One of the greatest things for die-hard football fans to experience is to travel to different countries (or even provinces) to support your national team or club. My Kaholeros friends and I had a great 10-day trip to Bangkok in 2012 for the Suzuki Cup (which was also my first trip out of the country!) where the Azkals competed and so we were eager to repeat the experience.
This time around though, it was just four girls (Andi, Pam, Ysabs and me) plus one guy (Cedelf, who is now forever known as our HK group boyfie). It was for one game, a friendly against the Hongkong National Team. Easy peasy. We had other plans too, like visit Disneyland, shop, have a picture taken with the giant yellow rubber duckie, eat, etc. It was supposed to be a simple, fun, no-frills trip.
Yep, didn’t turn out to be that way.
While I would always cherish the other parts of our trip (especially bonding moments between the five of us), what we experienced at Mong Kok Stadium on June 4, 2013 would forever be etched in our memories as the day we saw the ugly side of football.
Okay, it’s not technically clearly etched in my memory. Some details are now hazy, but some scenes you will never forget
How the four of us, all girls, were nervous and excited coz it was the first time we’d try to lead a bunch of strangers to cheer for the boys (Cedelf was there as media so he was on the other side of the stadium)
How we found nice and cooperative and enthusiastic kababayans (mostly women, children and some foreigners who had Pinoy friends or loved ones) in the bleachers section
How proud we felt when we unfurled that big Philippine flag (which traveled with us all the way from Manila) and sang the National Anthem with tears in our eyes, because almost the entire stadium was booing us
How the actual game was exciting, especially when James Younghusband scored in the 33rd minute (the only goal of the game) and Neil saved an unjustly given penalty
How we felt a little hostility from the cheering home fans (which is normal for any football game) but did not expect things to escalate later on
How we were shocked and then angered when one HK fan threw a tetra packed juice at us, hitting one of the kids in the process
How the security people told us to calm down coz “you are winning anyway” and did nothing to quell the rising tension between the two sets of fans
How when after the game and the players went over to thank us, some HK fans started hurling water bottles at them and shouting expletives at them (again, a common scene at unruly football matches, but one that should never be tolerated)
How incensed HK fans started screaming at us, with some of them calling us a nation of slaves (later on, some of them claim that it was not because they lost the game, but because of their anger at the Philippines because of the Luneta hostage taking where a lot of HK citizens died)
How a group of Europeans protected us from the HK fans who wanted to rush at us in the stands
How the security people told us afterwards to not go out first because some fans might be waiting for us outside (we had to go out the side entrance when everyone had already left, with matching security escort)
How after we started tweeting about our experience, Philippine social media blew up, with a lot of people getting angry at what we experienced and expressing their support for us and the team
(ARTICLE: Racist issue mars Azkals win vs HK)
How, when regional and local media picked up the story, some HK fans claim that Filipino female fans in blue (we were wearing the blue kit) were the ones provoking them
How six months later, after filing an official complaint with FIFA about the behavior of the HK fans and the failure of the HKFA to control the situation, we got justice when FIFA fined them P1.4 million for the fans’ racist and unruly behavior
How after all was said and done, we’re glad we got out of their physically unscathed, despite being emotionally scarred for life
How I don’t think I’ll be going to Hongkong anytime soon
How the experience has made us closer and most of the Filipino football community, despite being small and “young” for now, reacted with righteous anger but still with grace and aplomb
How we realized first-hand that racism and discrimination should never ever have any place in football or any other sport or any other aspect of life for that matter