By BOB GUERRERO
MANILA, Philippines — It is the day after Christmas, and like the Three Kings, Ebong Joson, a.k.a. the Blue Haired Fanatic, and I are on a pilgrimage. We find ourselves in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo province, to soak in the atmosphere of the Philippines’ number one football town.
Barotac Nuevo has produced national team footballers for generations as university football programs regularly recruit thoroughbred players from the small town. Her sons populate the rosters of top club teams. Almost all the notable homegrown Pinoys on the Azkals learned their football growing up there. In a basketball-mad nation, Barotac Nuevo has always been an oasis of the Beautiful Game.
Azkal Ian Araneta planned a youth tournament here in his hometown months ago. He invited superfan Ebong to watch. Ebong invited me. In seconds, I decided to go. In minutes, I had booked my flights online.
Lurix Araneta, Ian’s father, picks me up from the airport. The former national team player is slight of build and soft-spoken, but legend is he was a terrific striker for Army. We chat all throughout the ride from the Iloilo Airport, and in 45 minutes, we arrive.
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