By Stuart Samson SA21 – U
Waking up at dawn and hearing raindrops fall made me forget that I’m supposed to be thankful it’s Friday. More so when I set out to school, looked up, and saw the city covered with a large gray cloud that seemed like it won’t run out of tears. I was really excited for what I was about to do later on during the day and I just kept wishing that this unusual rainfall will stop.
As I got through all my classes scheduled for the day, I was set to battle the heavy Friday afternoon traffic. The rain hadn’t stopped all day and it fell even harder when I was leaving the campus grounds; luckily, things got better. I arrived at the BGC Turf located at Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, with moderate to light traffic and no rain at all. This is where people (mostly strangers to each other) who play football (or soccer) gather every Friday night to play a couple of games; united by their love for the game. I have long yearned to play on this ground, which is used by the Azkals (our national football team) as the venue of their training sessions. For a price of only two-hundred fifty pesos, you get to play for four hours starting at eight o’clock in the evening. It is open to everyone and as I learned later on, some people have made it a habit to play here every week.
When I entered the pitch, I immediately observed the playing surface, something I was really curious about. It wasn’t composed of natural grass and soil but rather the grass was made of plastic and the “soil” was actually made of pieces of rubber about the size of a pebble. The friction caused by the rubber probably explains why it didn’t feel slippery although it was showered by rain throughout the day. There was a gentle breeze flowing through the air and the whole field was well-lit by large floodlights on each corner of the fence. You could also smell the aroma of roasted food from the Mercato food bazaar that is directly adjacent to the field; with some of their customers preferring to watch by the fence while grabbing a bite and drinking beer. All I could smell though was passion and excitement emanating from all the players including my friend, Noel Deles, and myself. Noel has played many times there and is a very seasoned footballer, having been part of the Ateneo football varsity team since grade school.
We started stretching and warming-up as more players entered the field. Each game will last for about twenty minutes, after which a marshall will blow his whistle and players in line will take the field while those who have just played will sit down and rest then line up again; basically, a first come – first serve rule is applied. That was ideally the situation, but probably due to the rainfall throughout the day, less people turned up according to Noel, which in turn allowed us to play consecutive games. Not everyone gets to do this though and it is all about asserting your authority by staying on the field after the marshall has blown his whistle and swiftly forming a new team with the players that have just entered, something that Noel shared with me and I followed his cues.
As the games went on, I noticed that players who take the lead are usually the eldest person in their respective teams (usually in their 30s or 40s) and everyone else really looked up to them. It was also comforting to have Noel in my team since players (the ones in my team at least) prefer to pass the ball to their acquaintances rather than an open stranger, which meant that most of the balls I received were from Noel. As the game went on, the team seemed to get more comfortable with each other, thus a smoother and more flowing passing game. This phenomenon occurred every time the game restarts and when teams changed their players. I got to play two consecutive games before deciding to sit down while Noel (who is obviously more fit than me, mind you) played three before taking a rest. I waited for him to complete his rest before we set out on another set of consecutive games. During my long rest, I got a chance to talk to another player who was also resting and his name is Justin Deanon.
Justin was very friendly and approachable. He told me that ever since he discovered this place around November last year, he has been playing here every week. He quickly explained that this was his way of relieving stress after a long week of work as a sales manager for a multinational company. Besides football, he mentioned that he enjoys going to this place because he meets a lot of people ranging from lawyers and doctors, to security guards and janitors who also share a passion for the sport. He also shared stories of injuries which he has witnessed, from dislocated elbows to cuts that require stitches; including a sprained wrist he picked up himself.
After playing two more games, I decided to pack up and drive back home. I thanked Justin and Noel, both of whom stayed to play more games. With one goal to my name, that was the cherry on top to what was a fun and tiring experience. I’d definitely go back to play more and hopefully score more goals!
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Besides getting tired and getting more of a feel of the game, it allowed me to understand more about why football players flock here. The surface is indeed more comfortable than regular soil pitches,, and there is instant camaraderie between players (strangers).
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
The informant gave me a heads-up on what to expect and reduced the awkwardness, especially at the start. Also, it helped me get immersed quicker and therefore give me more time to concentrate on observing and playing (well, mostly playing).
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
The atmosphere and intensity of the game will not be felt and experience at its fullest without participating. It will be hard to justify upon yourself why this game is called the world’s most popular sport. In short, emotion or any other feelings cannot be fully expressed by words.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
For introverts, their observation and data gathering abilities may be more optimized in an interview/questionnaire scenario. The limited social interactions involved will allow them to concentrate more on the task at hand. Thankfully, I am not one of them.