When future generations of Filipino sports fans discuss the history of Philippine football, James and Phil Younghusband will forever be part of that conversation.
With more than 100 caps each for the Philippine National Men’s Football Team in different friendlies and regional and continental competitions, the Filipino-English siblings experienced the highest highs and lowest lows of the sport in the country.
In an interview with Cedelf Tupas in the Tiebreaker Vods’ Crossover Podcast, presented by SMART and supported by LGR, for the episode that aired last June 30, 2020, the two brothers reflected on the tournament that started it all — the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.
“I think what I remember about that one was when we first arrived… Being honest, we weren’t used to training camps, especially when we came for a tryout for the national team. I struggled with jetlag and the heat conditions,” shared James who added that he and Phil never imagined then the roles they were set to play in the sport’s revival.
“Two weeks before the tournament, we stayed in a house up in the mountains, and it took an hour to get to training and an hour back. So we were doing that twice a day, and I remember meals, it was a lot of fish. But I only eat tuna so I didn’t eat the rest of the fish, I only eat rice and Knorr seasoning sauce. So that’s why I’m so fond of seasoning sauce until this day,” said Phil.
The two Azkals stalwarts shared that coach Aris Caslib, the team’s management, and their teammates did everything they could to help them adjust to life in the Philippines — even doing something very special for the newcomers in the squad.
“We were 7000 miles away. We went to Manila [before but] it was our first time in Bacolod. We weren’t even in Bacolod City — we were an hour outside the city. So we felt really lonely.
“We have to give the credit to the players and staff because they did everything in their power to make us feel at home. There was only one TV for everyone, [but] they lifted it up trying to bring it to our room. We didn’t ask for it but that’s what they did to make us feel at home,” shared Phil.
“I remember from that camp as well that we became big fans of the TV show Lost — they have it in DVD. We binge-watched it and actually developed close relationship with Chad Gould. It was me, Phil, [and] Chad, and we watched lots of stuff,” added James.
In terms of the tournament itself, the Philippines exited the competition in the group stage with one win and two losses. Caslib’s men started the tourney with a narrow 0-1 defeat to Thailand; bounced back with a 4-2 win at Cambodia’s expense; then folded 2-4 at the hands of Malaysia. All games were played at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
On a personal level, however, the duo lived up to the hype, with both of them scoring two goals each in the matches against Cambodia and Malaysia. What was unforgettable for them, though, was the backing they and the whole team received from the home crowd.
“The whole training camp was nice, and it was just when we first played in front of the Panaad audience, we didn’t expect it to be that busy. And I think that’s when we really fell in love with the Philippine supporters. Thirty thousand people, people willing to climb trees to watch the games — it was a really, really fantastic experience,” narrated James.
“When we got to the tournament and saw our kababayans supporting us, the full stadium… Everything that we felt was tough. Looking back, it was tough because we were coming from a different culture, a different style of play, different mindset. But when we saw the crowd in the games, that [is] what made us so happy,” echoed Phil.
Despite the anticlimactic results in the tournament, the love that Phil and James received from the community inspired them to play for the Philippines again for the 2006 qualification tourney, to reach the 2007 AFF Suzuki Cup. It’s as if the 2005 SEA Games was a short-term loss and a long-term win for Philippine football as their participation in various competitions only grew from there.
“Going back to Bacolod, we were very happy because the reception we got in 2005 was unbelievable. So to get the same welcome and the same response from our country people, it was something that gave us confidence,” said Phil.
“That’s why every time we go back to Chelsea, we look forward to the time where we represent the Philippines again because we knew every time we went to play in the Philippines, the experience we had with the people and the team was something we really enjoyed.”
And just like that, a storied international career for the Younghusbands — which culminated in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup— began in the most memorable of ways during the 2005 SEA Games.
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