DOWN south in Naga City is a 25 meter-by-15 meter steel-and-wood cage with a concrete floor.
No, you won’t see muscled men punching, kicking and grappling each other to submission in this one, but kids playing the up-and-coming five-a-side football under the sun or the daylight glare of neon lights.
The Football Council of Naga (FCN), Naga City under Mayor John Bongat, the Department of Education (DepEd) and LCC Mall kicked off pre-Peñafrancia festivities last month with a World Cup-themed tournament for public-elementary school children in a reinstalled football cage, a venue unique to Naga City and designed by voluntary football development director, Chris Thomas.
“We were very successful in popularizing football and encouraging continuous play last summer, when we put up the cage at the center of the [Naga City] plaza,” Thomas said. “The city’s youth have credited the cage and FCN with improving the quality of the sport. We’ve gathered a lot of new converts to football mainly due to our strategy of doing quicker, traditional ‘five-a-side’ plays.”
The clamor from the young athletes, Thomas said, motivated his group to resurrect “the cage.”
“Now we have a bigger cage that’s really a community effort, thanks to the Naga City government, LCC Mall and DepEd,” FCN President Bogs Canlas said.
Five-a-side refers to a format of football that requires five players only, four outfield players and one goalkeeper. It is normally played on a smaller pitch—15 meters x 25 meters.
In his book, entitled The Five-a-Side Bible, Prof. Peter Krustrup of the University of Copenhagen wrote extensively on the benefits of the small-sided game gleaned from researching different age groups, going beyond elite athletes and players.
Club Doncaster Foundation, a partner of the FCN, is set to deliver grassroots training in Naga City early next year. Doncaster Rovers is a professional football club in the UK.
“The FCN is certainly going in the right direction—right on track in promoting enjoyment of the game, especially for young players. Even for highly advanced footballing cultures like ours, five-a-side is still highly popular in the United Kingdom because it allows everyone to play,” Marc Lloyd Williams, program leader and academy team manager of Llandrillo Menai in the UK, said.
“We’re creating future champions,” according to Janet Betua, an elementary-school teacher in Naga City who has raised football “scholars” from among her students.
“The cage is perfect for the five-a-side strategy that we established for grassroots football development. Five-a-side football is gaining tremendous following all over the world—over a million adults play it in the United Kingdom [UK] every week,” Thomas said.
“We believe that it’s perfect for young children, too. We can maximize children’s engagement and fun, with more touches on the ball, with more goals scored and continuous play. It’s simple, exciting and more rewarding,” he added.