Philippine football hero, Anton del Rosario has big dreams for Philippine football. He is envisioning to move football up and be one of the top sports in the basketball-crazed Philippines. That is why he's been working non-stop, not just in promoting the sport, but also in mounting enormous football events that make football enthusiasts and fans take notice.
His latest endeavor is putting up the 7s Super League, a revolutionary movement which aims to professionalize the 7-a-side format in the Philippines.
For the benefit of the uninitiated and future football fans, the former Azkals front liner explains: "Football is normally played 11 [players] versus 11. Our football is played 7 versus 7. That mean 7 players versus 7 players.
"What that does...that makes it more exciting because the field is 1/4 the size of the normal football field. We get about six goals a game in 15 minutes of playing, right? And it makes it more sustainable because everything is much cheaper.
"You don’t need a big-sized field anymore," he goes on. "Being in one quarter size of the field, you can actually go to smaller places and actually play this game properly, right? And also, you don’t have to find 11-plus people to come out and play."
"Lastly, it's also the cost," he admits. "To rent this field over here in Mckinley Hill, it cost us P6,000 an hour. And can you imagine, if you're an 11-a-side team, you need to rent out the whole field. But if you're 7-a-side [team], all you have to do is rent out one corner of the field. So, instead of paying 6,000, you're paying 1,500. It's more affordable."
Anton, through his 7x7 Football Philippines company, has founded the first 7’s Football League in the Philippines in 2018 and has been its frontrunner since.
"We started with eight teams in just BGC. Now we have communities in 18 cities across the country with over 700 teams," he says proudly.
"We have our football events in Mindanao, in Visayas, and in Luzon. But what we wanna do, we wanna to able to show our community that they can be professionals in 7-a-side football and that is why we are starting the 7's Super League. So, now they can be professionals playing this sport."
And with 7's Super League, he also wishes to raise the standard in Philippine football.
"It hasn’t really been pushed the right way, you know? Everybody thinks football here is the number 4 sport in the country, which I guess on paper. And when we look at it from an outside point of view, it does look that way, right?
"But me, I go out to the provinces and I see what goes on in the province. I see the people playing the sport. If you go to the Visayas, it's all they do, you know, they play football.
"In Mindanao, there's so much football going on, you know? So, I believe that football over here, it just needs to be brought together and that’s where I want to come in. I want to be able to help that so that we can be one voice to be able to bring football up and be one of the top sports in the country. And we'll be able to do that through the 7s Super League."
For 7's Super League, Anton's 7x7 Football Philippines has engaged the LGUs, athletes, celebrities, and influencers, in forming teams that proudly represent cities across the NCR and nearby provinces such as Laguna and Pampanga.
"For the initial season, we only have seven cities that we are gonna include. We wanna hyper focus on the NCR, and then we will extend it into the provinces," explains Anton. "We wanna start off very controlled so then we'll be able to draw the value, be able to show that, 'Hey, people are interested in football.' We want to bring awareness of the sport to the people, you know. The more people we get watching then the more we can do with football."
These seven teams are: the Alabang South Supers, BGC Soldiers, Pampanga Strikers, Paranaque Nets, Quezon City Heroes, Siniloan GOM Blues, and the Pasig Pirates.
He says it was the respective team's job to scout for talented and skillful players for their teams and for the league and the LGU officials oftentimes take initiatives in football awareness in their locales.
"We actually hired on general managers for each of the team. So, each of the team has a GM who probably used to play football before and lives in that city. So, now they are very motivated to put together the best team.
"Let's say for Pasig, they wanted us to be able to scout players in Rizal High School. So, we will look and try and hopefully get few players from Rizal High School. But Pasig [team], also has a few Tondo players, you know. It's so nice to able have a nice mixture.
"In QC [Quezon City], the same thing with councilor Vito [Sotto Generoso]. He sets up a football program I think every Saturday in QC where he has over a thousand kids coming in and play. This gives them an outlet to be able to play and be on a professional team later on. So, this is really our direction... to be able to provide the pathway for not just adult football players like myself but also the kids."
For the 7s Super League, mixing and matching is allowed.
"Technically the goal is, the five players from the roster have to be from the city," he says. Thus, if the GM has scouted a talent in another city, he can enlist him.
"What we're looking at and what we're very focused on is trying to get the best players and give them the opportunity," he stresses. "That’s why even for my team, the BGC Soldiers, one of our best players come from Tondo."
But that's for new talents. In the 7s Super League, new players are also mixed in with seasoned players which makes it more exciting for new players and another goal for aspirants.
NOT A RICH MAN'S GAME
Anton vigorously shakes his head when asked if football is an expensive sport, thus, reserved for the rich.
"That is why we are promoting inclusivity. It's what football is. They call it the beautiful game, right? It's because it applies to everybody. If you go to all of the other countries across the world, you know... here they have it so backward because everybody thinks that football is a rich person's sport. Yeah, everybody thinks that.
"But if you go to the provinces it's what they play. Some of our best players are from Tondo, you know. It's amazing. It's just that they don’t have the platform and they just don’t have the opportunity to be able to showcase it and that's what we're here for.
"In 7s Super League, you have an 18-player roster, but only 14 will be able to dress on the day of the game.
"So, imagine it has four reserves, right? So, 18 players but only 14 can dress, four players will have to sit out. And then from those 14 players those can be players from anywhere... if I want to get Cristiano Rolando or [Lionel] Messi, then I can get Messi over here, right? But it'll cost me so much money, you know…hahaha!
"But then, this is what I’m trying to do here, 7s Super League is created to be very professionalize, give the general managers the ability to go find players, scout players from other cities, other locations and give people... all types of people...that avenue to be able to play. Not sosyal, please."
Moreover, the 7s Super League, says Anton, is driven by a core goal: to give and spread JOY, which stands for jobs, opportunities, and youth.
"That's our main driver," says the former Azkals hero. "I mean we gotta look at the big picture here. We're creating a sport, the 7-a-side. In creating a sport, everything that is done in 11-a-side football has to be done again in 7-a-side football.
"So, from coaches, players, physios [physiotherapists]...even you right now, you have another avenue to be able to have a job, right? So, imagine all of the jobs that we're creating. Plus, we got the opportunity... like myself, I’m too old to play the 11-a-side football. Now, maybe I can come play the 7-a-side football, right?
"All of the players that didn’t make it, now they have an avenue to come out and try and play. But then lastly, it's the youth, right? So, now the youth, they have the vision to be able dream again, dream about being professionals in the sport."
Another unique quality of the 7s Super League is celebrity partnership. Anton knows the power of celebrity in bringing awareness to anything. Thus, he enlisted 21 of his celebrity friends to take part in the league by “owning” teams.
"For me, I wanna make this sport very popular, right? Sport is content, right? So, sport is all about content and how you sell it best? If I can bring the awareness of the sport to the people then I can start selling this sport better. And why wouldn't I do it with all of my friends who would also love to be part of owning a football team?"
And that he did. The likes of pro footballer Stephan Schrock, businessman and content creator Nico Bolzico, Magic 89.9 DJ Tony Bueno, pro basketball player Gabe Norwood, actor/model Dan Matsunaga, Spongecola's Yael Yuzon, former Azkals Misagh Bahadoran, Parañaque councilor Wahoo Sotto, actor/TV host Ryan Agoncillo, and women's national football team players Hali Long and Inna Palacios are all in to name a few.
"I like to create storylines and a little drama," he says with a mischievous smile. "So, for Pampanga, we have Spongecola, Misagh Bahadoran, who was an ex-Askal and Hamed Hajimehdi, also ex pro football player. But because the lead singer of Spongecola is Yael [Yuzon], we went kontra with his wife Karylle to be for Laguna. So, now Karylle, she is the partner there in Laguna because that's where she's from.
"So, now we can create some sort of drama between the two because we wanna be able to have one [team] do better than the other one, right?
"But then it's also nice because I will get to the other team—QC. We have Gian Sotto, Vito Sotto [Generoso], and Bryan Poe are the partners there. But also in Pasig, we have [Mayor] Vico Sotto...
"And then in Parañaque, we have Wahoo Sotto, and then we have two girls Hali Long and Inna Palacios from the national team, the women's team. So, now we have four Sottos who we have to get compete with each other. So, we have created some sort of a rivalry there. And then in BGC we have [pro basketball player] Gabe Norwood?, [DJ] Toni Tony and [actor/model] Dan Matsunaga. And the for Alabang we have [pro footballer] Stephan Schrock and [businessman/content creator] Nico Bolzico.
"I told them, 'You guys promote your team and I will give you equity into the team. So, all of them have been offered. They get up to 10% equity on the team as long as they promote the team and be supportive of the sport."
A LEGACY of giving back
A dreamer and doer, Anton's next goals include a TV partnership and to make 7-a-side football playing a stable career for the players.
"That's the direction we want to go, right? We want be able to be empowered by, you know, a media outlet and a media partner," he says of a possible future TV home. "Because once a media partner like that comes in, then it allow us to level up our league and take it nationwide.
"And the more attention that I can bring into this sport and then the more sponsors will come in, the more awareness and from there we're able to play our players a lot more, right? For now, I’m promising the players, 'Hey, you can make a little bit here playing for the league. At least you guys can take home some money.' Eventually, that money hopefully turns into a very consistent stable job in the future."
But business aside, passionate Anton says he's doing all these not just to give structure to the 7-a-side football in the country, but also because he believes in the Pinoy talent in the game.
"Sport doesn’t die. And for you to be able to create sport, it's impacting the world, okay. I like to think a little bit big and when it comes down to thinking big, creating a sport is actually something that can be done here and I realized it and I believe that I can make this happen and that's why we use the Philippines as a great case study, a proof of concept.
"But I already have partners in nine other countries here in Asia. So, we'll be kicking off in nine other countries this year. We've already kicked off in Singapore, Japan, Brunei, and India. So now we're just expanding it to more countries."
But as for the Philippines, he says it's to give back to the game that has opened so many doors for him
"Joy (jobs, opportunities, youth). Remember that. That is the why."
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