Untold Stories, Southeast Asian Clubs: Ceres-La Salle FC
Ceres’ first assignment was in the 2013 UFL Cup, where they made it all the way to the quarter-finals before entering the UFL in Division 2 for the 2014 season.
With some more shrewd recruitment the club blitzed the division, losing only once all season as they finished eight points clear at the head of the standings and earned promotion to the top flight for the 2015 season.
By this time the club’s ambition had caught the eye of all across the country and with even greater investment they attracted a core of Filipino internationals and, remarkably, completed the Cinderella story by winning the UFL in their first campaign in 2015, only dropping two matches all year. They then finished runners-up last season and even Go was surprised by just how quickly things unfolded for the club.
“It was so hard at first for us as a regional club to even recruit players and those players must have had a sense that they were taking a risk by placing their careers in the hands of this club that had, in a way, come from nowhere,” Go says. “But I always had belief and never gave up.
The green represents the school colours of St. La Salle College, the two stars for the two league titles the club has won and the logo in the middle is that of the club’s owners, Vallacar.
“Right from the start we had a plan of how we wanted things to develop; we wanted to be the best club in Bacolod, then Negros, then the best in the Philippines and now we have to think about the next aim.”
Already, Ceres have created history by becoming the first club from the Philippines to reach the knockout stage of the tournament.
Emerging last year from a tough group containing both Malaysian hotshots Selangor and S.League heavyweights Tampines Rovers gave the club a real belief that it can keep its giant-killing run going.
The 2017 campaign then represented another leap forward on the continental front. Topping their group ahead of Vietnamese, Singaporean and Malaysian opposition, Ceres overcame mighty Johor Darul Ta'zim in the first knockout stage and then Home United to reach the Zonal Final.
Their run finally ended against regional giants Istiklol and the former coach puts much of the success down to the day-to-day involvement of his chairman and owner.
“Leo (Yanson) has really helped this club a lot. He’s always with the team when we play and travel, he sleeps in the same hotel, eats with the players and is at training and that lets the players know that the club is one big family,” Go explains.
“When we started this AFC Cup we just wanted to do well in the group stage but now we’ve made history in the Philippines and we want to keep achieving even greater things.
“The players are working hard every day, they’re remaining humble with their feet on the ground, and everybody is striving to get better because the team knows if they don’t work hard then everything can fall apart.”
In fact, you could mount a good argument that things should have already fallen apart given the unique challenges faced by Ceres.