What makes a legend? Is it skill? Is it the silverware? Or is it the accolades? Right now, the very term “Legend” is very loosely attributed to any person who was really good at playing their trade.
But honestly, what makes a ‘real’ legend?
Let me tell you the story of our favorite hero from the Miracle of Hanoi, Emilio Caligdong, or as the crowd lovingly calls him, Chieffy. And before the fancy footwork and the signature flying celebration, we go back to where the legend was still just a myth.
Our story begins in the little town of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo. A town smack right down our nation’s one and only football capital. Being in a town, a province, that Eats, Sleeps, Breathes Football, it wasn’t hard for him to really love the sport.
“As the football capital of the Philippines yung town namin na Barotac Nuevo, siempre na-enganyo din ako sa mga kababata ko dati
It was here where football is left, right and center. So football was pretty hard to miss in these parts.
Everytime na pumunta kami ng school, ng market, madadaanan mo yung field.
But what really pushed him to own that sport, Chieffy owes to his brother. His brother’s name was Roberto Caligdong, a University of Santo Tomas Golden Booter from 1991 to 1994. And he, along with the rest of the family, was Chieffy’s inspiration.
Na-inspire ako maglaro ng football dahil sa kapatid ko, sa brother ko.
As Chieffy told us, it was his brother that trained him whenever he comes home from Manila, coaching him, and nurturing the footballer that he was yet to be. He was the very root of Chieffy’s football. He shared with us that, “siya talaga yung way na nagustuhan ko yung larong football.”
It would definitely be any older brother’s dream to see his younger brother achieve more than he can. But sadly it was not to be, because, in an unfortunate turn of events, Chieffy lost his brother in 1994. Chieffy was just in the 6th grade at the time.
To honor him, Chieffy carried the number 13, his brother’s number. Some say that the number 13 represents bad luck, depending on what you believe in. But for Chieffy, this was his good luck charm. With his brother’s dream on his back, Chieffy continued to play football until his college days, suiting up for the University of San Agustin. And it was here where a golden opportunity was presented to him.
In one of Barotac Nuevo’s football festivals, he was scouted by the Philippine Air Force. He was offered to play football while receiving an enlisted personnel’s salary. In exchange for serving the country, he can continue to play football as a livelihood. This, mind you, was an opportunity not every Filipino footballer can have at the time. We never had professional football in the past, but this was the closest thing.
Being only 17 years old, he asked for more time to sort everything out first. For one, he still wasn’t old enough to enlist. And he still had a few more units to complete. He also had to ask permission from his family and had to make sure the transition was smooth. But as we all can guess, he was well on his way after two years.
But it never really gets easier. We all know that this legend would run circles around most opponents he faces. It wasn’t all that at first. Just like us, his road to becoming legendary is full of hardships. His dream was to represent the flag. Make his town proud for the footballing capital that it is. Make is family proud of the footballers that they are. And so to make it a reality, he tried out for the national team.
We’d all think that with his talent, he could take on the world. But it wasn’t like that at all when he had his first try. Standing at a mere five feet, five inches, he was not highly regarded.
Naranasan ko din na ma-cut sa national team. Ilang beses din, pero hindi ako nag give up. Kasi una, yun nga, yung issue is yung height ko, maliit ako. So marami akong ka-kumpetensya sa national team. Pero hindi ako nagkaroon ng… nag isip na mag give up ako sa paglalaro ng football.
He faced rejection twice. But this is what separates the best from the rest. One doesn’t become a legend because of what we did at the peak, it’s how we pick ourselves up no matter how much life puts us down while we were still at the bottom. And indeed our hero did just that.
So china-challenge ko palagi yung sarili ko na kahit maliit ako eh kaya ko rin na malampasan yung mga challenges na yun. Yun yung isa sa mga pinakamalaking pagsubok na dumating sa life ko.”
And it took him a third try in 2004 that gave him the chance to carry the flag on his chest as a reserve. An inch closer to where he wants to be. Nothing was going to stop him from reaching his dreams.
Makapagbigay ako ng karangalan sa bansa, so yun yung dream ko talaga.
And that he did. On the fateful day of December 14, 2004. This was certainly a day to remember for him. It was the group stages of the 2004 Tiger Cup. Back then, it wasn’t that big of a deal to us. Now, though, we know this tourney as the AFF Suzuki Cup, the pinnacle of Southeast Asian international football, and the melting pot, the major flashpoint, the big thing, for football in SEA.
It was here that our legend made history, by scoring a brace deep into stoppage time and coming from behind to give the Philippines her first-ever win at the Tiger Cup against Timor Leste. And thus, the legend of Chieffy Caligdong has begun.
Ladies and gentlemen, what makes a legend?