Before the Galacticos of Real Madrid and Barcelona, there were three men that captivated the hearts and minds of people who loved football. Separated by thousands of miles and seas, three Filipino football pioneers have made their mark in history as the first few men who shaped the beautiful game. They may not be as famous as David Beckham, as talented as the great Pele, as nimble as the controversial Maradona, as technically gifted as Johan Cruyff, as flamboyant as the enigmatic Ronaldinho, or as prolific as the super-midget Lionel Messi, these three men will be forever etched in football lore as the first true Pinoy futbol superstars.

Unfortunately, they remain as fade as the old photographs and forgotten celluloid silent films of yesteryears as we try to figure out our football identity. The emergence of the Azkals as the the newest sporting interest has evoked our long lost sporting heritage of being one of the finest footballing nations of the past. We may not won titles let alone playing in the biggest football stages of all - the FIFA World Cup; we remain as one of the pioneers of the game.

They may sound foreign to us but these men are the Phil Younghusband, Ali Borromeo, and Ian Araneta of their time. Three men that became the epitome of what we all want to be part with, excellence and passion in the pitch battles of football. Echoing the famous Barca slogan "Mes que un club," the three men are more than just forgotten football players - they are Pinoy futbol legends!

It remains to be disputed as to the first Filipino to play "professional" football in Europe since many of whom are mixed-race or perhaps they could be Spanish born in the Philippines. In fact, some of the personalities we may thought as "Filipinos" are considered Argentines or other Spanish-speaking nationalities. It is believed that Manuel Amechazurra is the first "Filipino" to have played professional football although he may sound like an Argentine, a Catalan blogger have attested the fact that Amechazurra was born in Negros.

Dubbed as "the Adventurer," he played for 137 games with the Catalan giants as he became one of the leading players of Barca founder Joan Gamper. Teamed up with the finest players of the that time, Barcelona won numerous titles as their team wowed the crowd of Camp de la Industria (before Camp Nou housed the team of Messi, Iniesta, and company). He supplemented his income by teaching English to managers of the club because at that time, professionalism was not practiced officially till 1924. Despite the financial situation, Amechazurra was paid well as compared to some of his teammates.

Not many people know that Amechazurra is an accomplished swordsman just like Hollywood debonair Douglas Fairbanks did in his swashbuckling movie adventures.

As Amechazurra reached the waning years of his football career, he managed to team up with one handsome Basque-Filipino player named Juan Garchitorena and perhaps, the greatest Filipino football player of all time - Paulino Alcantara.

Apart from his four-year stint with Barca, Garchitorena remains an enigma to me. I never realized that he was one of the earliest football superstars who entered showbiz. In fact, he became a "Hollywood" star under the screen name Juan Torena. Being one of the prominent Basque mestizo Garchitorena clan of Manila, he tried his luck in Spain in the local football circuit where he eventually suited for Barca. During that time, the team was on a transition where it became the only time a top-flight professional team have 3 Filipinos on its lineup.

Garchitorena (seated - 2nd right) on the famed Barca squad

The Catalonian champs reaped the benefit of having three talented men on board as they blasted the competition away on-route to Copa del Rey and Campionat de Catalunya silverware finishes. After his playing career was over, Garchitorena tried his luck as an actor as he starred in various Spanish-language films. He was linked to various actresses including veteran silent-movie star Myrna Loy and platinum-blonde femme fatale Natalie Moorehead, who later became his wife.

The all-time Barca goalscorer is a Filipino, there is no doubt about it. Considered one of the most fearsome and competitive players of his generation, Paulino Alcantara is like a typhoon that creates devastating kicks that often left goalkeepers in bewildered awe.

Enshrined Alcantara football kit
With his jersey enshrined under the Barca greats, there is no one to look up when you are a Filipino football fan but the legend in Alcantara. Editorial cartoons document his exploits much like football magazines cover the careers of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Though underestimated as an athlete, Alcantara is like a raging goalscoring bull that score at will during the time where football is rough and physical. For 357 games, he remains the most experienced professional football player that we ever had.
Alcantara kicking the ball past two defenders

For a player where his kit and pleats displayed for every football fans to see in the heart of Catalan football is truly an amazing achievement. I feel proud to have someone from our country to represent the very best practitioners of the beautiful game.

Amechazurra, Garchitorena, and Alcantara have paved the way for future football players to follow their footsteps in achieving excellence in the game that we all love.

They may be from the distant past but they are truly trailblazers of their era where football started as a game played by some to a passion enjoyed by billions of people worldwide.

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{picture#} JP Canonigo is a historian, professional blogger and copywriter, online content specialist, copywriter, video game junkie, sports fanatic and jack-of-all trades. {facebook#} {twitter#} {google#}
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