LONDON - In September last year, a team of British Pinoys emerged from out of the blue and entered Division Two of the West Hertfordshire League in England.
Philippine United Football Club or PUFC, the UK's first Pinoy football team, was an unknown entity back then. The club was formed following trials during the summer, and their opposition, as well as themselves, had no idea what to expect.
Most of the players did not know each other or have much opportunity to train together before they were thrown into the league under the guidance of Philippine Football Federation (PFF) coaches Norm Parkin and Steve Conroy.
Now at the end of the club's maiden season, PUFC has secured promotion into Division One with two games to spare. The season ended on May 22, but promotion was sealed on May 8, after the team PUFC was meant to play, Portland Arms, forfeited the match because they could not field a full squad.
PUFC founder Leo Jensen was ecstatic when he found out the team had qualified, but admits it would have been sweeter if promotion came via a win. Nevertheless, he is still surprised at how well the team did.
“When we joined the West Herts League, I would have been happy to finish mid-table, but to finish as runners-up and to gain promotion in our first season... it is a lot more than we could have dreamed. I am extremely proud of my team and two coaches," Jensen said.
Despite fielding a squad of smaller players, PUFC has competed against non-Pinoy teams with obvious height advantages and even thrashed some of them by up to 7 goals. Their brand of football has seen them score 97 goals, concede 29 and earn them much praise from referees and opposition teams alike.
PUFC finished the season 2nd place on 58 points, four points ahead of 3rd place and nine points behind eventual champions Maple Cross FC. Out of 24 league games, the team notched 18 wins, four draws, two losses and an unbeaten record at their home ground in Watford, north of London.
They also hold the best disciplinary record in Division Two, while PUFC's 19-year-old striker Aniello Mone, who scored 43 goals, bagged the Golden Boot Award for being top scorer across all the West Herfordshire Leagues.
PUFC captain Renee Banao hailed the team's performance and says they are relishing the challenge of playing in Division One.
“We're definitely looking forward to the next season. We know its going to be harder, but I do think we need that harder challenge. All we have to do is get fitter, keep mentally strong and put in 100% when we step out onto the pitch and maybe, just maybe have another season like we just had,” he said.
With the new season beckoning, head coach Norm Parkin and Assistant Coach Steve Conroy remain optimistic. They also revealed that more trials will be held in July.
“We are expecting new blood in the team to strengthen the squad. It will be tougher in Division One, but I am very confident that we will give a very good account of ourselves, Parkin said.
“Let's remember that we played Old Parmiterians in the cup at their ground and stuffed them 1-4. They finished 4th in Division One this year, so do you think I am worried about next season? Most certainly not,” he added.
In August, PUFC is also set to compete in the Asian Cup in London – a tournament involving four teams: China, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
The PUFC is looking to make amends this time around after they lost 2-1 last year in a closely fought encounter with eventual champions Vietnam.
PUFC's Division One campaign is due to start in September.