when we hosted Singapore. Chuck Severino's dog mascot outfit also deserves a special mention.
But I yearned for a fan outfit that reflected our uniquely Filipino culture and heritage. I'm proud of my country and I'm not afraid to show it in a Football game. So I went with the bahag.
First I had to make sure that no one would get offended by my wearing it. I asked Pinoy MMA star Kevin Belingon, a proud Igorot, if it would be okay and he gave me the green light.
Ebong Joson, the Blue Haired Fanatic, was originally supposed to join myself and Craig Burrows in this bahaggery, but grown-up responsibilities with the team prevented him from joining.
I picked up the last bahag from Tesoro's Makati, along with the headdress from Kalinga and the Philippine flag beaded necklace.
Craig and I wrapped the loincloths around us in my hotel room while I fueled myself with gulps of cheap Thai rum mixed with Coca-Cola.
There were plenty of technical issues with my bahag. It just kept on slipping and sliding down my nonexistent tisoy ass. Fortunately Mark Ypon, Craig's dear friend and personal assistant, was, er, how shall I say, brave, in squatting down behind me and making sure that those issues got resolved with safety pins. A good man, this Mark fellow. A real trooper.
Once we were all kitted up we trooped outside and took the short cab ride to the stadium, where we were greeted by Pinoy fans, among them the Kaholeros, or Azkals cheering squad. Naturally, an orgy of picture-taking ensued.
I meet three young Pinays who live in Thailand. Two of them are nurses. I'm surprised to learn that Pinay nurses are in demand even in Thailand. It seems their English-language skills are needed for Thailand's burgeoning Medical Tourism industry.
We trooped in to the stadium under a soft but steady rain and took our place in section E6. I meet parents of Rob Gier, Bob and Rose.
It's time for the anthem. I hold aloft my Azkals scarf and sing. I'm a pretty good singer but not tonight. It's hard to sing when you're overwhelmed by emotion and are holding back tears. I've traveled so far just to look like a fool in a Football game, all for the love of my country and this team.
Behind me the Kaholeros' giant Philippine flag is unfurled as the Lupang Hinirang sounds.
The game kicks off and we spring into voice with cheers of "Pi-li-pi-nas" (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap) and "Lets go Azkals, lets go!" among others.
Rajamangala is a cavernous venue, with around 40,000 seats and very little protection from the elements. You're rather far from the action because of the track, but the excellent lighting helps a great deal. Click on the panorama for a zoomed-in view.
Astonishingly, the game is nowhere near a sellout. Thai fans fill up some space on our side of the stadium and a lot of space behind one goal. But they are loud and proud, with organized chanting, drums, and massive banners.
A few minutes before the half Thailand scores twice in quick succession and the air goes out of our little party.
At halftime I repair to the bathroom. A few Thai fans smile at me and I reply with my version of the classic Thai clasped-hand bow. One fellow even shakes my hand.
Paul Mulders' late strike defibrillates our camp and gives us a slight glimmer of hope. But the Thais salt the game away and it's over. Thailand 2, Philippines 1.
We trudge out of the stadium and meet more Pinoys. This bunch has been living in Thailand for years. They were fans even during the 2007 AFF Championship and we reminisce about that tournament, when we lost 4-0 both to Thailand and Malaysia. Aly Borromeo blew out his knee minutes into the first match. In the last group game we played the role of the spoiler, holding Myamnar to a goalless draw and knocking them out of semifinal contention.
More Pinoys and Pinays have their pics taken with me and Craig. The Filipinos seem to be in a bouyant mood in spite of the result.
The Thai fans, on the other hand, are exultant. They have congregated into two separate clumps outside the stadium and are chanting, drumming, waving flags and lighting flares. A group of expat Filipinas decides to dance along beside them to their beat.
One incredibly beautiful Thai girl, with a flag face painted on her cheek, has a picture taken with me and even rests her head on my shoulder.
We meet a Thai fan in a costume so bizarre it makes our Igorot get-ups looks plain. We exchange bows and smiles.
Craig and I walk to the hotel, and all along the way we get smiles and bows. The Thais are wonderful. They treated us with nothing but respect and kindness (and perhaps some amusement as well.) I'm glad to be back in the country after 25 years.
After the game in the stadium the Thai supporters briefly chanted "Philippines, Philippines" in a truly classy gesture.
Oh and they love their Football, especially their league. We saw a sporting goods shop stuffed with kits of their club teams for sale.
Thailand was a better team than my beloved Azkals that evening, but it's an unforgettable night for me anyway. For this week at least I'm back to being an Azkals fan at Azkals games.
Up in the stands is where this Passionate Fan truly belongs.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.
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