Former Azkals star Chieffy Caligdong has been the barometer for homegrown Filipino players throughout the years.
The 37-year-old Caligdong had a stellar, decade-long career with the Azkals, becoming one of the key figures that brought the sport back to prominence in the country.
Caligdong — who was part of the fabled 2010 Azkals squad that stunned Vietnam in the AFC Suzuki Cup — has a rich resume that includes a game-winning goal over the same squad in the group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup back in 2012.
The 5-foot-5 former Air Force sergeant also won the Golden Boot trophy in the 2011 Long Teng Cup after ending the tournament as the top scorer.
The list goes on for Caligdong, but even he admits that none of this would have been possible if not for his hometown Barotac Nuevo, which molded him into the resilient, hard-working player that he is during his time with the Philippine team.
A small municipality about 37 kilometers northeast of the city of IloIlo, the small town of Barotac has been known as the football capital of the Philippines due to its natives’ unconditional love for the sport.
Barotac has produced a number of Filipino footballers including the likes of PFF president Nonong Araneta, Jovin Bedic, and former Philippine team members Ian Araneta, Antonio Piao, Roel Gener; along with retired football legend Elmer Bedia, who became the first Filipino to play in Division I of Germany’s and Australia’s professional leagues.
During an appearance on Tiebreaker Vodcasts’ CPT Crossover, presented by SMART and supported by LGR Sportswear, Caligdong shared what it was like growing up in the football-crazy town of Barotac.
In front of the huge Saint Anthony Padua Church is the Barotac Nuevo Plaza Field, which has been developed to meet international standards. With almost everyone in town inclined to the sport, the field was rarely empty, which meant Caligdong and his friends had to be creative.
“‘Yung naabutan ko sa akin, tsinelas ipasok-pasok mo doon sa ano, ‘di ba, para maging round, ‘yun ‘yung naabutan ko sa time ko. Iipit-ipit mo, kunwari anim na tsinelas, three pairs, ipasok-pasok mo ‘yun, magiging circle siya. ‘Yun ‘yung naabutan ko dati,” shared Caligdong.
“Siyempre rice field talaga, ‘yun ‘yung second option kapag hindi available ‘yung football field. Busy sa Barotac football field, so maghahanap ng paraan. Kung minsan street football, kanto-kanto lang. ‘Yun ‘yung mga options.”
Playing barefoot was the norm in Barotac. So every time Chieffy’s older brother, Nonoy — who was a member of the University of Sto. Tomas football team at the time — would come to town, he always borrowed his brother’s shoes to show off to his friends.
“‘Yung sa kapatid ko, kay Nonoy ‘yun, so every time na dumating siya from Manila, hinihiram ko ‘yung spikes niya.
“So ayun, yabang ko siyempre, Diadora pa ‘yun eh, hindi nila alam ‘yung socks ko apat, makalaro lang ng football. ‘Yun lang ‘yung nakakatuwa dati — maghahanap ka ng paraan to play football. Yabangan sa field magkaroon ka ng sapatos, kasi ‘pag naapakan ka ng nakapaa ka, sobrang sakit talaga,” said Caligdong, whose brother also played for the national team.
The Barotacnon’s competitive spirit for the sport is off the charts. And that means that betting games were inevitable.
As soon as the school-based programs’ training ended, a huge number of spectators would gather around the plaza to watch games that had wagers of around 200 to 300 pesos.
Socks, shoes, and shin pads were not allowed during the games. It would start in the late afternoon, and whoever had the lead when the six o’ clock bell in the church struck would bag the win.
“So ‘yung rules kasi sa tiniil, no socks allowed. Kailangan walang medyas, nakapaa lang talaga. No shin pads, walang medyas, walang shin pads, so ‘yun ‘yung rules. Tapos walang referee, honest to goodness lang ‘yung laro. Pagka-bell ng six o’ clock, ‘pag ‘yung score 1-0, panalo ka na,” said Caligdong.
“Kung tie, balik lang ‘yung pusta — ganon yung laro sa Barotac. So minsan ‘yung rules is first goal, win na kaagad. ‘Yun ‘yung mga rules. Maganda kasi nakakatuwa.”
Playing with no referees to facilitate, the people of Barotac had two simple rules to keep the games fair — team balance and honesty.
“‘Pag walang referee kasi, medyo magulo eh ‘di ba?
“Pag town-based lang, kapag kami lang nasa Barotac, maganda. Kami-kami lang. Kumbaga inter-barangay, minsan yung taga ibang barrio, pupunta sa bayan, makikipaglaro, tapos ‘yung isang rule doon is fair team. Kunwari ako sa kabila, si Ian sa kabila para at least merong magaling dito, magaling doon. ‘Yun ‘yung maganda din,” said Caligdong.
The town’s culture has been embedded in Caligdong ever since he grew up. And even when he was already playing for Philippine Air Force and the Philippine national team, Caligdong made it a point to return to Barotac and play there from time to time.
“Kahit nasa Air Force ako, every time umuuwi ako, kahit nasa national team ako… Maganda lang sa Barotac hindi nila dinidisallow ‘yung mga national team player, you can still play, pero kailangan mong mag-ano… Kung ano ‘yung rules. Kung paa, paa lang talaga,” he said.
“Kahit magaling ka diyan, basta nakapaa ka. ‘Yun ‘yung maganda sa Barotac, walang national team player, marunong, hindi pwede maglaro, basta magpusta ka.”
Caligdong has come a long way since then, but for him, his ascent to Philippine football will always be because of Barotac Nuevo. And for that, he’s forever grateful.
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