Suppose you ever find yourself at Far Eastern University in Manila. In that case, you may want to keep a lookout for a certain South Korean, Endearingly referred to as Bobby by those who know him, Bo Bae Park is the head coach of the University football team and is a man on a mission – to improve the standards of Filipino football.
Bo Bae isn’t a stranger to the Philippines nor Filipino football. Even before his stint as Far Eastern’s head coach in 2017, Bo Bae played for five years in the United Football League, the precursor to the Philippines Football League. Spending close to a decade in the Southeast Asian nation, the Philippines has a special place in his heart.
He wants the Filipino footballing landscape to reach greater heights and aspires to play an active role in this process. Specifically, Bo Bae wants to help local Filipinos pursue a professional career and potentially turn out for the national team.
Yet, where did he begin his footballing journey and how did he end up in the Philippines?
This is Bo Bae’s story.
Humble Beginnings – Early Foundations as a Player
Bo Bae’s love for the beautiful game blossomed even though he wasn’t serious about pursuing the sport before joining the local Cha Bum-Kun Academy. However, when he was in the 5th grade in elementary school, Bo Bae realised that he was a tad bit better than others in his age group. It was then that Bo Bae decided that football was going to be his career. However, his parents were initially against the idea of him pursuing professional football. Coming from a family with a limited sporting background, his parents were wary of Bo Bae’s decision since they knew the lives of most footballers in Korea was indeed hard and even the best have short careers.
“I grew up supporting Manchester United and the Netherlands. Edgar Davids was my favourite player because he is relatively short and also plays as a centre-midfielder, which is the position I also play in, and he’s very hardworking. Contributing to both attack and defence, his play style is simple but effective.”
However, Bo Bae never let up, and his parents eventually caved in and allowed him to follow his heart and pursue his dreams. It wasn’t long before Bo Bae would move up the educational ladder and found himself at Suwon University, where he would study physical education for four years.
During his time with the Suwon University football team, Bo Bae impressed scouts enough to earn a move to K League Daegu FC in 2008 once he completed his degree. It was a dream come true for young Bo Bae, who was fresh off the university oven. I mean, wouldn’t you be excited if you were handed a professional contract from a K League 1 club. After signing on the dotted line, Bo Bae began to have high hopes and dreams. The club, in fact, earmarked him for first-team minutes in his debut season and Bo Bae was widely expected to have a reputable career. However, visions of future national team call-ups and a move to Europe never materialised.
Unfortunately, we hear this story all too often, and it is a tragedy.
Bo Bae picked up a gruelling knee injury during one training session that required two surgeries that effectively ruled him out for the rest of the season. Even before he had the opportunity to officially turn out for the team, Daegu FC terminated his contract. In the blink of an eye, his aspirations came tumbling down.
Following his release from Daegu, Bo Bae would then sign for then second-tier side Ansan Hallelujah (later renamed Goyang Hi FC until 2016 when it dissolved). Unlike at Daegu, Bo Bae would regularly feature for Goyang and while his knee would act up, he could bear the pain and play. His stint with Ansan would last for 2 years before a new adventure awaited him in Southeast Asia.
A Foreign Player In A New Land – Laying The Cement In The Philippines
After his contract ended in 2011, Bo Bae had plans to move to Australia initially and play in one of the eight National Premier Leagues for a season before trying his luck at the A-League. However, an opportunity to play in the Philippines came knocking, which also included the chance to coach school teams and improve his English skills.
When he first came to the Philippines, Bo Bae first signed for Stallion FC and did pretty well for the team. However, it was not easy for Bo Bae to assimilate into the Filipino way of life. Yet, after some time, he was able to adapt to the new culture and social norms. After settling down, it was all about getting down to business for Bo Bae, who became back to back league champions with Stallions during his initial two-year stint with the club.
A move to Loyola Meralco Sparks FC would soon follow, and Bo Bae would notably feature in the Singapore Cup alongside the famed Younghusband (Chris and Phil) brothers. If you think this was a spelling error, no, it isn’t. It was common practice for the Football Association to teams other regional teams to participate in Singapore Cup. In 2014, Loyola was one of five foreign invited teams to the tournament.
Bo Bae would feature against Laotian side SHB Champasak (now SHB Vientiane FC) in a game where Loyola would run riot in a 7-1 victory. Unfortunately, he was benched for the subsequent two-legged tie against Home United, where Loyola would suffer defeat in both games. So, after yet another 2-year stay, he’d leave for greener pastures.
In 2016, Bo Bae would sign for the mighty Ceres–La Salle FC (now rebranded as United City FC) as a trainer-cum-player role. While he signed with arguably the best club in the Philippines, it also marked the final chapter into a professional foray.
After a single season with Ceres, Bo Bae would move to Green Archers United on a semi-professional playing capacity.
“At Ceres, I still had that focus as a player and I was concentrating more on my playing. However, by the time I was at Green Archers, my mind was not playing as much. Instead, I was channelling more of my focus onto the coaching side of things.”
And come to the end of the season, Bo Bae eventually hung up his boots and called an end to his playing career. Yet, his life on the pitch was not going to end. Instead, it was merely taking a different form.
Coaching – Adding Newer Blocks To Bring Locals to Unprecedented Heights
Like many before him who have called time on their careers, Bo Bae gravitated towards coaching as a post-playing career. Perhaps that’s why he took physical education. Funnily enough, while he majored in physical education at Suwon University, Bo Bae never intended to become a coach. He just wanted to focus on football and thought majoring in physical education would enable him to concentrate more on the game. But why did he want to become a coach and, more specifically, a coach in the Filipino grassroots scene?
“At first, when I came to the Philippines in 2012, I realised how undeveloped football in the Philippines was. Then, when I watched the national team play, I realised that the starting eleven were mostly made up of players of Filipino heritage – not locally born footballers. My teammates were the ones who told me that most of the national team footballers at the time had dual passports and were mostly playing overseas. So when I watched that match, a thought crossed my mind – what about our local-born Filipino footballers? What about the grassroots? It was that moment that I had this burning desire to improve the local scene as a coach.”
It was at Stallions where Bo Bae had his first taste of professional team coaching and he knew then that this was the right path for him.
During his time at Loyola, he met Vincent Santos, a coach at the club who was also the manager of the Far Eastern University football team. Vincent offered Bo Bae the chance to kickstart his coaching career at the university. However, it was not meant to be because Vincent left Far Eastern and appointed a new manager.
Interestingly, this new manager was also interested in procuring Bo Bae’s services and approached him in 2017 after leaving Green Archers United. Ultimately, Bo Bae’s grand vision of helping local Filipinos reach greater heights effectively made him the perfect candidate for Far Eastern University – a position he has held ever since.
Since 2012, Bo Bae has remained committed to improving Filipino grassroots football and has resided in the country for close to a decade.
“It’s was not my idea to stay in the Philippines for a long time and of course, my family wants to stay in Korea. However, I haven’t achieved what I set out to do yet. That’s why even though I have had offers from other teams overseas, I rejected them because I want our local players to improve and reach the same levels as the mixed-heritage Filipino players. I really wanted them to see them play in the national team starting eleven. Of course, right now, I’m open to moving to a professional club, whether be it in the Philippines or overseas, and making a bigger impact on the grassroots scenes there.”
Bo Bae has already helped a few local-born players make the jump to the professional level. Some of his players at Far Eastern, like Pocholo Bugas (now at United City) and Audie Menzi (now at Kaya), are now turning out for professional Filipino clubs. Furthermore, there appears to be a surge in grassroots football activities in the Philippines. According to Bo Bae, many more young children are playing the sport and there are numerous football academies in Manila, which are definitely encouraging signs. That being said, Bo Bae does believe that for local-born Filipinos to pursue a professional career, more needs to be done, especially at the professional level. It certainly helps that the Filipino clubs have 1 direct entrant and 1 play-off spot for the AFC Champions League, but there have to be more local teams for players to aim for.
Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that Bo Bae has laid vital building blocks that others can build from. The question remains, who is ready to lay the next later?
Featured Image Credits: Ethan Parkz
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