Hello, good reader! Yep, I’m still under lockdown thanks to COVID19. (Stay at home! Stay safe!)
And yes, another post about Philippine football --- because it’s my blog and I write what I want to. In my previous article (click here), I briefly touched on the main topic for this post: the Philippines Football League (PFL).
The PFL is the country’s national domestic league and it is, I think, the newest and youngest football league in Southeast Asia and, presumably, the whole of Asia. The PFL debuted back in 2017. The league was initially comprised of eight (8) teams:
1. Ceres-Negros FC 5. Ilocos United FC
2. Kaya-Makati FC 6. JPV Marikina FC
3. Global Cebu FC 7. Meralco Manila FC
4. Davao Aguilas FC 8. Stallion Laguna FC
Most of these teams had already played in the United Football League (UFL), the predecessor of the PFL which was a semi-professional league based in Metro Manila. The PFL was meant to be a nationwide league with a home & away format so games could be played all across the country. The eventual champion and runners-up would then represent the country in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League and the AFC Cup, respectively.
To encourage more fan support, the teams linked up and created ties with cities or provinces from which they were “based in.” For example, the parent company of Ceres Negros FC is based in Bacolod City of the province of Negros Occidental so it was natural for them to add Negros to the club’s name. By the 2019 season, Global Cebu had rebranded as Global Makati as the club switched from Cebu City to Makati City; likewise, Kaya Makati became known as Kaya Iloilo.
The inaugural champion of the PFL was Ceres-Negros FC. The club would go on to win the PFL championship two more times, making them the only team, so far, to have been crowned champions during the league’s existence.
By 2018, prior to its second season, the league was down to six teams as Meralco Manila and Ilocos United were disbanded. As I mentioned earlier, Ceres-Negros repeated as champions. At the end of the 2018 season, Davao Aguilas also disbanded which left the league with only five teams remaining.
A major highlight of the 2018 season was the introduction of the Copa Paulino Alcantara, the league’s cup competition. Kaya-Iloilo won the first edition of the Copa. The winner of the Copa will get to participate in the AFC Cup competition.
In 2019, the league was comprised of seven (7) teams: Ceres-Negros, Kaya-Iloilo, Global Makati and Stallion Laguna (the four original clubs left) and three new clubs, Green Archers United, Philippine Airforce FC and Mendiola 1991 FC.
The big highlight was the utter and complete dominance of Ceres Negros as they achieved the double. They won their 3rd PFL title as well as their first Copa Alcantara title. And they did all this without losing a single game!
During the third season, the home and away format was scrapped mainly due to the expenses clubs incurred travelling to, and from, other regions within the country. (For those who aren’t aware, the Philippines is an archipelago so air travel is the fastest and most convenient.) The matches were played mainly in the Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila as well as the Aboitiz Pitch in Lipa City and the Biñan Football Stadium in Biñan City (both Lipa and Biñan are located just outside Metro Manila).
As the PFL was gearing for its fourth season in the summer of 2020, they managed to get Qatar Airways as a major sponsor and the National Team’s U23 squad are slated to participate in the league as the Azkals Development Team (A.D.T. FC), the league's eighth team.
But, as we know by now, COVID19 put a halt to all sporting events so we wait for the league to begin play a little longer.
Major problems already began to emerge as far back as the league’s debut season. Despite the promise of televised games in 2017, after the first couple of matches were aired, there were no further matches shown on television. Instead, the league turned to the livestreaming of games which had no play-by-play commentary. These matches were streamed in the PFL page on Facebook and its website.
During its three seasons, live attendance to the matches were very poor unless there was a marquee match-up but still, the numbers were nothing to write home about. In the handful of games I could go to, the crowds were sparse despite the affordable ticket prices offered by the league. Even worse, in some cases, games were either postponed because the stadiums weren’t ready or forfeited because some teams didn’t show up at all.
Filipino football fans can only hope that the PFL will improve and eventually establish itself as a major league in Asia. It helps that the league got a major sponsor like Qatar Airways, which the PFF claims can help its chances of getting a broadcasting deal to televise matches as well as, hopefully, improving football facilities and equipment and, finally, getting more clubs to join the league. Hopefully, as the league develops, better imports can come in and help the local players improve their football skills and raise the clubs' level of competition overall. In time, the local players will make the national team better and raise the sport's level of popularity to greater heights.
Thanks for taking the time to read! Salamat!
NOTE: I'm not affiliated with the PFL nor with the PFF. I'm just a football fan.