At a glance the early morning game in Turf BGC looks like so many other games. Young boys and a few girls are bounding over the pristine plastic grass, chasing that ball under an overcast sky.
But a closer look reveals that this is no ordinary kid's game. The team in black are shorter but determined. The taller kids in white seem much better nourished.
This is Football doing what it does best: bringing disparate groups together, and bringing hope to kids in tough situations.
Last January 3 kids from Payatas FC, the club run by the Fairplay For All Foundation, played their first-ever eleven-a-side game against members of Xavier School's Grade School Football program.
In the first session Payatas came out on top 1-0 but in the second clash, Xavier came won in a rout with their older players.
But the score was not as important at all.
The game was a unique experience for Payatas FC, which is coached by Roy Moore, who directs the Fairplay for All Foundation with Naomi Tomlinson, a fellow Brit.
“No matter how rich or poor they are they can compete with teams like Xavier. We won the first half, they won the second with hard work and determination. The kids can achieve if they have the opportunity” says Moore.
Moore and Tomlinson launched their foundation in February of 2011, just as Azkals fever was sweeping the nation. They started with 80 kids and just one ball in a barangay Basketball court in Payatas. Now the team trains once or twice a week and participates in Football festivals and tournaments.
Xavier's coach, Ghanaian Ayi Nii Aryee of Green Archers United Globe, is impressed.
“These kids are very aggressive. All they do is Football. They don't have gadgets, they don't go to movie houses, so it's good practice for my boys also. They even communicate on the field a lot better than my boys.”
Ayi initiated this game by inviting Roy and his players to play with his Xavier charges. The parents of his Xavier kids ponied up the money to reserve the field and in weeks the kids squared off.
For many of the kids, Football isn't just a diversion; it's a pathway to a better life. Payatas FC kids are mostly schoolchildren, but a few have to eke out a living picking garbage from the massive dumpsite that Payatas is known for.
One of them is twelve-year old goal keeper Renz De Jesus, who often wakes up at two in the morning just to pick garbage. He collects some reusables and on a good day can earn ninety pesos. But more often than not his haul is no more than sixty pesos.
Moore says that Renz is out of school at the moment but he and Naomi hope to get him back on track for the next school year.
Renz is injured in the first game but for the second is raring to go. Moore has seen it all before.
“They'll get hit, get injured, then give them a couple of minutes and they're back up ready to play.”
The handful of girls on the squad are just as intense.
“Angelica and Regine held their own against the Xavier boys. They are not scared to challenge for the ball. Even if the opponent is twice their size you'll see them tackling as hard as they can.”
While Roy runs the Football activities, Naomi manages the foundation's drop-in center that also helps the kids with their schooling.
Tomlinson reveals that the Football program and drop-in center are giving many kids hope for the future.
“We have had kids who had failing grades before, now one kid is top of his class” says Tomlinson. We've got others in the top ten, top five. There's really a big improvement in their attitude, maturity, self-discipline, self-confidence.”
“One good example is a kid called Wendell. He's eight years old, a dumper boy (picker)” continues Moore. “We're trying to get him back into school. He used to be one of the most makulit kids. He'd be there throwing stones at the house, swearing all the time. For the first two months he was one of the worst kids. Through coming in the drop in center and Football, he's starting to love it, see the opportunity there. He left Payatas to join a Football tournament and that was the first time he ever left Payatas. He got a day off work to be able to do that.”
“His attitude now is that he is one of the kindest kids around. If you ask him to do something he'll do it. He'll ask to help, to bring things for training, to help in the center. His reading and writing are improving because he is trying so much. He's one of our biggest success stories. Because of that he's got a future.”
Adds Naomi “he's got brothers too. While not as dramatic as Wendell, they have completely changed. They don't have parents. They are one of our poorest families. But seeing them change is really remarkable.”
After the game winds down the Xavier kids haul out loads of old Football gear that they give out to the Payatas boys and girls.
“Massive thanks to Xavier School, the parents, kids, everyone there” says Roy.
It's a special day for the team in white as well. Goalscorer Nico Abello Anonas has this to say:
“It became a new experience for us and the way we look at ourselves. These people don't have much and we were happy to play against them and give them stuff. We want to encourage them and help them to play more football. One of them can be the next Chieffy Caligdong or the next Ian Araneta.”
This is just the beginning of the partnership between Xavier School and Payatas FC. Ayi dreams of making the games monthly, with sponsors, and perhaps a tournament.
Roy and Naomi aim to raise funds for an indoor Futsal (Indoor Football) court in Payatas where they can train every day and hold events.
Football builds bridges. And one has been established from Xavier School in San Juan, all the way to Payatas.
To learn more about Fairplay For All Foundation, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fairplay-For-All-Foundation/163370857062294?fref=ts
You can also visit the website of the foundation's funding agency, at http://triplee.org.uk/.
Follow Roy Moore on Twitter @roymondous. You can follow Bob @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.