Monte Carlo – The Cradle of Futbol in Cagayan de Oro

Jan 4, 2019


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Between a galvanized iron fence along Pabayo Street in Cagayan de Oro is a small opening that opens to what was once a bustling block of makeshift houses but is now only a bare square of raw earth.


The name first came to my attention when I was doing a feature on Carlo Dorin, a Kagay-anon futbol player who recently won the Golden Boot in the prestigious SingaCup 2018 youth futbol tournament in Singapore. When I asked him where he learned to play the game, and he replied “Monte Carlo.”


Neighbors at Monte Carlo crowd around to read the Mindanao Daily Sports Feature on Carlo Dorin (left).

Long-time Kagay-anon Amadeo “Tatoy” Neri shared his memories of the place.


“Monte Carlo was the name given to a place where the Firmacion family used to operate several businesses. Operated directly by Mrs. Carmen Puertas Firmacion, mother of the late Dante P. Sarraga, it had at some point or other, an ice drop factory carrying the brand name Monte Carlo, a bowling alley with the same name, and Firmacion Enterprises selling magazines and newspapers, being one of maybe two places in the city where comic books were sold.”

“This place used to be lorded over by one very well-known to locals and very close friend to many of us, the late Antonio “Adong” Puertas, who was a nephew of Mrs. Firmacion and who also assisted in the businesses.”


Francisco “Chito” Sarraga, grandson of the late Capt. Firmacion, shared his memories of the place.


“The Executive Centrum building and the lot in front used to be the residence of my lolo, Capt. Luciano Firmacion. People called it Monte Carlo because it was a land mark then. My lolo got the name from a place in the French Riviera, called Monte Carlo.”


“Monte Carlo Mike is the name of my grandfather’s family Night Club, where Kagay-anons used to spend their free nights dancing. Below on the first floor was the Monte Carlo Bowling Alley, the only bowling alley in Cagayan de Oro at that time. The sister of my lola, the wife of Capt. Firmacion, had an ice drop factory which was also named Monte Carlo.”


Originally called Spélugues, the famous Monte Carlo Quarter of the principality of Monaco in the French Riviera was developed with hotels, gardens and a casino by French businessmen Francois Blanc in 1863 upon the instance of Charles III, the Prince of Monaco. Upon the suggestion of his mother, Princess Caroline, Charles III renamed the place Monte Carlo after himself. The Monte Carlo Quarter is famed for the world-famous Place du Casino, the gambling center which has made Monte Carlo “an international byword for the extravagant display and reckless dispersal of wealth.”




Even before Futbol became the dominant sport in Monte Carlo, its residents were already known as sportsmen who excelled at various times in their not too distant past at softball, baseball, boxing and basketball.


But the place is revered by local hard-core futbol (or soccer, if you must) aficionados as the cradle which brought forth so many outstanding Kagay-anon futbol players for the past fifty years or so.


Carlo Dorin plays 3-a-side futsal at high noon with local boys who play barefoot or with flipflops on the vacant lot of what used to be Monte Carlo.

“It’s the inner community around that block, where the kids’ hobby in their spare time is futbol, not basketball,” said Allan Abellanosa, former president of the Cagayan Misamis Oriental Football Association (CMOFA) who has since moved to Canada.


“They play in the streets, in the City Central School field and the Pelaez Sports Center regularly. The community including parents loves football,” he added.


“I believe the interest was started by Dr. Jose B. Obenza, Jr. who lived near that community, by sharing soccer balls to the community. He was a Past President of the Misamis Oriental Football Association (now the CMOFA) who really loves football. That community through the years has produced many good players who played in national tournaments, including his son, Aldo Obenza, who now works at Provincial Health Office.”


Local Heroes


Aldo Obenza, son of the late Dr. Obenza, shared his memories of the salad days of futbol at Monte Carlo.


“My dad introduced futbol to us when I was a 2nd year high school student at the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS) around 1974. During our time the back field on the City Central School was still vacant, and he encouraged my barkada from Monte Carlo, many of whom later became varsity players of MOGCHS. Many of the bugoys from MC were our fans and cheerleaders whenever we had a game.”


Among his contemporaries is the MOGCHS varsity were Jesus Tigulo, Reynaldo Galarrita Sr., Jaime Raran while their junior players included Locoy Sabella (Wilford’s father), Nestor Yañez, Yul Cguindingan, Koko Bacarro, Ringgo Cielo, Floro Torres, Eddie Caguindingan, Batchoy Doniña, to name a few, and many more whose names he couldn’t remember at that time.


 Among their coaches were Dr. Obenza, Maj. Virgilio Pacana, Pat Acedo, and Retz Pacalioga.


Aldo Obenza (standing, leftmost) played in his first 1st National Football League. Oct. 1980 at Bacolod City as a member of MSU-IIT Futbol Team. He became the first player from Monte Carlo to play in a Philippine Nat’l Team in 1982.


“They were actually our first mentors in Futbol. Monte Carlo is like Barotac Nuevo, the cradle of Futbol in Iloilo,” he noted.


In  1982 Aldo became the first player from Monte Carlo to don the national colors with the Philippine National Youth Team as a defender playing with the legendary Elmer Bedia; Team Captain of MSU-IIT Football Team, National UAAP Champions for 3 consecutive years 1984-1986 and was a member of FIFA-PFF Football Youth Training Center in Iligan.


Monte Carlo booters from later generations who followed in their footsteps in bigger pitches outside the city include Jonard G. Fuentes, who now manages Smart distributor Elvirs Blue sky and  went on to become a University of Southern Philippines Foundation Athletic Scholar;  Wilford Sabella Gayramara, another USPF scholar, now a Certified International Football Referee in Vietnam; Nicho S. Palarca,  former player of PASARGAD FC a National Football Club qualified for UFL who used to dominate MVP awards in various tournaments; Globert Patayon, a USTP graduate and now a Math Professor in Thailand; and Emiliano Mabalos Known for his skills as one of the best Strikers of MCFC, who now works for Elvirs Blu Sky under the management of his former teammate Jonard Fuentes.


 “They usually play along Pabayo Street but when it became busy they play in sports center almost every day. Some kids will play even without soccer shoes. That’s how the community loves football,” Abellanosa recalls.


“The name Monte Carlo FC was first used by a home team in 1984 with Gold Eagle Beer as their first sponsor,” recalls Julie Ann Gerona-Popovic, a pioneer lady booter from Barangay Bulua who has close ties with the place. The team decided to keep the name when they often emerged winners in tournaments they would join in using the moniker.


A Family Tradition


When I was interviewing Carlo last December, there were little kids playing 3-a-side futsal with big kids on a makeshift dirt pitch with two small goals and a regulation soccer ball.


It’s near noon and the bare ground is scorching hot but the boys in Monte Carlo are used to playing barefoot or in flip flops under these conditions.


The smallest among them Nash Sombero, 7, had already played at New Camp, Iligan with the Monte Carlo U-8 and U-10 teams  only last November. Also 7 was Randy V. Tablang, and there were two 10 year olds: James Nathan Castillo, who played with the team recently in Oroquieta City where they had a 2nd runner up team finish, and Alucard Lestria. Completing the sides were Dave Dorin, 11, and John Robert Dorin Galarrita, also 11.


The common thread running through all the kids’ narratives? Their fathers were all futbol players and in some cases, so were their relatives, male and female alike.


Carlo himself was already 9 years old when he started playing futbol at Monte Carlo, which was already late by the neighborhood standards, when kids like Nash were already playing when they were but 4 years old.


“ I started playing 5-a-side futsal here In Monte Carlo in 2009, sometimes in Pabayo Street, we put our goals on the street and just put them aside when vehicles were passing,” Carlo recalls. “But I learned the formal basics two years later under Coach Yul at the City Central School grounds where we also learned how to scrimmage during summer camps.”


Carlo with Ulysses Caguindangan who taught him the basics of futbol when he was 11.


From there, Carlo progressed to playing in local tournaments at the Sports Complex and in more competitive tourneys like the Rosevale Cup and Del Monte Cup, a road which now made him  a soccer Senior Varsity Scholar at 17 with the  Lyceum of Phils University (LPU) where he starts playing in the NCAA as a sophomore since he had to comply with the one year residency last year.


“While kids are still young and small,  we already encourage them to play futbol and give them balls for them to scrimmage,” Yul said. Previously, KASIBULAN provided spare balls for our summer camp training at city central but Carlo’s group was the last batch since the budget for the summer camp was slashed by City Central, and we cannot sustain the camp by dipping into our own pocket.”


Allan concurs. “Cagayan de Oro has produced good players from Monte Carlo but mostly can hardly move on due to limited resources to gain elite training and opportunities.


Now Joey “Tallo” Flores of Kalambagohan had taken over training the kids, but lacks sponsors for logistics like balls, kits, cones, et al.


Yul himself learned to play futbol in Monte Carlo during the 1970s with the likes of Pat Acedo, Dr Obenza, and Retz Pacalioga.


“The MOGCHS futbol team consisted mainly of Monte Carlo players. Our practice pitch was the Pelaez  Sports Center. “ 


The School Tradition


Before Monte Carlo was able to organize its own team, players from the block were often recruited  by school teams due to their often outstanding talent and experience.


“Aldo Obenza’s dad started by supporting players from MC, as kids watched their fathers and neighbors play futbol at the Sports Centre,” said Ronald “Chairman” Tablang, one of the MCFC’s outstanding players who is now Barangay 12 Secretary. He gained the moniker “Chairman” when he was elected Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Chair of Barangay 12 in 1996.


Monte Carlo FC started informally during the early 1990s but only  was formally organized into a club when Ronald became SK Chairman in 1996 with the formation of the Monte Carlo FC Junior (High School) and Senior (College) teams.


Ronald himself started playing futbol in 1st HS playing in the Sports Center pitch when admission was still free so they could scrimmage in it every afternoon.


“We had no formal training, no proper equipment, some played barefoot, some played with hand-me-down shoes, and we had no uniform,” Tablang recalls.


“We only managed to get kits when I was elected SK Chairman in 1996 because I knew we really needed support, so I provided a budget for the kits of our team.”


From thereon the number of players in many age groups increased as more kids from the neighborhood and surrounding areas caught the futbol bug.


“If he’s a male who was born or raised here in Monte Carlo, you can be sure he knows how to play futbol,” Tablang said.


Carlo Dorin playing 3-a-side Futsal with Monte Carlo boys in what was once a thriving residential block.


Lady Booters


And it’s not just the good male futbol players that honed their soccer chops in Monte Carlo.


“We are slowly integrating lady booters in our scrimmages,” Tablang said. “Some of them  have even already joined school teams.”


Even previously, Monte Carlo has already produced its fair share of lady booters, among them Julie Ann Gerona-Popovic, who is from Barangay Bulua, but has close ties with the place.


Originally a varsity swimmer of Montessori de Oro and later the University of Santo Tomas, Popovic had to switch to futbol to avail of a 100% scholarship from UST and luckily qualified for the university’s Team  A during her sophomore year.


“I became a part of Monte Carlo in 2003 when I was playing with the UST Lady Booters in the UAAP,” she recalls. “When I was home in Cagayan de Oro, I usually worked out by myself at the Pelaez Sports Center, then already known as MCFC territory since it was where they practiced regularly from 4PM onwards.”


When she asked permission to join their scrimmage, the male players told her they were okay as long as she would  be able to score against them.


“That afternoon I scored 2 goals and that started my history as the only girl playing with them,” she laughingly recalls.


Upon graduation, Popovic took a job on a cruise ship and was able to only come home again in 2007. When she excitedly went to the sports center to practice she noticed a lot of her fellow players from MCFC no longer around and was sad to hear they had to join other teams since they couldn’t put up enough cash to join tournaments.


“I offered to manage their team as coach and sponsor and in the first tournament we played as MCFC we landed 3rd in Iligan Futsal,” she recounted. “We won 3 championships and MCFC gained a reputation for their poor but talented players, becoming a rival of MAGIS FC.”


Some of Monte Carlo FC’s silverware won over the years (photo-JAGPopovic)


“In 2010, I organize a tournament in memory of the late Russell Galaritta who passed away in Qatar last 2009, and it became the first tournament of MCFC. We held another one in 2012, followed by a third in 2016, and the 4th Prince Russell Cup in 2017. I just took a break this year because of my schooling.”


1st Russel Cup Futsal Festival Champion (photo-JAGPopovic)


Although her pioneering ways had not produced the same number of female as male booters from Monte Carlo, the tradition of lady booters from the place continues with the likes of  Monique Tablang, niece of Chairman Tablang, who most recently played as a member of the Misamis Oriental Province Secondary Level Futsal Team in the regional competitions held in Tangub City last Dec. 21st.


Julie Popovic’s daughter Ana playing with her Kuya Carlo Dorin, James, Boboy and Jan-Jan at the Pelaez Sports CEnter (photo-JAGPopovic)


“When I was 8 years old in grade 3 at the MOGCHS, my father Randolf encouraged me to play futbol and I was trained by Coach Jonard Fuentes,” she said. Among the other lady booters joining her at scrimmage were her Ate Mariel Tablang and Nicole dela Cruz.


Of course, in the family tradition of Monte Carlo, it also helped in no small measure that her uncles Reyjune, Richard, Robinson, and Ronald “Chairman” Tablang, were all futbol players.


Inclusive Futbol


Another tradition that has continued is male players playing scrimmage with lady booters, even with those from other places and teams.


Andrea Collen Vallejos of the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) futbol team often plays scrimmage at the Pelaez Sports Center with male Monte Carlo booters including Harvie Reyno, Kenneth, Ratunil, Jonathan Regusante, Carlo Dorin and Jevan.”


USTP Futbol group after a bible study Harvie Reyno,Jefferson Cabrillos, Kenneth Ratunil,Coach Aliver Aguaviva, Don Cañete, Jonathan Regusante, Carlo Dorin, Jevan, Ptr. Rey Cimene, Andrea Vallejos & Choco Abian.

“We met the Monte Carlo FC at the Sports Center where we scrimmage with them and other teams from Cagayan de Oro. We’re really looking forward to Carlo Dorin joining the Phil. Team. He really has the potential. A blessing to the Monte Carlo Football Club.”


Like before, as always, logistics and finance remain the biggest obstacles to players moving up to greater heights like Carlo Dorin.


“We have sponsors like John Wadhu Dharamdas of Wadhu’s Quality Store, he is also a barangay kagawad in Barangay 12,” said Tablang. “Other times we have to depend on providence and the charity of the parents of our team members, like one who lends us their vehicle to transport our team to our tournaments. So there are those like them, even if they are not from Monte Carlo, they assist us. It’s been like that for us, for every tournament we want to join, we have to look for sponsors for registration, kits, transportation and snacks.”


Despite all these, the indomitable spirit of Monte Carlo lives on in the likes of Carlo Dorin, Julie Ann Gerona-PopovicYul Caguindangan and Ronald Tablang.


Play ball!



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