Kaya was formed in 1996 out of a loose gathering of friends who happened to play football. There was a sprinkling of national and college players, as well as friends of friends.
The starting 11?
“It was the first 11 players who showed up,” laughed Rudy del Rosario, one of three founding fathers of the 16-year old football club.
Christopher Hagedorn, who first used to kick the ball around with Del Rosario and company when they trained at the old International School of Manila campus in Kalayaan Avenue, Makati, is now one of the club’s owners. He recalled that joining fees for tournaments would cost P3,000. “Now it’s so much more than that in the UFL,” he laughed.
“During those crazy years, the only people who would be watching us play in Ateneo, Nomads or ULTRA would be the girlfriends, wives, or children of the players,” recounted Rudy. “And the trees. And Rick Olivares.”
Back in those alternative 1990s, the late PFF general secretary Chris Monfort would officially tell the team to wear matching socks but privately, he got a kick out of the red and green socks that the players used to wear.
The bright colors of the club evoked family, fun, and good times. Hagedorn would tell you that the club’s name is derived from the Filipino word that means “can do it” but Del Rosario would snicker and with a mischievous smile
on his lips, tell grinning media men gathered round to listen to these grizzled football veterans to “listen to the lyrics of Bob Marley’s song ‘Kaya.’”
“We’re all wholesome here,” interjects Hagedorn as a form of mild protest. “Very family.”
On September 9, that family will get together in an incredible reunion of past, present and perhaps future Kaya players in an exhibition and pre-season match at the BGC Turf at 8 p.m. It’s not for charity. It’s a testament to the club’s longevity, staying power, and well, impassioned history.
“Now you’re going to make me work,” laughs Hagedorn when thinking about recruiting the old boys.
The news of the reunion match has spread like wildfire and elicited excitement not seen in a while.
“Good vibes,” added Armand del Rosario who Hagedorn calls the oldest player current plying his trade in the UFL.
Del Rosario protests, “there are guys in the military teams who are older than time.”
To recreate the original team would be quite a feat – there was Sherlock Cordova at goal, John Rey Bela-Ong, Bob Kovac, Gil Talavera, Lloyd Lim, Wek Wek Bronda, Jade Bejemino, Jing Jambre, Ogie Bautista, Marbon Gonzales, Frenchman Bruno Vergnes, Nichi Severino -- as some now live abroad, while Lim has passed away.
But nevertheless the reunion has forced even team owner Phil Hagedorn to put on his goalkeeper’s gloves. “His presence will fill the goal,” laughed current team manager Ramon Araneta. “But if he cannot continue, Rely San Agustin will take his place. Rely’s in shape, right?”
For the reunion match, fans will get to see former players who have gone on to success in other clubs like Badz and Izzo El Habbib now with Global, Freddy Gonzalez and Alvin Ocampo who are with newly promoted Pachanga, and Tating Pasilan who is with Green Archers United to name a few. Aly Go, now with the Bacolod-based Builders FC will fly in for the match. Hopefully, current Air Force net minder Tats Mercado will show up as well.
“Now if we can get Kovac (who is now based in Thailand where he formed his own Kaya club), that will be perfect,” added Rudy Del Rosario.
The old Kaya teams (prior to being under the Football Alliance) were three-time UFL champions (2002, 2003, and 2009), four-time Alaska Cup titleholders, the first-ever Chris Monfort Cup champions, and the current Kia Cup winners.
“There’s quite a few more,” noted Hagedorn, "but those mentioned are the ones I am truly proud of."
The exhibition match will pit the current Kaya team with Nate Burkey, Prince Boley, Jonah Romero, Jason Sabio, Saba Garmaroudi and new signing Fil-Am Anton Ugarte against the veteran squad.
Current team head coach, Kale Alvarez, the fourth coach in the club’s history after Hans Smit, Juan Cutillas and Rudy Del Rosario, “will play a few minutes for the veterans.”
With the massive number of Kaya alumni expected to show up at the BGC Turf this Sunday who will start?
“Whoever shows up first,” laughed Rudy. “It is a Kaya tradition after all.”
Kick off for the Kaya veterans vs. Kaya FC is at 8 p.m. rain or shine and barring any thunderstorms. Admission is free. BYOB.