As Jamie and I are coming to the end of our time here in Tacloban, we took it upon ourselves to organise a tournament in our final week, offering an opportunity to hand out kit and medals that we are given on each placement to distribute.
While the Copa America is celebrating a centenary, Tacloban had its debut joint Arsenal-Fundlife tournament; Copa Tacloban. The tournament consisted of all 8 Fundlife sites competing in a round-robin league throughout the course of the week, with the top team from each site advancing to the final on Sunday to compete for prizes courtesy of Arsenal in the community.
Preparations began early in the week, Jamie planning the fixtures and structure of the day, while I designed and printed a tarpaulin for the event, as well as locating a suitable venue. A quick briefing from us for all of the coaches on the rules and structure of the tournament, and we were good to go.
We awoke to a sweltering heat on the day of the tournament, the morning seeing us zip around town to gather final essentials from the office. We began setting up at Bethel international school, who were kind enough to let us use the facilities for the day. As net repairs were being made and sunscreen being applied in generous doses, the zealous kids drip-fed in by the van load as the Fundlife driver amassed them from their respective village sites in the multi-cab.
The group stages progressed well, the format modelled after Copa America, with the top two from each group going to the semi-finals, which saw Abucay against New Kawayaan, and the two favourites Caibaan and RTR matched up for a thrilling encounter. And a thriller it was.
With Jamie managing pitch 1 for the day overseeing the Abucay-New Kawayaan game, I was lucky to be managing pitch 2, and catch the game of the day. The first 7.5 minute half saw RTR lead 2-0, with definite disappointment emanating from the Caibaan touchline, as well as neutral viewers. The second half began to deliver the spectacle we had been anticipating, Caibaan grabbing 2 goals in three minutes, causing the RTR coach to become very animated, springing around on the touchline in frenzied fashion. The game finished a 2-2 draw, and entered into 5 minutes of extra time.
The first half began the same, RTR getting a goal to make it 3-2. Into the second half, with a few seconds remaining, Caibaan were awarded a free-kick, just inside their own half. A young man named Ariel stepped up, to deliver an expected ball into the box. Instead, he sent a rocket into the top left corner of the goal, causing everyone to leap and shout. 3-3 final score.
The game went to sudden death penalties, gathering a mass of spectators that had to be kept under control as they stormed the pitch to watch. After a couple of misses and saves, Caibaan finally netted a thunderbolt, putting them into the final.
With Abucay winning 1-0 against New Kawayaan, it was Caibaan vs Abucay to battle it out for the top spot. The final didn’t offer the excitement of the previous game, with Abucay proving tactically stout, hanging onto a 1-0 lead until the end. Abucay, albeit a surprise to most, won the Copa Tacloban.
Medals were handed out to the players and coaches of the four finalist teams, with the winners also receiving an Arsenal shirt each. After a few group photos with all of the teams and coaches, some of the sites began their trip back home.
While the remaining sites and coaches were waiting for the cab to return for the next trip, we decided to play a full field game with all of the staff and kids. Having had everything so structured all day, we thought we’d have some fun, play 17-a-side, and let some ludic chaos ensue. One of the goals saw Jamie and me link up, play some 1-2’s, Jamie dinking the ball back inside to me, which I volleyed into the far left corner. This was soon followed by a comment of “Well that went a bit high level…”, to which we then dialled down our Premier League aspirations, and returned to misplaced passes and shots.
The day overall was a big success, with everything running smoothly and on time. Jamie and I were content and proud with the result of running our first tournament. Towards the end of the match, a few minutes before everything was said and done, one moment in particular made the whole thing worthwhile. A young lad walked up to me, face bearing a beaming smile, although having just lost possession of the ball, said “This is so fun! Thank you for having us here”. It didn’t matter to him he had just lost the ball, he was having fun, and that is the most important thing of all.
Although I had never seen him before, in letting me know I had made his day, he had also made mine.