The Younghusband brothers and their unfaltering foray into placing the Philippines on the map of international football scene.
WORDS MICHAEL ANGELO MURILLO | PHOTOGRAPHY RXANDY CAPINPIN
In local football, the brothers Phil and James Younghusband marked a sea change in fan appreciation and interest in the sport. Members of the national team since 2005, the Younghusband brothers, born to English father Philip Younghusband, Sr. and Filipino mother Susan Placer, have seen Philippine football grow exponentially since they first arrived.
It is something that brings a lot of pride and honor on their part, they shared, seeing how their sacrifices and hard work as part of a group of football stakeholders have translated to great strides for the sport in the country.
From the Philippines finding its way back in the overall football scheme in the region, to the “Miracle of Hanoi” in 2010 that had the football community noticing, to the recent victory of the Philippine Azkals over Tajikistan in the qualifiers that booked for the country a first-ever AFC Asian Cup spot, the Younghusbands were part and parcel of moving Philippine football forward.
“Me and my brother are very proud to be part of this development of Philippine football. A lot has progressed. When we first came here, we had a 50-year plan. It’s gone faster than what we expected,” said James, 31, the elder of the Younghusband brothers.
Phil, 30, pointed out that in the decade or so since they joined the national team, the Azkals have climbed in the rankings from around 191-192 to 111. “We have come a long way… to be among the best 24 teams in the biggest continent in the world, in the biggest sport, shows how far we have come,” said the younger Younghusband, referring to the Asian Cup happening in 2019.
Their success is accompanied by other positive developments, among them the growth of the football community and the establishment of a professional league.
While the brothers are excited about booking a spot in the Asian Cup and helping the Azkals show off their skills on a bigger stage, they recognize that they are up against stiff competition as they are grouped with South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan in the initial phase of the quadrennial Asian Cup happening from January to February 2019 in the United Arab Emirates.
“It’s a tough draw but it could have been worse. If we want to progress and be a better team, we need to play in this sort of tournament against the best teams. We are looking forward to the challenge. South Korea will be a tough game because they have been a staple in the World Cup. China and Kyrgyzstan—we have played them before and we have an idea how they play. We are aiming to be second in the group or one of the four third-place teams with the best record,” said Phil, who is the lone Filipino football player in history who has scored 50 international goals.
For James, doing well in the Asian Cup could potentially be “massive” in relation to their larger football goals: “I think it will be massive. With these milestones we hope more people get to pick up the sport and see the benefits of playing it. And more sponsors to come in and help the growth of the sport by building facilities and supporting teams locally,” he said.
The Younghusbands would also like to see the gains that Philippine football has made to be sustained by, among other things, having more football games shown on television. Media coverage, they explained, goes a long way in promoting the sport, as does local leadership focusing on grassroots development. On a personal level, the brothers shared that while they still have a lot left in their tanks, they hope their contributions to the sport won’t be forgotten when their playing days are over.
“We just want to be remembered for ourselves. Me and Phil, we have done things together both on and off the field. We work together and we are family. We want our legacy to be one of providing opportunities and inspiration for others as well to live their dreams,” said James.
Phil, on the other hand, said: “First off, we want to be remembered as good people. We want them to say that we were nice people, polite and well-mannered—that’s what our mom and dad want us to be. In football, we want to be remembered as passionate about the sport and passionate about wanting the sport in the country to improve more than anything else. We laid some of the foundation and hopefully others can build on it. It’s not only me and James but the entire team.”