Coke Go for Goal: The Lasting Impact of the Football Grassroots Revolution

If there is one thing that single-handedly brought the game to the next century then it's the Coke Go for Goal program.


The Philippines has a deep history of the beautiful game but basketball has won the hearts and minds of every Filipino and it is fair to say that anyone who loves the other sport is out of their minds. Well, we can't blame that there seems to no love for football in some quarters yet there are those who continued to play the sport with greater passion than basketball players themselves. They continue to play even when everyone discourages them. They continue to support their favorite football clubs even though the league is still finding its place in the country's sporting landscape.

If there is one thing that single-handedly brought the game to the next century and bridged the Azkal era with the legendary past of Paulino Alcantara and the glory years of football then it's the Coke Go for Goal program. You may hear about it before while some have some faint memories of a time when different cities hosting football tournaments with the soft-drink giant pushing to get the game in basketball country. The unsung heroes of this program have given football a new lease in life for future generations.

State of Philippine Football

In the 1960s, San Miguel Corporation tried to jumpstart the sport in the country by getting British managers Alan Rogers and Brian Birch to helm the national squad. The company even bankrolled the training of referees, coaches, and players in the country. However, they didn't pay too much attention to developing the football culture first. But as infrastructure is not available to ensure a more competitive development of the sport, it soon failed. New managers were hired like Graham Adams and Danny McClellan to train national and youth players.

The Cutillas Experiment

The idea of stimulating the sport by bringing in foreign blood to the national football team was nothing new. In fact, we are the ones who got in mixed-blood and foreigners into the mix in the early years of the sport. San Miguel and the Philippine Football Association (later became the Philippine Football Federation in 1982) have brought in Spanish medical students who were footballers in 1961. Then PFA president Felipe Monserrat asked the Spaniards Francisco Escarte, Enrique de la Mata, Claudio Sanchez, and Juan Cutillas to train local players in order to grow the interest in football. They were soon joined by British Peter Levear that was tasked to develop school football particularly with Ateneo and La Salle.

A decade later, Cutillas became the national team manager where he selected four Spanish and a Chinese to reinforce the national team in various tournaments, like the Pestabola Merdeka, Pesta Sukan, Jakarta Anniversary Tournament, and the President Park Tournament, where they managed to upset Thailand, Singapore, and South Korea. Unfortunately, football declined even further when Tomas Lozano, Manuel Cuenca, Juan Gutierrez, and Julio Roxas left the country.

By the late 70s and early 80s were considered the wilderness of Philippine football as basketball has already set itself apart as the most popular sport and pastime of every Filipino. With the establishment of the Philippine Basketball Association in 1975, a career in football is out of the question for those willing to pursue it. By then, the sport has been in decline. It's just ironic when it was the decade when football has become global as Pele won his final World Cup with the Selecao and the torch was passed to the next generation of football heroes like Johan Cruyff. Hugo Sanchez, Teofilo Cubillas, Falcao, Rivelino, Franz Beckenbauer, and Diego Maradona.

In 1978, U/Tex became the only team to win titles in both basketball and football

Interestingly, MICAA and PBA teams have their own football clubs like U/Tex, San Miguel, CDCP, and others. However, the teams were not able to sustain as professional football didn't take root as compared to professional basketball.

The Zgoll Plan

In the same year when U/Tex made that historic double, Polish-German football manager Bernhard Zgoll, known for becoming one of the youngest-ever managers of Ekstraklasa at 21 years old, was hired to oversee the setting up of eight football centers in sites nationwide. These centers would be where young football hopefuls under the age of 18 could be nurtured and developed until they rose from the ranks and played for the national team.

After his stint in the Philippines, he later became the coach for Kenya

He was also known for his ability to develop great football teams in Africa from scratch. Just like a doctor performing a diagnosis on the state of Philippine football, he undertook a three-month tour around the country to examine how the sport is being plated. He made his recommendations and later came back to the country from Germany so he can oversee the National Soccer Development Program, approved by President Ferdinand Marcos himself. 

Zgoll submitted his findings and evaluations along with a comprehensive program, sub-divided into several phases, for the revival and development of Philippine football. This blueprint may probably be applicable today.
  1. A foreign expert should be nominated Commissioner and Consultant with the full backing and power to run the program.
  2. The Commissioner should be backed up by a team of six people working with him solely together on a full-time basis. One of them should have a grasp of the football problems in the country. Two others will have to be qualified football coaches who will later have to continue the work of the foreign expert.
  3. A central budget should be provided for running training courses for coaches, referees, and organizers all over the country based on the National Soccer Development Program which will be drafted by the Commissioner and his men.
  4. Existing and undeveloped football fields should be completely renovated and put under the disposition of the Philippine Football Federation. The provincial governments of these cities and communities together with the local government authorities should be made responsible to put these football fields in proper shape. Where there is a possibility, like Cebu City, Baguio City, and Makati, to mention only three places, they should be turned into sports parks. These fields should be part of the cultural projects, whose development programs are well-known even to Europeans. Development of these sports parks, step by step, together with the development of interest in football in the Philippines, should be done in such a way they could also serve other sports. These sports parks should also have sports facilities like public swimming pools, volleyball or basketball courts.
  5. Floodlights should be installed because of the unpredictable climatic conditions in the Philippines. Floodlights (electric lights) should be put up on the most important fields to make it possible to hold night sports activities.
  6. For the most talented teenagers who can easily be selected, regional football schools should be established. This way the best though less privileged boys in the Philippines should get the same opportunity to achieve the highest standard in football through training under specially prepared coaches following the special program under the supervision of the team working with the Commissioner.
  7. All football activities in the Philippines should be conducted and sanctioned by the Philippine Football Federation.
  8. The national government offices and local authorities all over the country must cooperate and fully back the National Soccer Development Program. The cooperation of the Ministry of Education and Culture (now DECS) is most important.
  9. Nationwide and unified football competitions all over the Philippines on different levels, including competition of youngsters, are the basic frameworks from which to build strong football in the Philippines. Government and local authorities must give all-out support to the organizers of these sportsfests.
  10. Mayors of cities and communities should be encouraged to build up their own strong football clubs (teams) to represent their areas in national competitions.
  11. Mass media's fullest cooperation should be won for the National Soccer Development Program. This is one of the most important conditions. The importance of this program for the Philippines should be made clear to media men. Of course, close cooperation with the media by the Commissioner of this program is vital.
  12. The Ministry of Public Information (now a defunct government agency) should meet with both the print media and television people to explain and get newspaper-coverage reports on the activities of the Philippine Football Federation and its football development program.
Despite the well-intentioned development plan, everything set out on this program was eventually forgotten as soon Zgoll went back to Germany and the political situation in the country became even more uncertain.

Enter FIFA

When Dr. João Havelange assumed the FIFA presidency in 1974, he set out to launch a systematic program of development work and create a world youth championship. He brought Sepp Blatter in 1975 to the plan into action so they signed a sponsorship agreement with Coca-Cola on May 13, 1976 in what was considered to be "the greatest sponsorship involvement in the history of sport." The FIFA/Coca-Cola Football Development Program aims to improve the standards of world football, and its gameplan was to focus on the youth around the world, especially in Asia.


By 1979, Coca-Cola has started setting up football youth training centers around the country as part of their development program in finding young local talents through a more simplified yet standardized training regimen. By the early 1980s, the Inter Center Youth U19 tournaments were kickstarted. It formed part of the core elements of the Zgoll youth development program that was supposed to be implemented years earlier. It became a whole different program altogether and was known as the "Coke Go for Goal."

Dreaming the Dream

If there is one hero that continued the dream of Filipino footballers to play at the highest level then that would be the late Rene Adad. The establishment of the "Coke Go for Gold" has laid the foundations for future footballers to pursue their passion and pass down their skills and knowledge to the next generation.

As a manager for Coca-Cola Philippines, Adad spearheaded the youth program for over 20 years since 1985. He later went on to become PFF president. The most significant component of this program was the school-based Coke Go-For-Goal U16 championships that involved a national elimination tournament all over the country for the next two decades. Such logistics, management, and administration were way ahead of that time when most sports leagues and tournaments, let alone professional ones, were corporate-based and played in a centralized location. It was like the NCAA tournament where unheralded provincial teams can pull the rug out of much-fancied Manila teams. It was a follow-up to the Coke Inter Center Youth U19 tournament that was last won by the West Negros College (now a university) in 1984.

With the PFA reorganized as the PFF, more regional football associations were established in order to expand the sport's grassroots development and run their own regional tournaments that formed as the qualifiers to the Coke Go-For-Goal national finals. The best teams from the different regions will vie for the national title where it gave birth to classic rivalries and memorable matches. Soon many of the erstwhile untested and relatively unknown talents burst out the scene and became the football heroes that inspired more people to get into the game. Guys like Ian Araneta, Chieffy Caligdong, Yanti Barsales, Roel Gener, Ruben Doctora, Eduard Sacapaño, and others.

The renewed attempts of the PFF to revive a similar program by developing the grassroots is bringing hope for the future. There might be a lot of promising Filipino-foreigners all over the world blazing trails for future spots with the national team but the backbone of future success lies in local talents out there that might be "diamonds in the rough" that are looking to be discovered.

Postscripts

Decades after the end of that ambitious FIFA-Coca Cola program, Blatter unceremoniously resigned in 2015 after series of corruption allegations. The program itself was apparently connected with the Argentinian military junta when Wes Nally brokered the FIFA-Coca Cola partnership that also led to the awarding of the 1978 World Cup to Argentina. From there, football became a multibillion-dollar business around the world except for the countries that were supposed to develop their grassroots. It became more like a money-go-round ferris wheel for the rich and powerful. Interestingly, the expansion of their grassroots programs coincided with the expansion of Coca-Cola into the developing world.

There are talks of reviving the program just like the old days when fierce rivalries were formed, classic matches were played, and legends of the game were made.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Coke Go for Goal: The Lasting Impact of the Football Grassroots Revolution
Coke Go for Goal: The Lasting Impact of the Football Grassroots Revolution
If there is one thing that single-handedly brought the game to the next century then it's the Coke Go for Goal program.
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