The sport of football barely registered a blip on the average Filipino’s radar until a pair of brothers kicked their way into the country’s consciousness. James and Phil Younghusband have changed the country’s sporting landscape since they were recruited by the Philippine Football Federation to play for the national football team – the Philippine Azkals – in 2005. At the time, the Middlesex, England-born brothers of Filipino and British descent, were both playing for Chelsea Football Club in London. Born just 11 months apart, James, 25, is a midfielder while Phil, 24, is a striker.
They are also as attractive as they are talented, which has no doubt helped elevate the sport’s popularity in a country that has hitherto been obsessed with boxing. So much so that while conducting this interview and photo shoot in a private university in Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao where the team was scheduled to practice, a mini stampede broke out. Hours before the brothers arrived, screaming students, university personnel and onlookers had already gathered and waited impatiently around the field and outside the dressing room to get a closer look. Without proper crowd control, hundreds of people overran the training field minutes after the game. The Younghusbands disappeared in a sea of frenzied fans within seconds. It took 20 minutes before staff managed to plough through the crowd and get them safely off campus.
The Younghusband brothers have now made the Philippines their permanent home: Phil made the move in 2008 and James, their late mother and nine-year-old sister joined him a year later. They’ve been raising their sister alone since the sudden death of their mother in September. Their father passed away of illness in 2003.
Phil and James have lofty goals for the future: not only do they want to keep playing with the Azkals, through The Younghusband Football Academy established in January last year, they are committed to teaching football, helping underprivileged youth stay in school and mentoring children who dream of becoming the next generation of football heroes.
Reader’s Digest: Did you grow up in an environment that encouraged you to play football?
James: All kids play football in England but our dad, Philip Sr., cultivated our passion for the sport. He didn’t play professional football but he was a goalkeeper in school. He put a full size football goal in our back garden for us to practice and sometimes we’d take it to the streets. We even did the David Beckham thing. Our dad brought home an old tyre one day and hung it from a tree for goal practice. He’d reward us with money or a simple treat for every ball we got through the tyre. But football wasn’t the only sport we were involved in. I was a swimmer and we both played basketball and volleyball among others. I studied to be a graphic designer but my exposure to sports led me to also major in Physical Education in college. I wanted to learn how the body worked and I think this has helped the way I play and keep in shape.
Phil: We grew up in the suburbs about 30 minutes outside of London. It was a fairly quiet area with a park nearby. Our dad would bring us there to play football but we were lucky because James and I had each other to practice with. I think this is why we excelled in the sport. We practised football on the street undisturbed because there weren’t many cars. We were playing football pretty much during every recess and break we had from class. We participated in other sports when we were younger because it’s important not to lock yourself down to one. We joined the athletic team in high school, tried cricket and rugby but football was where the future was. It was the sport we excelled in and seeing our idols on TV inspired us to be like them.
I had a poster of David Beckham first. James used to have posters of Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona. I was the first Beckham fan when he arrived on the scene but when James watched his game, he wanted to play the way Beckham did. I have a degree in Mathematics but the early training I received from playing football and all these additional sports led me to pursue a successful career in professional football.
Was it hard to accept the Philippine Football Federation’s invitation to play for the Philippine Azkals?
James: Our Dad passed away in 2003 when I was 17 but our mother, Susan, comes from a close knit family in the Philippines. We would visit every year. We grew up loving the Philippines. I moved here permanently a year after Phil did but we were very comfortable with the culture and people long before that.
Phil: We were playing for Chelsea Football Club in London, one of the biggest football clubs in the world when the Philippine Football Federation invited us to play for the national team in the 2005 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. We’re proud to have Filipino blood and didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. When my contract ended with Chelsea in 2008, I decided to move to the Philippines and play for the country. My family had planned to move to my mother’s homeland and it was just a matter of when we would actually do it. We all moved sooner than expected but we’re very happy we did.
What’s on the horizon career-wise?
James: I’m 25 and Phil is 24. We’re no longer qualified to join the 26th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Indonesia but we’ll definitely give our total support to the players. The Philippine Azkals will be playing in quite a number of local and international tournaments all the way to next year. This year has been far busier compared to last year. Last year we joined one tournament but this year we’ve played in five so far. The national team is determined to move up FIFA’s world ranking and qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Phil: I’m going to continue playing my best for the Philippine Azkals and do a bit of coaching. I think I can play for another ten years. I also have two more World Cups in me and these are what I’ll be training hard with the team for.
What do you hope to do and achieve after playing professional football?
James: I’d like to continue to be involved in football and help run the football academy. The Philippines has always been a big fan of basketball until recently when Manny Pacquio became a boxing legend. He’s able to unite the Filipinos just like the World Cup does globally. Football can unite people. It was not a popular or widely accepted sport here before the Azkals were formed and this was largely due to the lack of information and opportunities. Football is a suitable sport in the Philippines because it does not require height or expensive equipment to practice or play. You can still be the best players without needing much except the skill that comes with a lot of practice. I remember how Phil and I as children, rolled up our socks into a ball and used doors on either side of the hallway in our house as goalposts. Football is still an underrated sport in the country and I hope to change that. It would be very nice if we could train and coach children we could pass the torch to.
Phil: Three years ago, there was little interest in football in the Philippines but I came up with the idea of setting up the Younghusband Football Academy in the Philippines to share my love for football and to raise the level of awareness of the benefits of playing sports. I thought this was a perfect way of marrying my knowledge of football and to earn a living since I didn’t want to go into show business. There was also a misconception the sport was limited only to the elite. This isn’t the case since there are legendary football players who came from extremely poor neighbourhoods. Many children in Brazil and Africa always enjoy a game of football without shoes in impoverished areas.
Because of the Philippine Azkals, there has been a growing interest but I feel there is still so much that has to be done to capitalise on that awareness. When James and I were growing up, it was helpful we had good role models to look up to and I’m hoping more children will want to follow in the footsteps of the members of the national team. I obviously can’t play forever but I dream of giving back to the country by teaching children values, the meaning of discipline, importance of a good education and perseverance through football. I’d like to help convince the government to support our athletes and promote sports especially in the public schools and address the lack of recreation space for children to practice. At the moment the academy has mobile football clinics held in more accessible places but eventually I intend to have a permanent location where I can get the football club circuit going, coach and train as well.
|SAMUEL ETO'O on 14 October 2012 ,15:42 |
HEY TO ALL PHILIPINO FOOT BALLERS OUT THERE , I WILL LIKE TO CALL ON YOUR ATTENTIONN TO THE FACT THAT MY FOUNDATION IS OPEN AND AM INVITING YOU ,IF YOU ARE A PLAYER FROM 14 TO 27 YEARS COME AND JOIN MY FOUNDATION FOR FREE TRAINING , BEST PLAYERS WILL BENEFIT A TRIP TO EUROPE AND TESTS WITH TEAMS LIKE ,BARCELON,INTERAZONAL DE MILAN, AND OTHERES ,PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME AT ANM LINK AT firstname.lastname@example.org , please chances are limited
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