Limpag: The Thirsty Cup: An institution in Cebu football

Just before the pandemic cut short all sports-related events in Cebu — Chad Songalia and Milky Cañete — who have been with the Thirsty Cup since Year 1, got a true picture of how long the tournament has been going on when someone pointed out that one of the early MVPs of the 7-Under division is now a dad who has a kid playing in the 7-Under Division.

“Naniguwang na gyud ta,” they said.

While I am no longer the long-haired writer whom my then-fellow football beat writers Marian and Sona said was being chased by a comb, Chad, like the Thirsty Cup, hasn’t aged a day.

I still remember the early editions when it was held at the then Sacred Heart School-Jesuits field in Ayala, which for me is still the perfectly-situated field in Cebu. We’d pop in to check the games and spend the time waiting for the knockout stages at the mall.

At that time, it was rare to see girls play football and since Ayala was where a lot of PUJ routes passed by, the Thirsty Cup opened the eyes of Cebuanos who happened to pass by that, yes, girls can play football too.

The Thirsty Cup ushered in a lot of copycats and unlike in other events, the organizers and sponsor of Cebu’s biggest football festival welcomed them because football festivals are not considered competitors, they complement one another. Unfortunately, none survived for long.

I remember laughing too when the Thirsty Cup took out an advertisement that had a picture of guys covered in mud that had a line that said, “If you want to stay mud-free, play tennis.” I immediately sent a message to John Pages, the tennis-playing member of the family. John, who like Chad, seemed to have found the fountain of youth as he hasn’t aged a day since the first Thirsty Cup 20 years ago, said it was his brother Charlie’s idea. One of those brilliant one-liners that stick with you all these years.

Just like the Thirsty Cup, which has for me turned from a trend-setter to an institution in Cebu football.

Its reach has gone beyond Cebu too, with teams from the Visayas and Mindanao joining the tournament, allowing teams that wouldn’t normally meet to gauge their development with how they perform against established football teams.

A couple of months ago, I joined a presscon for AiA Vitality 7-a-side and listened to the organizer gush at how the Sevens, as they call it, will change Philippine football.

I just smiled, knowing the Thirsty Cup has been doing that for close to two decades thanks to Charlie, who two decades ago decided to add a football event after the Thirsty Cup basketball.

I’m confident it will still be here two decades from now, with this year’s age group MVPs on the sideline as football dads.

You see, the Thirsty Cup has become sort of a rite of passage not only for players but for football dads, too. And I had mine five years ago when my son Mico won the P7 with Don Bosco.