Football Diaries: Negros Occidental Football Assoc. (NOFA) Cup 2015

When told us that he is part of the team going to Bacolod for a tournament, I was thrilled and excited! First of all, the team is composed of 8 boys from DLSZ and 8 kids from La Salle Greenhills.  The thought that he was one of those selected by the coaches to represent his school is an awesome feat!  Secondly, this is his first out of town tournament — and to the football capital of the country, no less! Plus of course, Bacolod is also known for its gastronomic feasts.

F is required to travel and stay with the team for most parts of the trip.  S and I booked the same flight as the team so F would have a companion.  Plus, I figured that we have to bring him to the airport anyway, so might as well take the same schedule to save us a trip.  N had work duties so he just followed us in Bacolod.  Here’s a run-down of our five days in the City of Smiles.

Day 1: Team screening, training and welcome dinner

We arrived in Bacolod at around 7am.  Thankfully, the rooms at Luxur Place were already available so we checked-in immediately.  I just helped F settle in with his teammates in their room and then we all proceeded with breakfast and got some rest.

The boys at the airport waiting for our flight

The boys at the airport waiting for our flight

Coaches Hans, Alvin and Manji called for an assembly at 3pm for players only.  They went to the Bacolod City Government Center for a screening and interview of the players and then off to a last training session.  All participating teams were invited to attend the Welcome Dinner prepared by organizers.

U13 La Salle team off to  interview and training

U13 La Salle team off to interview and training

Since this was exclusively for coaches and players only, S and I spent our time relaxing at the hotel.  In the afternoon, we went out with N to check out Calea — a cafe and bakeshop famous for its luscious cakes and pastries.  Everything looked sooo good, we had a hard time choosing!  In the end, we got a slice of chocolate cake, berry cheesecake and an ice cream cake.  All did not disappoint! ☺🍰

Still tired from the travel, we had dinner at the hotel then hit the sack.

Day 2: Opening Ceremonies and Start of Games

We headed off to Panaad Stadium where all the games will be staged.  There were 12 competing teams in the tournament.  After the lots were drawn, Team La Salle was grouped with Malaya FC, Crocodile FC (Davao), Barotac (Iloilo), NOFA, and Sta. Barbara FC (Iloilo) — all very strong contenders!

One La Salle Team at the opening ceremonies

One La Salle Team at the opening ceremonies

First game against Malaya FC ended with a heartbreaking lone goal from their opponent.  La Salle dominated the game with ball possession majority of the time.  The boys had several attempts at the goal but it just wasn’t to be.

F in action (photo credit: Malaya FC)

F in action
(photo credit: Malaya FC)

We comforted ourselves with a good and hearty lunch at 21 Restaurant.  N and I tried their famous batchoy while the kids got steak and chicken.  Great ambience and delicious food, no wonder it came highly recommended by a lot of our friends!  We left the restaurant happy with our food choices and ready for the next game.

Pre-game huddle

Pre-game huddle

The afternoon game against Crocodile FC was more to our liking.  La Salle dominated the game and didn’t let the opponents from Davao score.  We had several missed shots at the goal but we were happy to go home with a 2-0 score.

For dinner, we went to another restaurant recommended by friends.  We went with some of F’s teammates and co-parents.  Dinner at 18th St., Pala-Pala was well worth it!  Stuffed squid, grilled tanigue, buttered garlic prawns, pork barbecue, calamares. Y-U-M-M-Y!!! After that sumptuous dinner, we were ready to call it a day.

Day 3: Games vs. NOFA and Barotac

The game in the morning was against the hosts, NOFA.  According to Coach Hans, their selection came from approximately 80 kids who tried out.  So to say that this team is first-rate is an understatement.  Our boys played their hearts out.  At the end of the half, we were down by only 1 goal.  However, as the game wore on, the NOFA boys found their groove and scored 3 more goals until the final whistle.  It was a tough loss indeed.

Everybody went back to the hotel to rest and get ready for yet another anticipated gruelling match in the afternoon.  We decided to try out the ribs place very near the hotel.  Lord Byron’s Ribs was a hole-in-a-wall restaurant — no aircon, just nipa huts and makeshift furniture — but it had a full lunch crowd!  The menu was limited.  They only offered ribs, sisig, bangus steak and burger so we opted to get the house special.  The ribs were so good and tender and the portion is very generous.  In hindsight, S and I should’ve just shared an order and that would’ve left us both full.  It was no wonder that this place is packed!

Yummy ribs from Lord Byron's

Yummy ribs from Lord Byron’s

The boys were ready for another battle with Barotac FC, one of the football teams that has made quite a name for itself.  Apparently, Barotac was the team of former Azkal captain Chieffy Caligdong when he was younger.  Our boys played a good game and won the match by 2-1 margin.

Post-game interview with local television network

Post-game interview with a local TV network after the win against Barotac FC

For dinner, F decided to stay with his friends and go back to the ribs place. N took S & I to Manokan Country for some authentic chicken inasal (barbecue).  After three days in Bacolod, all I could say was “Finally!”.  Manokan Country is a line of small reastaurants all offering inasal.  We chose to go to Aida’s for arguably the best inasal in the area.  The three of us had paa (chicken legs), chorizo, chicken liver and of course, chicken oil drizzled over a cup of garlic rice.  It might have been the simplest meal we had but one of the yummiest by far!  After we’ve had our fill, we headed to Calea again for dessert before going back to the hotel to get some rest for the next day’s games.

Day 4:  Game vs. Sta. Barbara and Quarterfinals

The morning game against Iloilo’s Sta. Barbara was a thriller.  We were down 0-2 by the end of the half but we started the second half strong with a quick goal.  There were several shots on goal but the boys weren’t able to convert. Sta. Barbara scored another goal towards the latter part of the game which eventually sealed the match.

By lunch time, we were told that our scores were good enough to get us through the quarterfinals.  We decided to just stay at the hotel for lunch to prepare for the battle against Pag-asa FC from Iloilo.

Warming up before the big game

Warming up before the big game

The quarterfinals game was exciting! Up against the best team from the other group, our boys showed up and gave their all.  It was quite a tough match from start to finish.  In the end though, we had to bow to the other team with a final score of 4-2.

The boys were sad and disappointed that they didn’t make it to the “trophy rounds” but we, the parents and coaches, were truly proud of how they fought in all their games.  They lost in some of the games but they picked themselves up and played their hearts out in the next one.

One La Salle team with parents and coaches

One La Salle team with parents and coaches

We arranged for a team dinner at Ana’s Garden and Seafood Grill for players and parents and also as a thank you to our coaches who have been nothing but patient, understanding and supportive of the kids.  It was no easy feat handling 16 tweeners so all I can say is “Kudos, Coaches!”.

Day 5:

After several days of early call times, we decided to sleep-in on our last day.  Shortly after breakfast, we went to hear Mass at a nearby church as we won’t be able to make it to any of the Masses in Manila due to our flight schedule.

For lunch, we decided to go to Bacolod Chicken House for one last bite of authentic inasal.  Afterwards, we let the kids have some more fun time swimming and bonding with their friends.

Swimming time

Swimming time

Before we left for the airport, we were informed that Team La Salle was awarded Best in Sportsmanship.  I believe ours was the only team that was not handed out any yellow or red cards during the entire tournament.  Truly, fair play is at the core of the team’s values and it was a great feeling to be recognized for that by the other teams.

We bought our pasalubongs and Bacolod goodies from Merzci and Bongbong’s and soon after, we were headed back home to Manila.

I am sure that Bacolod has sooo much more to offer.  We barely scratched the surface of places to visit and restaurants to try! And so, while we bid the City of Smiles good-bye, we cannot wait for another opportunity to come back.