By Karl Cedrick Basco

It was a gray Friday morning when Nathaniel George Burkey arrived at a cafe at the home of passionate minds, Bonifacio Global City. An established football player in the country, arriving on a bicycle for an interview was an unexpected entrance. Clad in a grey shirt and khaki shorts, he entered the coffee shop looking windswept. His down-to-earth aura did not reflect courageous and fearless characteristics he has in the field; at least not his athletic body and model-like height and appearance. 

“Nate,” as he’s better known, seemed to be destined for what and where he is now, a football player - but not just an ordinary one that he thought he is. There are a lot of things that make Nate different from the other players, but one thing is for sure: his goal in a game against Sri Lanka in 2011 would be the highlight of those.

It was not a simple goal as one may think; it is the first goal of the country in a World Qualifier since ten years. Nate scored a header off the free kick of Chieffy Caligdong in the 49th minute that equalized the game, his first international appearance in the team, at 1-1. But more than the result of the game, he broke the dry spell and history was made.

Nate became a member of the national pool, popularly known as Azkals, in 2011. It was like a dream come true for him as he wanted to be part for it long before, even when he was still in United States.

“It was a great honor, obviously, it was something I had been thinking of and dreaming of for the past five years so it’s like a dream come true,” he said.
PicturePhoto from Alexandria Times, alextime.com
Indeed, destiny is not about waiting for something you will be or you will have. It’s about working hard and making your ways in reaching it. Just like Nate, who learned football at the age of two and started to love it at the same time, he really reached out for the Philippine National team and decided to come here in the country and tried to fulfil his dreams. 

 The Filipino-American soccer’s passion drove him to play in the country as he even presented himself to the team inquiring here in the Philippines and got in touch with the people for years and all his efforts paid off.

It is noteworthy that it was around 2011 when the Azkals gained so much popularity not just within the country but also in Asia. Well, one, for sure, might attribute this fame to the good looking half-blooded Filipinos that played to the team. But these not-so-pure Pinoys, proved their worth to team and helped the country revive its long lost glory. Their Filipino hearts boosted the Philippines to establish again a strong foundation of football and change the forgotten presence. In fact, the country is slowly climbing into the FIFA world rankings with promising victories against the other nations in the world.

However, Nate believed that the Filipino people, who continuously support the national team, changed the country’s football’s status. He also believed that winning important games in international scene paved the way for what the team has now. 

“The team didn’t really change it. It was more so like people involve, the people who was watching. The team had been there for a long time even before I arrived,” he told Streamline.

Living up their mantra, “believe, never give up,” Nate and the rest of the Philippine Azkals members sacrificed a lot especially their love ones as most of their families are residing abroad. The success that the Philippine Football continues to achieve is off the dedication to the sport of each Azkal. 

The former fourth grade teacher also shared that the advantage of the team in an international game “before”  they were considered as underdogs. So the people had a low expectation and their opponents think that they can easily beat the Philippines.
PicturePhoto from Azkals United, azkalsunited.tumblr.com
But, the Philippine Azkals is not an underdog anymore. They are now a capable-winning team and people don’t take them that easy anymore. It is a good sign that they gradually turn into a strong squad; however it may also be viewed as a disadvantage for their games would become tougher this time.

Well aside from what the blue and red crew attains, they also showed unity beyond diversity. Despite the team’s composition, the pure and half Filipinos bond together; always playing as one for the love of the country and the sport.

Nate Burkey is not part of the team anymore but he said that the Azkals is heading the right path. The club’s success is not that high yet but it can improve more. And it takes time to build a strong football nation. It will not happen in just a snap of a finger but as long as the dedication to the sport is there and the talent will be fostered well, chances are, the team might end up higher than what one could think.

“They need time…a long time to build a strong nation, a strong football nation,” he said. “It does not happen in 5 years and not even 10 years…there are a lot of talents here.”

Nate believes that if one dedicates himself to what he’s doing, then success will follow. “I do believe in passion in following your dreams and in the end, if you do that, you would be successful regardless.”

People might argue about football as the king of sports but for Nate, the sport is everywhere and it is more than just a game; it is a form of solidarity, encouraging people to act as one.

“It’s more than just a sport; it’s a way of life. It brings people together, that’s the main thing; it brings people together,” he said confidently.
Football changed him now. It is his profession. The lessons he learned helped him while growing. His life revolves around the field which is ten times larger than a basketball court with two goals at both ends; a home for him.

With the attention people now give to the Philippine Azkals, one lesson that people must learn is that success comes after hard work and dedication. One must love what he is doing. And for the Azkals, it is a manifestation that one does not need to be a pure-blooded Filipino to help and do something for the Philippines, because sometimes, even Filipinos themselves fail to show their patriotism. What the country needs is a “true-hearted Filipino” regardless of his blood or where he grew up that can sacrifice and offer himself for the betterment of the nation.

Like Nate, he may not be suiting  up for the Azkals anymore, but he will always be remembered as the dry spell breaker, the man behind the first goal of the country after a decade in a FIFA World qualifier, a half-Pinoy but a proud one.

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