Southeast Asia has a rich football history, with some big-name clubs intertwined with some notable, yet lesser-known outfits. In the latest edition of our tour through the region, FourFourTwo charts the rapid emergence of ambitious Filipino club Ceres-La Salle FC...
It’s a 45-minute ferry ride across the Guimaras Strait from the traditional hotbed of Filipino football in Iloilo to the newly emerging cradle of the game in Bacolod.
CERES-LA SALLE FC
MOST SUCCESSFUL COACH: Ali Go (The man behind the club's dramatic rise and with a second and first division title to his name as well as the 2014 League Cup success)
HOME GROUND: Panaad Stadium, Bacolod (for AFC matches)
The story of the nation’s ascendant force, however, Ceres-La Salle FC, begins with a different form of transport.
The humble jeepney.
A ubiquitous sight throughout the archipelago and famed for their range of often gaudy decorations, a single jeepney purchased in 1968 laid the foundation for a club many are tipping as a surprise contender for this year’s AFC Cup.
Ricardo Yanson and his wife Olivia started their business venture from those modest origins with that lone jeepney used as a passenger transport service on just the single route in Bacolod.
In the early 1970s the business expanded to run a new route they dubbed the ‘Ceres Line’ and from there things went from strength to strength, with the business today operating almost a thousand vehicles throughout the Philippines under the name Vallacar.
The company’s yellow vehicles are now so popular throughout their home island of Negros that locals often simply use the word ‘Ceres’ to refer to buses and it’s a success that the family-run business has been able to perhaps even supersede with the dramatic rise of Ceres FC.
Yanson’s sons, Leo and Ricky, assumed responsibility for the business from their father and with their love of football, there soon became a synergy between the transport company and the global game in a region where basketball has traditionally been king.
LEO AND RICKY YANSON – Sons of the man who inspired the vision of the club, the late Ricardo Yanson. Leo runs most of the football operations and it was his support for the club that allowed it to recruit and retain some of the best talent in the Philippines
ALI GO – Has been with the club since its modern inception, first as a player/coach and latterly as the head coach. A driving force behind the on-field success and off-field recruitment
STEPHAN SCHROCK – German-born, Filipino international who is the most recognisable face of the recent generation of national team stars. Remarkably, he agreed to join Ceres on loan from German 2. Bundesliga outfit Greuther Furth in a major coup for football in the nation
Known even throughout their high-school days for willingly supporting any football-related venture, the brothers began regularly sponsoring tournaments and teams throughout Negros before focusing on a local college in Bacolod.
That school, the University of St. La Salle, rose to become one of the dominant forces on the island and would often represent Bacolod and Negros in regional and national tournaments, prompting the brothers to dream even bigger.
Soon calls were made to Ali Go, a Filipino international and one of the more prominent figures to have emerged from the island.
With his playing career winding down, Go agreed to join the club – newly renamed Ceres-La Salle FC – as he began his next chapter as a coach.
Now the club’s head coach and one of the driving forces behind its rapid rise to the top of Filipino football, Go told FourFourTwo it was the vision of the Yanson brothers that first attracted him to the club.
“I had known the family for a long time, maybe 20 years or so, and they’ve always been so passionate about football, supporting young players from Bacolod and elsewhere,” he explains.
“When they asked me to join their project I didn’t have to think twice.”
That was in 2012 and after carefully recruiting players from outside the island to complement the local talent, Ceres swept to the regional Negros Football Championship title with an 11-0 win over Bacolod United in the final.
As a result they earned entry to the nationwide PFF Smart Club Championship, a kind of local version of the FA Cup, and to widespread disbelief they also brushed aside all comers, defeating Pasargad 1-0 in the final in Manila in early 2013.
That gave the club even greater belief, applying to join the national championship, known as the United Football League (UFL), later that same year.