It's a balmy Sunday afternoon in Ateneo's Ocampo Field and the the Blue Guards Football club is having its regular weekly 11-a-side scrimmage.
Most of the players are graying and sporting paunches over their waistlines. But even among this assortment of Footballing seniors, the left back of the blue team stands out.
Mindo Fajardo scampers around and shouts out exhortations to his team, just as he has done so for decades.
Every now and then a ball comes his way and he unspools a crisp pass to a team mate.
In the lull of the action we chat. I mention that I used to play with one other gentleman on the park.
“That guy doesn't hustle!” complains Fajardo.
“I guess you still do?” I ask.
Fajardo breaks out into a smile and says “well, sometimes.”
He can be forgiven for his less-than-stellar work rate these days. After all, Luzmindo Fajardo was born on April 14, 1933 in what was then known as Camp Keithley, now called Marawi City in Lanao del Sur. That means he turns eighty next month.
Fajardo grew up in Manila where he studied high school and graduated college in UST with a degree in Commerce. A Masters in Industrial Management from UP followed.
In first year high school Fajardo started watching UST Footballers like Pepito Beech, Pocholo Martinez, and the Hechanova brothers, Ramon and Rafael play. It sparked a lifelong passion for the game.
While on a one-year sabbatical in Iligan, Fajardo received instruction from an Irish Columban priest who formed a team with Mindo and traveled all over Mindanao.
Fajardo played for UST's senior side alongside Antonio Maria José Guerrero, my father. Dad was a fullback, Fajardo, two years older, was a forward. They won titles in the UAAP, under the guidance of coach Emilio Pacheco.
The game as he describes it is almost unrecognizable from the modern sport.
Firstly the de rigeur formation of the day was not today's 4-4-2, but a 2-3-5. Yes, you read that right, two defenders, three midfielders and FIVE forwards, left-out, left in, center forward, right-in and right-out.
“In the old days you were expected to keep your position as designated” explains Fajardo. “If you played right-out, you stayed at the right corner area of the field as the left-out would stay on his. Their job would be to take corner-kicks or execute lateral passes to the “inside-forwards” whose job was to score the goals. Today there's a lot of switching and floating provided the formation and attack pattern is essentially maintained.”
Not only was the formation bizarre, so was the equipment.
“We wore 'Hotspurs' football shoes that looked and wore like army brogans with leather cleats.”
The core of the leather cleats were steel nails, and when the leather wore out, out came the nails.
“Of course, wearing shinguards was strictly enforced” he adds.
Dad tells me how footballs in those days were made of real leather that became incredibly hard and heavy during rainy weather.
Fajardo played for several club teams after, with quaint names like Huns FC, Guardia Real, and Club Filipino FC.
He lists many of the Football notables that he played alongside with. Some names ring a bell, like Eddie Pacheco and Orlando Plagata, who went on to coach De La Salle. Of course Mindo also mentions Juan “Cuto” Cutillas, the Spaniard who coached the national team and also, until, last year, mentored Kaya FC in the UFL.
Fajardo's marriage to Herminia produced two sons, Jay and Andre. Jay, an entrepreneur, carries on the Footballing flame for the family, and when asked how he feels about his footballing Pops, has this to say.
“The first thing I feel is pride. I normally brag about him to friends or people I just met, particularly when they are surprised that I still play regularly as well in my forties. I think it's come to a point where I can't imagine him ever quitting football.”
Jay says that he became about as good as his father when he was 21 or 22 (and his father was 55), and that they relish competing with and against each other.
“When he and I play against each other, it's all business. I even suspect that he plays tougher with me because I'm his son. The best times though are when we'd be playing on the same team. Whether we win or lose, the experience is definitely extra special.”
The younger Jay says that his father is no shrinking violet on the pitch. “My dad is old-school tough. When we played against each other, my team mates would actually complain about him playing hard. He's also very loud on the field. He always says that "Football is a talking game". He's right of course and that's why I'm loud on the field as well.”
Will the younger Fajardo play Football as long as his Dad? “Yes definitely. Each year he continues to play pushes the envelope for me. It also makes very good sense to me considering the great shape he's been in because of that.”
The elder Fajardo is also a certified proto-Azkal, who played center halfback (midfielder) for the national team, earning 5 caps from 1956 to 1959 against the likes of Peru, Hongkong, and Malaysia.
“Most of the games were lopsided losses” he confesses.
Mindo entered the Philippine Army and retired as a colonel. Not surprisingly, he also played for the Army team too.
A civilian career in management followed for companies like Colgate-Palmolive, Union Carbide, and the Andres Soriano Corporation, plus stints as strategic planning coordinator and management committee member of the Philippine Football Federation.
The one constant in his life is Football.
My Dad, Fajardo's old team mate, played his last game of Football in 1978, with me and other friends in the lawn of our Hong Kong apartment building.
Dad tripped on something and broke his leg. From then on the only spikes he would wear were ones for playing Golf.
But his old UST teammate kept on hoofing away.
“I never stopped playing in tournaments mainly because my current team, Blue Guards, has been joining local and foreign tournaments ever since the early ‘50s. I do not believe anyone near my age could still be playing.”
In fact, seven years ago, on June 9, 2006, the Philippine Football Federation and Lufthansa awarded him with a lifetime achievement award with the following citation:
“In recognition of his illustrious football career, never letting go his passion to play the game. Now despite his age, he still plays football regularly at the Ateneo Grounds with the Blue Guards F.C. – June 9, 2006.”
I know about Fajardo's prowess firsthand. Eight years ago, the club I was then managing and playing for, Mang-chester United, played against Blue Guards in a festival in Ateneo.
I was the goalkeeper and I recall Fajardo blasting a goal through me with far more force than a septuagenarian has any business producing.
Naturally, Fajardo is in the pink of health, and although semi-retired, is still doing consultancy work.
“I passed my last comprehensive physical exam with flying colors! No ailments except for joint pains from sitting in front of my computer too long!”
When asked how long he will keep on playing, Fajardo's answer reflects his soldier background.
“I'll die with my boots on!”
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.