Sunday 20 October 2019, 08:28

One fan’s contagious love of football in basketball-mad Philippines

  • Xavier Arias is a member of the FIFA Fan Movement from the Philippines

  • He speaks with about life as an Azkals supporter

  • Learn about the Fan Movement and join the conversation with #WeLiveFootball

Not many fans can say that they’ve played on the same pitch as their national team heroes, but Xavier Arias can.

When the Philippines made their debut at the AFC Asian Cup at UAE 2019, it was significant for Xavi, who was watching every minute back at home in Manila, for several reasons.

“It was really amazing; I started watching the Philippines around 2008, when Neil Etheridge was still a young guy (laughs)! It felt like all of the wait was worth it, even though we lost every game," he said.

“As someone who has played with some of them—in training sessions and pick-up games—it’s lovely to see the boys play against China PR, Korea Republic. Stephan Shrock is one of my favourite players so to see him score that free-kick was massive for me.

“That first match when you see your team on that stage and they’re singing the national anthem, it made me cry. It was so beautiful.”

Schrock scores the Philippines' first ever goal at the Asian Cup.

Xavi's hope for the Philippines

Nothing can stop Xavi’s love for football. He had to give up playing the game he loves at a competitive level due to an injury he suffered, but that unfortunate event in his life has done anything but dilute his love for the game. His involvement with the FIFA Fan Movement is a case in point.

“A lot of people don’t know us (Philippines) for football, everyone knows us for basketball and boxing."

There’s not the infrastructure in the Philippines for public parks for people to play football, and it’s something that Xavi wants to see change.

“The important thing is to open up pitches for the public. Manila has zero public parks, so there aren’t great spaces for the working class to play. Kids need to feel like the football pitch is home."

Xavi poses for a photo with Schrock, scorer of the Philippines' first ever Asian Cup goal

The importance of 'puso'

Xavi is a fan with realistic expectations for the Azkals, but there is one ingredient that is very important to him.

“All I want to see is our national team show puso (heart). Regardless if you win or lose, as long as you show puso that makes me happy as a fan.”

Puso was originally used in relation to the national basketball team, but is now used in Filipino culture in general. And puso is certainly not something Xavi is lacking himself.

Having grown up in a sports-loving family, Xavi had played football from a young age: "Football always felt like home to me." After high school he played for a small club called Greenwoods Unite for around ten years before suffering a neck injury and a heart problem that meant he had to give up playing the game completely.

However, he has not let that stop him from being a positive influence in the game's growth in the archipelagic nation. Along with being an avid Azkals supporter, he coaches skill training at the U-12 level and is very active on social media, where he can be seen sporting football kits from all over the world.

“Everyone would tell you it’s for the love of the game," he said. "It’s sort of cliche but it’s the only truth that there is. In the Philippines there’s not much money in football. My friends in the Premier League here, they’re having a hard time making ends meet. It’s all about wanting to keep developing the sport and helping younger kids fall in love for the game the way that I did.”

Xavi sports a limited release Philippines national team kit: "It has representation of Filipino culture from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, our main three islands. It's mostly patterns from different tribes, a tarsier (little rodent-like creature found in Bohol) and the three stars and the sun."