The “Good Old Days”: The Lost History of Philippine Football

Know more about the lost history of football in the Philippines.

Multi-sport athlete Dionisio Calvo was the head coach of the Philippine football team

A few years before basketball took root in the country and eventually become the country's de facto national sport, football was already being played and ruled the sporting scene. It is surprising for some that our country once had a rich football heritage that is as old as the major footballing countries in the world.

Owing to our rich cultural connection to Spain and strong economic interactions with the rest of the world through our strategic geographic location, football eventually reached our shores we least expect. Contrary to what we read from local sportswriters and historians, it was the British merchants and expatriates who introduced the sport due to our close proximity to Hong Kong and other British holdings in Malaya and Singapore. In fact, football has spread to the rest of the world due to the significant global trade presence of the British Empire from Spain to South America and from India to Australia.

Our past football glory doesn't revolve around Paulino Alcantara or the Los Extranjeros triumvirate alone. There is more to it that many of us may have ignored or forgotten.

Remembering Our Lost Heritage

Our footballing heritage is actually older than our passion for basketball and, unfortunately, we have lost our historical ties with the sport. Many sports fans nowadays have no knowledge about the development of football even before basketball took root and supplanted it.

Early Years

It's really unclear when is considered the exact birth of the sport in the country but the development of the modern code began in England in the early 1800s. Interestingly, when British artist Charles Wirgman had a detour to Manila on his way to Japan in 1857 he witnessed local people already playing a ball game similar to how it was played back in his own country. In fact, it was not just the illustrados playing it, he also saw some Chinese and foreign onlookers fascinated with the sport as well. As a correspondent for the Illustrated London News, Wirgman made an illustration of that event for posterity. It is perhaps the earliest record of Filipinos playing the sport. Although, it could have been the local game of sipa (sepak takraw) as he described it as such:

“They stand in a circle, and with their feet keep up the ball for any length of time……the game is never to let it touch the ground after it is once up, and always to manage to strike it with the feet. Some players are very expert at the “back-footed” trick; with the sole of their foot, they will send the ball right over their heads to the players in front of them, who, in turn, send it back again. The game is a most extraordinary sight and the players are wonderfully clever at it.”

Wirgman went on to become a celebrated illustrator spending his entire career documenting China and Meiji period Japan.

Not to be confused with other forms of football like rugby, gridiron (American and Canadian), Aussie rules, and among others, association football or "soccer" has emerged as the world's most-played sport. Different football codes were immediately developed as the sport spread throughout the world.

Officially, many experts agree that the "birth" of Philippine football began in 1895 when the British introduced it. By then, several British businesses, warehouses, and trading houses were already established in Manila to do business with the Spanish colonial government. The sport may have been introduced earlier than that as the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 opened up the Spanish colony to world trade. It may have caught the interest of the locals who probably saw British sailors and expatriates playing with other foreign nationals working for the large trading houses and legations.

The sport was eventually spread throughout the country as British and other foreign companies helped established various railway networks from Dagupan to the north to Iloilo to the south. The Filipino expatriate communities in Europe (especially in Spain) were the ones who got exposed to high-level competition during the formative years of the sport. Some Filipinos from Hong Kong who got to see the sport first hand eventually brought their knowledge about the sport back home.

Before the USS Maine was blown off at Havana Harbor and Commodore George Dewey's Pacific Squadron appeared on the coast of Manila during the start of the Spanish-American War, football clubs were playing unofficial matches already.

The existing class system established by the Spanish may have soon left a lasting impact on the development of football. Since it required a large playing field, only large landowners, mostly Spanish, mestizos and local elites can organize a football club. In a 1926 article in the "National Almanac and Guide of the Philippine Islands" by Ignacio de Ycaza, he summed up the initial suspicion of Filipinos that football is a form of gambling by half-mad foreigners. Perhaps, it is the reason why most Filipinos think that football is an elitist sport that only rich people can enjoy and so basketball eventually supplanted it as the sport of the masses.

Club Football Pioneers

As soon as the Spanish-American War and Filipino-American War ended in 1901, the Americans wasted no time "pacifying" the islands by introducing their own political system and incorporating their public education thru sports. They soon sent public school teachers to every province where they taught modern sports to the Filipinos.

The pioneering club teams were dominated by foreign expatriates

While the transition to a new political order is underway, the first six official football clubs were established including the Manila Sporting Club, the Paris Club, and the Manila Jockey Club. The Sandow Club soon followed in 1906 (later reestablished as Sandow Athletic Club in 1909).

The Manila Jockey Club was actually established in 1867 as one of the oldest and existing sports clubs in the country. Although it once had a football team during the early years of Philippine football, it helped established the National Training Center in Carmona, Cavite in 2017 (150 years after its founding). Talk about going full circle.

Not much is known about the other pioneering football clubs in the country. It is believed that the other clubs are composed of expatriates based in the country. Sandow, for example, has British players that helped them to dominate the local football scene during the early years.

The first official football match in the Philippines was held in Manila on October 15, 1907, in celebration of the opening of the Philippine Assembly. The trophy was donated by Governor-General William H. Taft (later US President) that was won by the Sandow Club. In the same year, the Philippine Amateur Football Federation (now Philippine Football Federation, PFF) was established as the sports governing body in the country.

The Manila Carnival Grounds was the first home of the Philippine team

In 1908, there was an interesting yet dark chapter in the history of sports in the country. Football games were held in a specially-constructed Hippodrome which featured a very large elephant on top of the main entrance with two guardhouses manning in front. There were so-called interracial games, where the organizers tried to promote the white supremacy of Americans over Filipinos in sports.

Image result for william howard taft manila carnival
The parade ground was opened by Governor-General William Howard Taft in 1907

The Manila Sports Club (All Manila) became the first-ever champion of the Philippines Football Championship in 1911.  Formed a year earlier, the Bohemian Sporting Club began to train football players that would have made them the most formidable and successful football team in the country by winning the title from 1912 to 1922 (excluding 1914 and 1919). Not to mention, they were later reinforced by Paulino Alcantara. The Nomads Sports Club (later Manila Nomads) won the championship during its inaugural year in 1914.

Due to the spread of the Spanish flu after the end of World War One, no champion was awarded in 1919 even with the establishment of the Aurora Athletic Club. A year later, the Circulo Social Deportivo was formed and competed in club football by 1920. A Filipino-Chinese organization Cheng Hua Athletic Association, with ties with the Chinese Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek, started its own football club in 1932.

Following the last title won by Bohemian in 1922 (although they won in 1927), a series of foreign, school-based, and short-lived clubs managed to win the national championship including Ferencváros TC (1923), Cantabria (1924), International (1925), Ateneo FC (1926), Peña Iberica (1929), University of Santo Tomas (1934), and Malaya Command (1935). The San Beda Athletic Club emerged as the most successful club in the late 1920s and early 1930s by winning five titles (1928, 1930-1933).

Football Emigres

With our strong cultural connection with Spain, it is not surprising that a lot of Filipinos (mostly of mixed parentage) have managed to make a name for themselves in football. It's just unfortunate that most Filipino sports fans have already forgotten their names and exploits. Even with those knowledgeable enough, it is very difficult to find more information about them. Even the greatest ever - Paulino Alcantara - is not well known by most people here.

Alcantara and the other members of the Los Extranjeros trio - Manuel Amechazurra and Juan Garchitorena - have become the first few Filipinos to have played in the Spanish league with FC Barcelona. Other Filipino-Spanish players have also played for other Spanish clubs as well. All these legendary players have paved the way for future football players to follow in 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.

Paulino Alcantara

One of the greatest all-time Barca goalscorers 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.

With his jersey enshrined under the Barca greats, there is no one to look up to 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 Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Though underestimated as an athlete, Alcantara is like a raging goal-scoring bull that scores at will during a time when football is rough and physical. For 357 games, he remains the most experienced professional football player that we ever had.

It's truly an amazing achievement for Alcantara when his kit and pleats are displayed for every football fan to see in the heart of Catalan football. You can't help but feel proud to have someone from your country represent the very best of the beautiful game.

Manuel Amechazurra

It is believed that Manuel Amechazurra is the first "Filipino" to have played professional football although he may sound like an Argentine, 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 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 and company). He supplemented his income by teaching English to managers of the club because, at that time, professionalism was not practised officially until 1924. Despite the financial situation, Amechazurra was paid well 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.

Juan Garchitorena

Apart from his four-year stint with Barca, Juan Garchitorena remains an enigma. 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 emigrated to Argentina at a very young age and then tried his luck in Spain in the local football circuit where he eventually suited for Barca. During that time, the team was in a transition where it became the only time a top-flight professional team has three Filipinos on its lineup.

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.

Eduardo Teus

Eduardo Teus López-Navarro, also known as Teus, played for Real Madrid as a goalkeeper from 1913 to 1918. He later became a sports journalist and was later tasked by General Francisco Franco to manage the Spanish national football team as head coach. He managed the national team from 1941 to 1942.

In 1958, he died due to a heat stroke while watching a game at the press box of the San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao. French-Filipino Alphonse Areola became the second Filipino to play as a goalkeeper for Real Madrid.

Felipe Calderon

Felipe Calderon Kaiman, also known as Kaimo, was a defender who played for Real Madrid from 1927 to 1928.

Marcelino Galatas

Marcelino Galatas Renteria, known as Chelin, was sent by his family to study in Spain, more specifically in the Basque country. After completing primary and secondary studies, he studied industrial engineering in Bilbao.

He made his debut with the Atletic Club Bilbao during his early years as a footballer. The team took a chance on him as one of their players Laca got injured. He is perhaps the youngest-ever Filipino to play for a Spanish club at 16 years old! According to the Atletic Club website, he appeared playing a match in the Vizcaya regional championship against the SD Deusto in the 1920-1921 season.

Interestingly, he went on to play for the opposing team - SD Deusto. The young Galatas dazzled fans with his quality and received offers to sign for numerous Basque teams like Osasuna Atletic Club, Tolosa CF, Esperanza Sports Club, and Real Sociedad.

In 1923, he left SD Deusto and signed for Real Sociedad. Although he lived in Bilbao to study, he decided to play for them. He played for four seasons from 1923 to 1927. He played a total of 53 official matches and scored 18 goals. With Real Sociedad, he won the regional championship of Guipúzcoa in 1925.

By that time, Galatas moved to Madrid for further studies. For a while, he was regularly travelling from Madrid to San Sebastián by train to continue playing for Real in official matches. Meanwhile, in the 1925-1926 season (with permission from Real), he played with Atlético de Madrid (then Atletic Club de Madrid) in friendly matches. He even went on tour with Atletic from Madrid to America on one occasion

In the 1927-1928 season, Galatas was officially integrated into Atletico Madrid where he played in two official competitions. He eventually played 21 official matches and scored four goals during that season. His team won the Campeonato Regional Centro that season, but he only played a more limited role without going through the group stage. Galatas hung up the boots at the end of the 1927-1928 season.

After finishing his career in industrial engineering, he left for the Philippines where he lived for two decades. After that time, he returned to Spain settling in Madrid.

Jose Maria Echengoyen 

Jose Maria Echengoyen Elizalde is a midfielder who played for Atletico Madrid from 1921 to 1926. He played together with Marcelino Galatas when the former joined them on tour in the 1925-1926 season.

Gregorio Querejeta

Gregorio Querejeta Amestoy, known as Chupitos, started his career with Zaragoza FC on January 21, 1934, in Tercera Division in a 2-0 victory over the 'Elche CF. His team eventually got a promotion from the Tercera to the Segunda Division, and in 1940, it came to play in the Primera Division for the first time. He stayed at the Aragonese club until 1943 when he moved to Atlético Aviación. He played his last game at Zaragoza in the Generalísimo Cup, in the second round against Valencia CF.

In the capital, he was trained by Ricardo Zamora. He remained there for three seasons, reaching second place in the championship in the Primera Division in 1943-1944. In the 1947-1948 season, he played in the Club Gimnàstic de Tarragona, a club in its first season in the Primera Division, with which he made three league appearances.

Jose Luis Querejeta

Jose Luis Querejeta Amestoy, a brother of Gregorio Querejeta Amestoy, has played for CA Osasuna from 1940-1944 and Real Santander from 1944-1946.

Ignacio Larrauri

Ignacio Larrauri Larrauri is a forward who played for Atletico Bilbao in the Primera Division from 1941-1942 and Atletico de Guecho in the Segunda Division from 1943-1944. He scored 9 goals in 19 official appearances.

Julio Uriarte

Julio Uriarte Garcia was born in Samar in 1914 but moved to Spain years later and was eventually signed up to become a footballer. He played for Zaragoza in the Segunda Division in 1934. Two years later, his team got promoted for the Primera Division for the first time.

Unfortunately, the championship was suspended for three years due to the Spanish Civil War, so Uriarte made his debut in the Primera División on February 3, 1939, in the first league match where they won 3-2 against Celta Vigo. He played all the games where they ended up seventh place in the standings. In the following season, he missed no game and on December 22, 1940, he scored a goal in the match that ended 2-2 against Atletic Club of Bilbao.

The Zaragoza placed last in the league and was relegated to the Segunda División but returned to the top flight after a season. In the 1942-1943 season, the club got relegated under Jacinto Quincoces. He made his last appearance with Zaragoza on May 16, 1943, with a 1-0 win at Valencia.

The International Stage

Football in the Philippines has reached its golden age when the country started competing in international tournaments before the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic football tournament opened to Asian teams. During the early quarter of the 20th century, the Far Eastern Games was the pinnacle of regional football competition. It was like the Olympics of Asia before the Asian Games started in 1951.

Far Eastern Games

In 1913, Elwood Brown, president of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Association and Manila Carnival Games, proposed the creation of the "Far Eastern Olympic Games" with China and Japan. It was at that time that Governor-General William Cameron Forbes was the president of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation from 1911 to 1913. Governor-General Forbes formed the Far Eastern Olympic Association.

The Philippines is one of the founding members of the Far Eastern Games

On February 1, 1913, the Philippines played its first-ever international fixture against the Republic of China (represented by the South China Athletic Association) at the Manila Carnival Grounds. It was also the inaugural staging of the football tournament for the first Far Eastern Games. One game was played in what was also called "Campeonato de Oriente" with the Philippines winning 2-1.

However, it was also shrouded with controversy as the Philippines were represented by select players from both the Bohemian and Sandow clubs with a mixture of British, Spanish, and American players thus contravening the regulations of the tournament by playing foreign players. Despite the controversy, the Philippines were awarded gold medals.

China has dominated football in the Far Eastern Games

In the 1915 games, it was a two-legged playoff series where China emerged as the winner 1-0 in aggregate after a scoreless first game draw. In the 1917 games, the Philippines fielded Paulino Alcantara where they recorded the biggest ever win against Japan 15-2. But they got thumped by China 3-0 in a match that was abandoned after China made its fourth goal through a penalty kick, after which a brawl occurred after the Filipino goalkeeper punched the Chinese scorer. This led to the Philippines' withdrawal.

In the 1919 games, there was a two-legged preliminary round where both split two games but China eventually won 2-1 in the rubber match. The 1921 games saw China win over the Philippines again in a tightly fought 1-0 win. China had another repeat performance by defeating the Philippines yet again 3-0 in the 1923 games. The Philippines suffered its worst home defeat at that time 5-1 in the 1925 games and followed the worst scoreline of 5-0 in the 1930 games in Japan. In the 1930 games, the Philippines suffered its worst loss against Japan at that time 7-2.

The Philippines scored its biggest ever victory against Japan

The 1934 games, the last Far Eastern Games, saw a four-corner tournament with China besting the Philippines, Japan, and the Dutch East Indies for the gold. China swept all the nine stagings of the Far Eastern Games while the Philippines settled for silver medals from 1915 to 1925 stagings of the football tournament.

Despite China's overwhelming dominance in regional football, the Philippines have regularly competed with distinction by having good results against Japan and the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). Both China and Japan eventually made their Olympic debut at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and the Netherlands East Indies made their only appearance at the 1938 FIFA World Cup in France.

Overall Head to Head

In those times, the Asian football scene was more like a three-horse race as most Asian territories were still European colonies and others had yet to participate in international football tournaments. Records counted against Asian rivals covers only prewar tournaments.
Republic of China (1912–1949) China132110729-22--
 Dutch East Indies110032+1--
Interestingly, the Philippines has defeated Japan in its first four meetings and has the most number of wins against top footballing countries on its all-time record.

Cultural Shift

It is not really clear as to when the sporting shift occurred but it is very evident from the start that most of the best players that could have played for the Philippines were of mixed parentage and many of whom have decided to ply their trade in Spain. Domestic club football suffered as the Americans promoted their sports including basketball and baseball. Eventually, the attention on the sports scene started to shift towards other sports.

As previously mentioned, there is a stigma attached to football since most of the players are mixed-race and others are from a higher social class. Getting more people attracted to play the sport has made it difficult since sports clubs are like most social clubs where there are criteria as to what people can join.

The Philippine Amateur Football Federation was not able to capitalize and maximize the growth of the sport as other countries have improved. The football league went into a state of uncertainty and did not reach a point where it became part and fabric of Filipino sporting culture. The establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1924 and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines in 1938 should have paved the way for the sport to grow at the grassroots level but it hasn't delivered its potential as basketball has eventually become more popular than other sports.

Interestingly, one of the official head coaches (1930, 1934) of the national team was Dionisio Calvo. Yes, the same basketball coach that led the country to a fifth-place finish at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. But before he dived into coaching the national football and basketball teams, he was first a member of the national swimming team from 1921 to 1923 Far Eastern Games.

Final Thoughts

The past is the past but the current and future generations need to understand the importance of knowing the legacy of those who brought the sport to new heights. Let us learn from the lessons of the past and do our part to promote the beautiful game to each and everyone in the country. Let us repay the sacrifices of the people before us who brought our country honour and glory by recognizing and remembering them in our collective public sporting consciousness.



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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: The “Good Old Days”: The Lost History of Philippine Football
The “Good Old Days”: The Lost History of Philippine Football
Know more about the lost history of football in the Philippines.
Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger
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