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Euro-Filipino Rockstar Footballers

Words & photos by Cedelf Tupas

England-based goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, whose mother hails from Tarlac Philippine province with a huge save against China in a World Cup Qualifying match in Bacolod

Footballer Stephan Schrock has played in some of the biggest, most iconic stadiums in the world during his career in Europe. With a career that spans almost two decades starting from youth level in Germany, Schrock saw action for three seasons in the German top-flight with Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt.

And while the midfielder will always cherish times when he went up against the best in the Bundesliga and played at packed stadiums, he admits there’s no greater feeling that could rival representing his mother’s country, the Philippines. It hardly mattered that he had to travel halfway around the world for a couple of matches during international breaks early in his national team career.

“As soon as I decided to play for the Philippines, I knew I would make my Nanay very happy,” said Schrock. “I love the country. I have Filipino blood, but this was also a tribute to my Nanay (Nanay is the Filipino term for mother.) When I was six, my parents separated, and things got hard for us. My mom had to raise us, while working two or three jobs,” said Schrock.

“Football was always there for me, and it soon became my way out of those difficult times.

First Half Philippines vs Syria World Cup & Asian Cup Qualifier

Schrock’s mom, Maria Cabizares hails from the Southern city of North Cotabato, but moved to Schweinfurt, Germany when he met Schrock’s father.

Almost a decade since he wore the Philippines kit for the first time, Schrock is now the captain of the national team, leading the squad in its first-ever AFC Asian Cup appearance in 2019 in the United Arab Emirates.

It’s a role he has embraced. Known for his fiery character, Schrock demands excellence from teammates and has also led by example, scoring the first goal of the Philippines in the continental competition.

The Philippine national men’s football team was given the monicker “Askals” - a Filipino term loosely referring to street dogs - back in 2005 by fans in an online forum. According to Cebu-based journalist Noel Villaflor, fans agreed that the Filipino football player must possess the traits of the askal: aggressiveness, resilience, unbridled loyalty.

“The Askal survives, even triumphs, amid meager resources, against all odds. It transcends bloodlines,” Villaflor said. With a slight tweak, the “s” was changed to “z,” the team’s monicker Azkals was born.

The term could not have been more apt since this was the time when the Philippine Football Federation scouted for talents overseas to reinforce the team. While the Filipino football program is still in the developmental stage, players of Filipino lineage in Europe were exposed to the sport early, under strong youth and club structures.

Filipino-German Kevin Ingreso #14 in action vs China in the AFC Asian Cup

Among the early European-based players who were recruited for the national team are England-based Filipinos Phil and James Younghusband, Chris Greatwich and Chad Gould.

The Younghusband brothers, who were once on Chelsea’s reserve team, and Greatwich were instrumental in the 2-0 victory over then defending champion Vietnam in the 2010 Asean Championships in Hanoi. It was a win that sparked Filipino interest in the sport again and the players became celebrities overnight.

The sudden popularity of the team and the wave of support that came with it led to interest from players based in Europe.

#17 Shrock holding the banner

One of them was Schrock , then making waves in the second division in Germany, who finally got to play for the Philippines, in the 2011 World Cup qualifiers. Schrock was given the rockstar treatment as soon as he stepped unto the Rizal Memorial Stadium pitch in Manila. He gifted the fans with a memorable goal in a 3-1 loss to Kuwait.

More than a decade on, Filipinos who grew up in Europe remain an integral part of the team. During the last Fifa World Cup qualifiers in the UAE, more than half of the squad were born in European countries, including Switzerland, Denmark, Spain, Germany, and England.

Schrock, of course, is the spearhead that links past teams to the current one.

“I just remind my teammates what we are fighting for,” said Schrock. “When we’re with the national team, we’re not on a holiday or anything. We are here because we represent the country. We are here because we have Filipino blood running through our veins regardless of where we grew up.” R&W

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