Pinoy Power on the Pitch
Two Filipina-Swedish soccer players pack a punch on the pitch and help their team to a first-place finish in the World Youth Soccer Cup!
There’s something incredible about watching the remarkable change that occurs in children when they play team sports. One moment my daughter is lying contentedly in bed, studying YouTube videos incessantly to improve her slime-making formulas and squishy-repair capabilities, then, the call to arms is announced: “Time to get ready for the game!” and with a yawn and a stretch she’s up and starts getting ready for battle.
Like a miniature Gladiator she adorns her “armor” of cleats, shin-guards and fiercely colored uniform, and rushes out onto the battleground where the transformation is complete. The team, pint-sized spitfire packages of energy, on the frontline of the dewy/snowy/frozen pitch (depending on the season in Sweden), allied in challenging foes and crushing enemies. Their individuality disappears and they morph into a single organism, moving in tandem, in a coach-choreographed dance toward, hopefully, victory. The transformation comes full circle only forty minutes later as she rests in the backseat of my soccer mom car, peaceful once again, feeding carrots to her Minecraft farm animals.
The World Youth Soccer Cup winning Djursholm’s Soccer Club team F07 with their coaches.
The story of the Djursholm Soccer Club girls team F07 (born in 2007 and aged 11) is a modern-day David vs Goliath.
All the girls on the team come from the unique community of Djursholm (pronounced Yersh-holm), a small town with a population of just 8,800 people that lies twelve quick minutes north of Stockholm. This small team from the very small town is exceptional, and in their short career, they’ve had remarkable success against clubs from huge cities. Behind these results is the combination of a unique set of circumstances brought together to create a dream team: a physically extraordinary batch of players, each with specific expertise and natural talents in certain positions; outstanding, dedicated coaches; overwhelmingly supportive families; and a nurturing community environment.
Sweden is unique in that the soccer association does not allow official scoring to be published until players are 12 years old. However, that doesn’t stop people from counting and in the end everyone still knows the victorious and vanquished team. At the 2017 unofficial National Championship Halör Cup, Djursholm F07 emerged as the best team in Sweden (although they lost the final to Denmark). Regardless, the team bullishly left the tournament scoring a total 29 goals and conceding only 1. Pretty phenomenal. Djursholm F07 was also awarded Team of the Year in 2016 by their soccer club when they won the St Erik’s Cup (the largest soccer cup in Stockholm) for their age group AND for the year older than them (they competed in both age groups at the tournaments simultaneously). In 2018, they claimed the ultimate achievement - first place at the Gothia World Youth Cup, tied with China.
The Gothia World Youth Cup, most recently held in July 2018, is the world’s largest junior soccer championship and was attended by 1750 teams from 80 countries. During the week-long tournament Djursholm played against many teams but certain matches were more significant because of the magnitude of the competition.
The Djursholm girls met fierce opposition in the game against JSSL Singapore, a club that is affiliated with the famed Arsenal and that hosts Asia’s largest youth soccer championship. Singapore also has the advantage of sourcing their team from a population of 5,600,000 people. Result? Little Djursholm won.
Djursholm also competed against a team from Qiongzhong, China, a mountainous region known for cultivating soccer players for five generations. Apparently, years of climbing the mountains have made them incredibly fit, and their reactions and reflexes are supposed to be razor sharp. At the end of the contest Djursholm emerged victorious.
Next, Djursholm met their toughest competitors so far: Shanghai’s Jinshan Xingsta, an “academy” team, which means that their school focuses strictly on soccer training and producing elite soccer athletes. They can draw on an enormous Goliath-sized population of 24,000,000 people to source the best of the best players. In complete contrast to the tiny Djursholm Soccer Club which has just one large and one small field where the team practices for 4.5 hours every week, Shanghai’s team, which trains for two hours EVERYDAY, has dozens of soccer fields at their disposal.
Abi practices her powerful kicks.
As mentioned earlier, the Gothia Cup and the Swedish Soccer Association do not allow results to be displayed at the girls’ age, but anyone who can count can add up the points of the matches and Djursholm emerged triumphant in a shared first place position with Shanghai’s Jinshan Xingsta. At the tournament’s close, both FC Djursholm and Jinshan Xingsta each won six matches and lost one finishing with 18 points each, an outstanding achievement against the toughest possible opposition. The final results of the 2018 Gothia World Youth Cup for girls aged 11: 1) FC Djursholm, 18 points (out of 21 possible) together with Jinshan Xingsta, 18 points, 3) JSSL Singapore, 16 points.
Apart from being endowed with unique abilities, the Djursholm F07 team is also partly driven by two Swedish-Filipina players, Abigail (Abi) Fallenius and my daughter Filippa Babes Skarne, both aged 11. Abi started playing soccer at the age of 6 because her big sister Hana played and she accompanied her. Abi’s favorite thing about soccer, in addition to winning, of course, is the team spirit and the rewards that come from her physical and mental efforts including happy endorphins!
Abi is the daughter of Swede Peter Fallenius and Filipina Juliet who hails from Banaue in Ifugao Province, Luzon - which is famed for its rice terraces. Juliet has lived in Sweden for 17 years and maintains Filipino traditions with the Filipino Cultural Association of Stockholm, food, music and traditional dances. Peter has been to the Philippines several times, at first for work and then with family, and has fond memories of a friend’s wedding in Nasugbo and a New Year’s Eve in Baguio.
“It is a big country, a beautiful country. Lots of opportunities thanks to nice, hard working people,” says Peter.
Filippa Babes started playing soccer at the age of 7, a few years after most of her teammates, but took to the game immediately. She inherits her athletic and muscular frame from her father, Filip Skarne, as well as her speed and stamina. She plays the role of striker, responsible for hammering the ball into the net. Filippa has been to the Philippines a handful of times for family occasions, most recently to watch her big sister Cloie represent Sweden as Miss Earth Sweden in the international pageant, and of course Filip was there too. Filip’s favorite place in the Philippines is a tie between the enormous private island in El Nido of our recently deceased friend Eduardo Vaca, who, when not using it privately rented it to networks worldwide to film “Survivor”, and my family’s ancestral home in the Spanish colonial town of Vigan, The Syquia Mansion, now a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Filippa continues to sharpen her skills.
The magic of the team is not only in the players of course: if the players are the ingredients, then the coaches are the chefs. The secret sauce of Djursholm F07 lies in the fact that it is coached by three amazing individuals, two of whom are volunteer dads: Jonus Bartholdson (father of player Fabienne), Martin Roos (father of player Mathilda) and Robert Assadkhan, who works at a bank full-time and coaches because of his love for the game. There’s a passion from these three that you can’t put a price on and a dedication that goes beyond anything you could ever find in a 9 to 5 job. I’d say it’s like having your own business: it’s a labor of love and personal pride that is with you 24-7.
Coach Robert played at the elite level until he was 18 years old when he started taking coaching courses. He’s now in his 11th year as a youth coach. Robert wanted to work with children and to develop young players.
“I had very good coaches myself and wanted to pay it back in a way. I knew it would develop me as a person also,” says Robert. He also shed some light on what makes this team so special. “I came back to the Djursholm club after my session in Djurgården (a prominent Swedish soccer club) and had a few offers on the table. I was offered to coach 16 and 17 year olds at the elite level, both girls and boys, but I wanted something else. I didn’t feel the thrill and motivation that I had earlier. When F07 turned up as an offer, I immediately felt my motivation come back! To work with the girls from an early stage and be able to develop and prepare them for 11–a-side games and higher levels of soccer was really appealing to me. This was a good choice as these girls are fantastic! Not only are they very talented, some of them easily the best in Sweden, but they have also given me the joy and happiness of coaching soccer again. Of course, we win a lot - and it’s fun to win - but it’s not only that: the feelings of friendship, support and always wanting to make progress and learn new things are fantastic!”
Dad coaches Jonus and Martin decided together to take over the responsibilities of coaching when they saw their daughters’ team. They both volunteer their time after work and during weekends to train and coach the team. The F07 is the only team at the Djursholm Soccer Club that is being coached by dads.
Coach Jonus played professional soccer as a forward in the Allsvenskan (Premier League in Sweden) for three years.
“I have had many coaches during my soccer career, some really good ones, some bad ones. I am genuinely interested in helping people to grow, more than just the game itself, so when my daughter started playing matches four years ago, I offered my services to the club to take responsibility for the team. I felt I could help develop them not only as players but also as people,” says Jonus.
Coach Martin Roos started his soccer career at the age of 6 and by the time he was 12 was recruited to play for Sweden’s biggest club - AIK. He played in the Junior Swedish Premier League until he, unfortunately, injured both knees at the age of 18 which was sadly the untimely end of his soccer career. He had no plans of being a children’s coach until he saw the team at their first training session and recognized their talent and potential. He and Jonus decided that they wanted to be a part of it.
Not all serious training: the girls have some fun on the pitch!
“First and foremost, this batch is exceptionally talented, but they also have fantastic cohesion and respect each other as individuals. Last but not least, they undoubtedly have the best coaches one can find,” Martin says with a wink.
The familiar saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” and Djursholm, with its sleepy one-block-long main street, is a small village. In the US where I was raised, to emphasize the smallness of a place, we call it a “one traffic-light town”. Djursholm doesn’t even have a traffic light in its town center (there are a couple scattered near schools to slow cars down). People often wonder if there is something special in the water in Djursholm or is it true what the recent best-selling Swedish book about the suburb titled: “Djursholm - Making of Leaders” (Mikael Holmqvist) hypothesizes: even though the town is small, the population is mainly made up of successful industry leaders, movers and shakers – many whose families have lived there for generations – that sustain a community that raises its children to be like them, quite simply put: to be winners. Djursholm is to Stockholm what Greenwich is to New York City, and Beverly Hills is to Los Angeles: a small, tight-knit enclave of leaders that through hard work, networking and a sense of togetherness, help their children thrive.
The cherry on top of the team’s remarkable success is an extraordinary level of parental involvement. Parent meetings are standing-room only events that at first occupied a conference room in the clubhouse, but now have had to move into the cafeteria for lack of space. Sidelines at away games are well represented with cheering parents, siblings and grandparents and home games, of course, even more so. The world’s greatest athletes come from very different socio-economic backgrounds (Pele from poverty, Ronaldo from poverty, the Williams sisters ‘Straight Outta Compton’ in LA, the list goes on and on) and while there is a lot to be said about how birth month can influence athletic abilities, there are always exceptions. But one thing the majority of successful athletes have in common is this: truly involved parents that encourage their children’s passion and provide a support system to help their participation in the sport. Whether driving them here and there, making sure their uniform and equipment are ready, taking part in supporting their schedules, being part of the planning, or just being on the sidelines and cheering them on to victory. Family involvement, or the lack thereof, is hugely influential and plays a significant role in the success or failure of athletes. Djursholm F07 has enormous parental involvement. At one tournament abroad last year our team had about 15 parents and siblings along and two mom team managers (myself and my amazing co-manager Marie Elmlund - mother of player Julia) with the 12 players - in stark contrast to another team that had just 2 parents with them.
The convergence of all of these key advantages has provided the perfect spark for the little dream team in Djursholm and the future looks very promising. There’s talk of possibly participating in Asia’s biggest soccer cup in Singapore where they might meet teams from the Philippines, or perhaps staying closer to home and competing in Barcelona -- and there’s always the chance of playing in the Gothia World Youth Cup next year.
Until then, the girls will keep on doing what they do best - being kids and having fun and playing hard. As they share unforgettable moments together with their team they’re being meticulously transformed both physically and mentally every day to be victorious both on and off the field. We’ve become an extended family of sorts: coaches like extra parents, teammates like siblings, and hopefully, team managers like me and Marie, as extra moms.
The coaches speak about Abi, Filippa and the Philippines:
About Abi “Abi is a well-educated player, very tough to play with 1vs1 and often has a physical advantage, very flexible in her movements.” Robert
“Abi is a hardworking and intelligent player. She reads the game well, she passes well, and she has a strong breakthrough capacity coming from behind, either from a defense position or as a wing midfielder.” Jonus
“Abi is a very happy and sweet girl. Her strength as a soccer player is that she is very stable, confident in stealing the ball, and is skilled at passing.” Martin
About Filippa “Our own energy source Filippa! Probably the best offensive player I have ever seen or worked with in this age. Has a natural gaze on the goal and is extremely confident and safe with the ball.“ Robert
“Filippa is one of the most technically skilled players in the team and our best goal scorer. She is fast, she regains possession of the ball from the opponents a lot and is very skilled in passing and breakthroughs. She also shoots well with both feet.” Jonus
“Filippa is a very happy, considerate girl with a sparkle in her eye! She is a typical striker: fast, technical, and a fantastic shot!” Martin
About the Philippines: “The Philippines is a dream vacation. I actually studied a bit about the Philippine freedom fighters Lapu-Lapu and José Rizal in my political studies.” Robert
“I’d really like to go to the Philippines one day. I’ve heard from people who have been there that it is incredibly beautiful!” Martin
“I would love to go to the Philippines! The climate is warm, it is a great recreational place, and there are lovely people. The economy is also picking up.” Jonus
The girls speak about the Philippines
From Abi ”My favorite place in the Philippines: Banaue where my mother is from, and our home in Manila
My favorite food: Adobo (or as she calls it, ”Mammas special chicken”) and dried mango
My favorite things to do: I’m very musical and sing in a choir and play flute. That definitely comes from my Philippine genes! The combination of sports and music/singing improves me both mentally and physically.”
From Filippa ”My favorite place in the Philippines - My favorite place is the beach in El Nido and the Boracay Shangri-La
My favorite food - Chicken Adobo!
My favorite things to do - I love to see my family! My mother has 46 first cousins on my Lolo’s side, so I have so many relatives!”
Filippa with mother Jenny and Abi with mother Juliet.
About the Author
Jenny Syquia Skarne is the Djursholm F07 team manager or “momager” as she prefers. “Never in my wildest of dreams did I ever envision myself being a soccer mom, and definitely not a soccer team manager, but I love it!” The Filipina-American is the daughter of the recently deceased Victor Syquia from Ilocos Sur and American Susan Syquia. Jenny lived in the Philippines for several years working as a commercial model, starring in several movies with Fernando Poe, Joey de Leon, Charlene Gonzales and Ina Raymundo, and hosting the daytime TV show Eat Bulaga. She started her writing career at Vogue in New York City working for Anna Wintour, and then founded and was Editor-in-Chief of Bride Philippines. She is the author of the soon to be released children’s illustrated book, “Cloie’s Be Yourself Style” that you can read more about at www.JennySyquia.com.
Check out Filippa’s soccer YouTube channel: Soccer Girl Filippa Skarne
Learn more about the charity supported by the Djursholm Soccer Club: www.HandInHand.nu