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Saturday, August 13, 2011

GUAM: A POTTED HISTORY

The small island of Guam, positioned in the western Pacific Ocean just under 1600 miles east of Manila, is far from being a traditional hotbed of football, but it appears that the game has gained a foothold there and seems destined to grow in the coming years.

The Guam Football Association was only set up in 1975, but the game was already growing roots on the island, a US territory, thanks to an Irish priest, Fr. Tony Gillespie, and a Filipino of Chinese extraction who set up home there in 1967. Charles ("Charlie") Whang moved to Guam that year, set up a construction company and, having grown up playing football in the Philippines, decided, together with Fr. Gillespie, to set about orgainising a football competition in his adopted home. Whang's family joined him on the island in 1969 as the idea gained momentum and more locals became involved in spreading the football gospel on Guam.

Under Whang's guidance, the first football competition, the Guam Soccer Cup, took place there in 1973, and the first edition was won, perhaps fittingly enough, by Whang's very own SPI club. In 1974, the game was introduced to the island's younger inhabitants, and John F. Kennedy Islanders took away the inaugural trophy. Whang became the inaugural president of the GFA in 1975, and was assisted in his duties by a dozen or so other enthusiasts. They are destined to be fondly remembered in the island's footballing history and so deserve a mention in this blog:

Paul Anderson, Angel Bonet, Tony Chang, Tim Cornell, Benny Díaz, Fr. Tony Gillespie, Robert Hartsock, Ridley Keith, Russ Mill, Edward Mulen, Don Pedro and Romeo Whang.

Guam played its first-ever international fixture in August 1975, when the island hosted the South Pacific Games, though it was a humbling experience, as the national side lost 11:0 to Fiji. They also lost 5:1 to the Solomon Islands a few days later.

Two years later, the GFA got a helping and from the then Governor of the island, Paul Calvo, by their being given government land at Harmon Loop in Dededo, which Whang helped personally to clear prior to its becoming the hub for the island's footballers. The Guam National Football Stadium (officially known as the GFA Headquarters & Training Facility) is situated in Harmon - the GFA headquarters were formerly in Hagåtña (its traditional name in the local Chamorro language - the village is also known in English as Agana, and in Spanish as Agaña), Guam's capital. There is another ground at Chalan San Antonio in Tamuning.

Whang remained in office until 1989, three years before Guam became a member of the AFC in 1992. FIFA membership was granted to the island in 1996, and the national team, known as the Chamorros, began competing in FIFA tournaments soon after.

A proper national football league commenced in 1990, and was won for the first four years  in a row by the University of Guam. Between 1998 and 2007, opening and closing championships (as in the apertura and clausura system employed in South America) were used to determined the year's overall champions.

The format changed again during 2007, when Guam Shipyard, who had won the overall championship four times between 2002 and 2006, were beaten to the Spring championship by Quality Distributors. There was to be no Autumn championship that year; the GFA decided to change to the European model, which straddles years. The first beneficiaries of the change were Quality Distributors, who won the 2007-08 competition, and then went on to retain the trophy for the next two years.

The traditional league format was given the heave-ho for the 2010 season, due to the construction of the first artificial pitch in the whole of Micronesia, and was instead replaced by a cup competition in a knock-out formula. Cars Plus won the league for the first time after a 4:1 play-off victory against Guam Shipyard, winners of the 2010 GFA Cup.

Cars Plus won the somewhat shortened 2011 edition in some style, finishing 11 points ahead of Quality Distributors in the 6-team, 10-game competition.

Football clubs in Guam regularly change their name to suit their sponsors, and that has certainly been the case for Guam Shipyard, who have, under various guises, won the championship, now known as the Budweiser Guam Men's Soccer League, a record 9 times. The club has also won the championship as G-Force, Coors Light Silver Bullets and Staywell Zoom.

The GFA Cup has only been going since 2008, and Quality Distributors have certainly shown themselves to be cup specialists, winning the competition in 2008 (when it was known as Shirley's GFA Cup), 2009 (Cars Plus GFA Cup) and again this year (Beck's GFA Cup). Guam Shipyard won the cup in 2010.

The national team have been regularly competing in FIFA competitions since 1996, though their international exploits have had some shocking results. Their début in FIFA competitive football saw them lose 11:0 to Palestine in their first game of the AFC Challenge Cup on April Fool's Day 2006. (They also lost 3:0 to both Bangladesh and Cambodia to finish bottom of theit qualitying group.) They also took part in that year's Asian Cup qualifiers, and conceded nine goals in each of their three group games against South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan, scoring only two goals (both of them against Taiwan, or Chinese Taipei, if you prefer).

Even worse was to happen in the 2000 qualifiers, when they lost 11:0 to Vietnam and were thrashed 19:0 by China. It must have almost come as a blessed relief to lose "only" 2:0 to the Philippines in their final group game. The 2004 version saw them grouped together with Bhutan and Mongolia, which were then - and still are - among the lowest-ranked teams, both in the AFC and globally. Guam lost 6:0 to Bhutan and 5:0 to Mongolia, but the games were played at altitude in Thimphu, capital of Bhutan.

The island has competed once in the World Cup, in the first-round qualifying group for the 2002 World Cup, but this was also to prove disastrous for the Chamorros, losing 19:0 to Iran (then a world-record) and 16:0 to Tajikistan. They declined to enter for the 2006 and 2010 versions, though were due to compete this time in the 2014 qualifiers. However, due to financial constraints and the national stadium not being ready to host international football, they decided not to enter the competition.

The GFA have had a little more luck in the East Asian Football Federation competition, the East Asian Football Championship, which has been held since 2003. Guam is one of the ten founding menbers of the EAFF, which was set up in 2002. Their nearest neighbours, the Northern Mariana Islands, joined the EAFF in 2008, and the archipelago is a provisional member of the AFC.

Guam first competed in the  preliminary round of the competition in 2003, where they lost heavily to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and 2:0 to both Macau and Mongolia. In 2005, they lost to both Hong Kong (15:0) and Taiwan (9:0) again, and then 21:0 to North Korea, their record defeat in international competion. Guam lost 4:1 to Mongolia to finish bottom of their group.

They suffered yet more heavy defeats to Hong Kong (15:1) and Taiwan (10:0, which is Taiwan's bigest-ever international victory), once more in the preliminary group, now known as Stage Two, in the qualifying round for the 2008 version. Guam then took on Mongolia in the 5th-place play-off, and proceeded to take a 2:0 lead in the first 10 minutes before losing 5:2.

However, before all that, the GFA finally achieved their maiden victory in FIFA-sanctioned competition on 25/3/07 when they defeated the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) 3:2 away in the first-leg of their Stage One encounter in Saipan. (Ireland fans may recall that Saipan was as far as Roy Keane got on his journey to the 2002 World Cup Finals  in Japan and South Korea with the Boys in Green.) Guam then completed the double over their near-neighbours when they doled out a 9:0 thrashing to the NMI team in Harmon on April Fool's Day 2007, with Zachary Pangelinan scoring five of the goals.

The GFA hosted the preliminary rounds for the 2010 competition, which saw them once again take on Mongolia, Macau and the NMI. The competition took place at the Leo Palace Resort in Yona in March 2009, and the Chamorros kicked-of their competition with their first-ever victory against a fellow FIFA member country, a 1:0 victory against Mongolia, Christopher Mendiola netting the winner early in the first-half. Goals from Joshua Borja and Ian Mariano saw them through against the NMI by 2:1, and the Guam team earned a 2:2 draw against Macau thanks to Borja and to Jason Cunliffe, who scored the equaliser in injury-time and helped his team make history by not only remaining unbeaten for three games on the trot, but also by topping the preliminary group and qualifying for the second stage for the first time.

The second-round tournament (known as the Semi-Final Competition) was held in Taiwan 2009, and there Guam's luck finally ran out. They lost 9:2 to North Korea, 4:2 to Taiwan (and that after leading 2:1 at the break), and 12:0 to Hong Kong. They may well have lost all three games in the second stage, but they did finish in a creditable 7th place overall and put their name on the East Asian map. All being well, the GFA will use this as a springboard for the future, if they can solve the problems which kept them out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

The Guam women's side, meanwhile, have been competing in the EAFF competition since the qualifying group stage for the 2008 version, which were held on home soil in July 2007. They lost all 3 games (including a 5:0 defeat against Taiwan and a 6:0 loss to South Korea, but Victoria Shimizu did at least score their first-ever in goal in the competition during the 2:1 defeat to Hong Kong.

Guam once again faced South Korea and Taiwan in the 2009 EAFF qualifiers, losing 9:0 and 10:0 to their respective opponents, and 1:0 to Hong Kong. The team did, however, kick off the competition with a 5:1 win against the NMI girls, so there was consolation to be had.

Domestically, the Orange Crushers and the Strykers are the dominant forces on the female front, with the Crushers winning the inaugural women's league championship in 2005, with the Strykers coming top in 2006. The Crushers then did a 3-in-a-row between 2007 and 2009, before the re-christened Barrigada Strykers regained it again last year, just ahead of the Crushers. There is a new name on the trophy this year: Hyundai got their hands on some silverware for only the second time in the club's history (the only previous trophy won by the club was the national 7-a-side trophy in 2005), after finishing runners- up in 2006 and 2008.

The national women's team, and their male counterparts, will be heading off to New Caledonia at the end of the month to compete in the South Pacific Games. The Games were meant to double as the first stage of the Oceania qualifying process for the 2014 World Cup, but since Guam elected to compete in the tournament, that idea has now been scrapped as Guam, of course, are members of the AFC, not of Oceania's governing body, the OFC. A sparate competition will now be held as part of the OFC World Cup qualifiers, the winners of which will face New Zealand in a two-leg play-off.

Guam's men will be competing against the hosts, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, American Samoa and Tuvalu in the group stage, while the women's team will be up against Tonga, Fiji and the Cook Islands. The Chamorros are amongst the weakest nations in the AFC; it will be interesting to see how both Guam sides measure up against their OFC counterparts, but one thing is certain: football in Guam is very much alive and well, and looking ahead to the future.

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Brett Maluwelmeng from the Guam Football Association for much of the information used in the above article. Brett will be travelling to New Caledonia as part of the squad; he is one of the goalkeepers on the panel. There will be more on football in Guam to come very shortly; watch this space, as they say.

Thanks are also due to Priscilla Duncan from the OFC, who kindly gave permission to use information obtained from the confederation's website, www.oceaniafootball.com










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