It’s easy to look at the Younghusband brothers — James and Phil — and think that the two of them are living it up.
Riding on the string of successes that the Philippine National Football Team — popularly known as the Azkals — has been achieving since their exhilarating performance during the 2010 Suzuki Cup, the two brothers are a constant presence on advertising billboards and television screens.
The brothers have endorsement deals with clothing brands and restaurants, a regular segment on free TV sports channel AKTV called “FYI: Football Younghusband Instructional,” and even guesting gigs on TV sitcoms and late night talk shows.
This Tuesday, the brothers and the rest of the Azkals will be showcasing their talents once again as they clash with the Indonesian National Football Team at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
But as the brothers themselves will tell you, being able to do what they do now is the product of long years of perfecting the football skills that have won them fans on and off the pitch.
Twenty-six year old James Joseph Younghusband began his football career at the age of 10, and by the time he was a high school senior, was playing for English teams namely, Chelsea, Wimbledon, Staines Town, Woking and Farnborough. At around the same time, he was also playing for the Philippine National Football team, debuting in the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.
Twenty five-year old Philip James Younghusband was part of the Chelsea Football Club’s youth team, eventually rising to the club’s reserve team, which he was a part of from 2005 to 2008.
As the right midfielder and forward for the Philippine National Football team respectively, James and Phil have also put in a lot of hard work for the country through the years. Between the two of them, the Younghusbands have clocked in more than 20 international goals for the team.
The brothers say that if football in the country is to soar to even greater heights this year, an equal amount of hard work and money have to be invested into football infrastructure, as well as educating the country’s growing number of football fans.
“We’re competing against countries that have invested billions and billions of dollars over decades. You can’t compete with that. We’ve just started investing money now,” explains Phil. “We also have to educate the people and help them understand the game. We have to make them understand what’s realistic and what’s feasible.”
That goal, the brothers say, is what drives them to take on as many projects as they can possible can.
“Everything we do is to promote football. I went into acting not to be an actor, I went into singing not to be a singer. It’s all about football,” says Phil. “When we do sitcoms or talk shows, maybe they learn something about football, maybe they are interested now.”
The brothers are also investing in Filipino football talent in the long-term with the Younghusband Football Academy, which teaches public school students and P.E. teachers the basics of football for free. The Academy has been to Taguig, Tarlac, Cavite, Palawan, La Union and Iloilo and has recently partnered with the Chelsea Soccer Schools to further build on the growing football scene in the country.
“Our partnership with the Chelsea Soccer Schools is a long-term thing. They want us to have our own facility, they want for us to eventually fly kids from here to compete against students from the Chelsea Soccer School in Hong Kong, Macau, and other regions of Asia,” shares James.
In this 60 Minutes conversation, the brothers talk honestly about their quest to fully entrench football into the Philippine consciousness. From their frustrations at the country’s grassroots football development program, to their excitement at their upcoming match against Indonesia, the Younghusbands are candid about it all. There’s a lot to be done for football in the country, and James and Phil Younghusband are willing to put in the work. (Ronald S. Lim)
STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLETIN (SCB): How’s it been like working with the kids here at the Younghusband Football Academy?
PHILIP JAMES YOUNGHUSBAND (Phil): It’s great because it gives us another satisfaction other than playing. It’s something that we want to do. Once we’re finished playing, we want to dedicate our lives to teaching full-time, and now we have a base and a foundation with the Academy. We can really push on in the years to come.
JAMES JOSEPH YOUNGHUSBAND (James): We enjoy coaching and we love passing on everything we’ve learned. We want to build future players for the national team and for the club teams in the local league here in the Philippines. We want them to have fun, but we also want to develop football players and good people as well.
SCB: Has the interest in football increased even more since you guys started the Younghusband Football Academy?
James: There’s a lot more interest now compared to before. We started before the whole Suzuki Cup success, when we took a break from the national team because we didn’t want to get involved in the politics but still wanted to be involved in football in the Philippines. We had great friends and great support to help us set up the Younghusband Football Academy.
It’s good coaching kids because we really feel that they need a goal to achieve. With me and Phil going back into football, they see us playing competitively with other top players, the kids now have something to aspire to. We’re very thankful for that but it’s also important for us to keep training to be good footballers.
Phil: The success of the national team has brought the awareness to the public, but the next challenge is sustaining the sport in the Philippines, and that’s where the grassroots development comes in, that’s where the local league comes in. The only way the national team can improve in the long run is with the local foundation here in the Philippines, and that’s where the grassroots and the league come in. That’s why we want to balance playing for the national team as well as playing for the Meralco Sparks as well as coaching. If they all come together at the right time and they’re all successful, then Philippine football can really pick up.
SCB: Where do you think the various grassroots program will focus their attention in the coming years?
James: We’ve complained about this (laughs)! We’ve said that the kids don’t need training. They need opportunity, they need more competition. In previous years, the kids have been training and training and training, and some of them have been training for nothing. They’re all good technically, but when it comes down to games, they don’t understand tactics and game situations. It’s important that more money is invested towards competitions. You could have competitions in each province of the Philippines and at the end they could come together for a big play-off like they do in the States where the MLS (Major League Soccer) play East versus West. That’s the perfect thing to do here.
Phil: We want to create more opportunities for the kids to play. You only see them playing 10, 15 games a year. It’s about creating more competitions. The whole reason that you train is so you can play the game. You do on the training pitch what you want to do in your game. In the future, you might see youth competitions coming up in different parts of the Philippines.
SCB: How many areas has the academy been to?
Phil: We’ve done Taguig, Paniqui Tarlac, Cavite, Palawan, La Union, Iloilo. We’re setting the base and the foundation right now, and eventually we want to conquer the rest of the Philippines (laughs).
SCB: Are you guys invited or do you pick the places?
Phil: The Academy makes a proposal, we talk about the advantages and what the program offers, and if they support the program, we go through with it.
James: It’s been very successful, if we go by the feedback of the coaches and the P.E. teachers. They realize that football is so simple, because when they watch it they think football is so complicated. Once you sit down and explain it, they see that it’s so simple.
GOING TO THE GRASSROOTS
SCB: Is the lack of competition the biggest stumbling block when it comes to grassroots development in the country?
James: At the moment, it is. Football here has a growing number of fans as well as supporters. For example, our partnership with the Chelsea Soccer Schools is a long-term thing. In the future, they want us to have our own facility, they want for us to eventually fly kids from here to compete against students from the Chelsea Soccer School in Hong Kong, Macau, and other regions of Asia. It’s stuff like that that needs to be established. More competitions need to be arranged and not just training all the time (laughs). Competition will measure how far you are against other players.
Phil: Now, TV networks are putting money into educating Filipinos by showing the best leagues in the world. That’s one great thing because the only way you can be the best is by watching the best and copying the best and that’s what we did. We grew up idolizing David Beckham and we wanted to be like him. We’d see something they did on the field and we’d practice it at home.
James: Straight afterwards we’d actually go to the back garden and say that “I’m David Beckham!” Or “I’m Michael Owen!” (laughs)
SCB: We recently talked to coach Weiss and Chieffy (Caligdong) about the grassroots program of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF). Chieffy was saying that one thing that is holding back certain players who are trying out are either, they lack confidence or the schools won’t allow them free time. Would you guys agree with that opinion?
James: Chieffy is right there. The first things that we noticed when we first came here is that some people here are very territorial. They are very “you can’t take away my players from my team,” this is a school team. I think education is very important here but you have to realize that the more football the player plays, the better they become. And that also goes with confidence, the more football a player plays the more confident they become. When you try something new, at first, of course you’ll get all nervous but with more practice you become more confident.
Phil: We were playing for our school, we were playing for two clubs outside.
James: We kinda cheated (laughs).
Phil: (Laughs) But I think it’s important to build the club system in the Philippines as well. Now you see the UFL team building their academies. We’re working with Meralco and the clubs have their own academies. It’s important you strike that balance between school and the club system and that’s what we’re trying to build right now.
James: I think that’s the problem here. Some schools are treated as clubs. I think it’s important for tournament organizers to say that we’re just going to allow clubs and some organizers may want to invite just schools.
Phil: I’m sure Chieffy is running his own program in Barotac Nuevo and we’re running one here in Manila. Everyone is trying to find a way to contribute, it won’t get done unless you do it yourself. Eventually, hopefully, PFF can bring everyone together. You can build one team and you have 22 players that can possibly make the national team. Or you can build a whole league and you have hundreds of kids that develop in different ways and can make it to the national team.
SCB: How would you guys describe the football fandom here in the Philippines? Is there still room to grow?
James: There’s still loads of room to grow. We may be higher than Indonesia in the rankings, but Indonesia is football crazy.
Phil: They’d kill for it (laughs)!
James: If money is invested the right way and you have the right people involved and people work together not only on the field but off the field, then a lot can happen.
Phil: I think in terms of awareness, we’re there. But in terms of knowledge and understanding, then we’re not there yet. But people are aware now of the national team and that there is football in the Philippines. Now it’s just about getting them more enthusiastic about the game and getting them to understand. It’s a domino effect. If they understand the game, they’ll be more interested.
SCB: Has this change translated to more support from the government?
James: We’re very thankful for the support from the local government units that come to the Younghusband Football Academy and ask us to train their P.E. teachers so they can go off and teach kids simple drills that they can do in badminton courts or basketball courts. But I really wish that there were more plans and more support from the national government. For example, a national stadium, as well as giving more money to schools for football equipment. Just more opportunities for kids.
Phil: On a personal level, the LGUs have been very supportive. But on a bigger scale, there’s a lack of facilities right now in the Philippines for football. We can have a national stadium that we can share with all sports. You look at Thailand, they have a center for sports in the center of Bangkok.
James: I think it’s important that sports become a social thing. Like in Thailand, people jog rather than go nightclubbing and drinking.
SCB: Do you feel like the Filipino audience sometimes has an inflated sense of what the national team can accomplish?
Phil: That’s the whole thing about educating the people and helping them understand the game. Realistically, just because we have had a bit of success, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be the best in the world. We’re competing against countries that have invested billions and billions of dollars over decades. You can’t compete with that. It’ll take time.
When we lose a game, people think we’re the worst team in the world. When we win a game, they think we’re the best team in the world. It’s about educating them about football and making them understand what’s realistic and what’s feasible. That’s what we try and do with our Twitter and Facebook accounts. We try and let people know that we got this result because of this and not because of that.
SCB: Has the image of football here in Manila changed? In Barotac Nuevo, in the Visayas, it’s obvious that it’s big. Has it changed here or is basketball still king?
Phil: I think basketball is still the number one sport but we’re not competing against basketball. Obviously Manila is the key because it’s the business center and the money is there. That is why it is important that football is promoted in Manila. If we can build football in Manila, it can get big everywhere else.
SCB: Do you guys still feel there’s a mistaken image of elitism when it comes to football especially here in Manila?
Phil: I think before, yeah. That’s one of the reasons why we do the grassroots program in Manila, we go to public schools. We want to change the image that football should be for the mass, pang masa. It’s everywhere in the world, Brazil, in England it’s a working class game. It’s the most accessible sport, all you need is a football, you can make a goal out of anything. I think before, you have to pay money for cleats. You have to pay money to use the country club.
James: It doesn’t have to be played on grass. It can be played on the streets or the beach. In the bedroom, in your house.
SCB: Is it a necessary evil to promote football?
Phil: We’ve always said, everything we do is to promote football. I went into acting not to be an actor, I went to singing not to be a singer. We thank the shows that gave us an opportunity to promote football even more in the entertainment industry. People who watch that show maybe they learn something about football, maybe they are interested now. Like we’ve said, anything we do is about football. Any guesting we do on TV is about football.
SCB: Does it really have an effect in awareness? Like afterwards do people go up to you…
Phil: I mean, we used to watch comedy shows back in England and if this show is about football then, bang! We were really interested. In England, people became aware of football because of kids’ shows or a comedy show. I think it’s a good avenue to promote the game. They may not understand the game but they may find it interesting. They may see the funny side of it unlike before they think it is boring. They can relate and talk about football. I think there are a lot of avenues to promote football not just through sports but lifestyle and entertainment.
James: And also because of Posh Spice (laughs).
Phil: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s another thing, people go to football because of Posh Spice. They go to the games and dress like Posh Spice. That became a trend in England, they go dress like Posh Spice and watch football. It has an add-on effect and it’s another avenue to promote football.
SCB: Is boring still a misconception you have to grapple with here in the Philippines?
James: Yeah it’s very difficult. You have to get the game and watch the game closely. There’s more to a game than just scoring goals. I think some sports fan think football is boring whenever there’s a draw or zero-zero.
Phil: But there are things you have to admire like the technique of the pass or the aggression of someone. Lots of fans say, I did not like football before but now I start watching it and I like it. Those little things, give them something to kick-start their interest.
SCB: How are you guys feeling about the upcoming match against Indonesia?
James: Excited, because I think it’s an opportunity for us to have the strongest team available. The players from Europe will be available to play because it’s their off-season so we get to showcase in front of the Filipino fans again, especially here in Manila.
Phil: We lost to Indonesia in the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup, so it will be a good test to see how far we’ve come since then. We’re looking forward to the match and I feel we’ve had some good preparation so we’re ready.
SCB: Is there any anxiety or trepidation considering you guys are ranked higher than them right now?
James: I didn’t know that (laughs)!
Phil: It’s really difficult to determine how strong the team is with rankings. As with us, sometimes we have our strongest players and sometimes we’re missing them. It’s really difficult to determine through the rankings how the team will perform during the actual day. Obviously it gives us more confidence now that we’re ranked higher than them. But on the day, whether you’re ranked number one or 112, the result all depends on what team you have out on the day and how you approach the game.
SCB: Are you guys also pumped for the upcoming Suzuki Cup?
James: We’re also excited about that because that is the tournament where we made people aware that the Philippines does have a football team (laughs)! There’s a lot of pressure on us to show that the last run wasn’t just a fluke. We have to show that we’re consistent, and I think that these games coming up are good for the team to come together. It gives coach Michael Weiss an idea of which players he can use for the tournament. It’s very difficult to prepare because we don’t know which team we’ll be playing against. But it’s the biggest football event in Southeast Asia and everyone will be watching, and it’ll be a chance to play in front of a lot of people.
Phil: I think that for the Philippines to really stamp its mark on football, we have to really stamp our mark first on Southeast Asia. We’ve had competitions in the Challenge Cup, we’ve participated in qualifiers for the World Cup, but of course our priority is stamping our mark and becoming one of the top teams, consistently, in Southeast Asia, and the Suzuki Cup will be a measure of how strong we are within this region.
SCB: Is that the game you’re really revving up for or are you taking it one game at a time?
PJY: I think all games are important. The FIFA friendlies are also important because they count towards your FIFA ranking, and the FIFA ranking has a big importance in the draw for the World Cup qualifiers, for Olympic qualifiers. All the games, the competitive games where things are at stake, they’re all important. I wouldn’t say one competition is one important than the other. They’re all at the same level, and every game we go into we want to win and we want to show everyone that we’re improving and we’re becoming more successful.
SCB: Is football your only sport?
Phil: We watch basketball, tennis.
James: We played rugby in high school. I think people like to compare us to other sports but I think the goal here is to get people into sports, sports in general. Getting the kids off the streets and not doing drugs and getting into gangs and crimes.
SCB: You’re also working with Gawad Kalinga?
Phil: We want to take away the elitist image of the sport, we partnered with Gawad Kalinga. Right now, we’re training 40 students from Gawad Kalinga with the Chelsea program and the Younghusband Football Academy program. It’s a scholarship program to get them involved in football. That is something we’re very proud, working with the kids and seeing them enjoying it. They are actually the most enthusiastic group. They are the loudest and they enjoy the most. You see the smile on their faces, it’s great to work with these kids.
SCB: How many communities have you worked with?
Phil: About seven to eight communities in the last two years. We also run a boot drive wherein we get donations from kids who have old shoes that they don’t need then we give the shoes to kids who need them to have proper footwear. Anyone who have shoes they don’t need, please donate them so we can give them to the GK kids.
Source: Manila Bulletin
Photo: Google Images