The Camp Football pitch almost didn't happen, says Freddy Gonzalez.
“It was supposed to be a skate park” admits the Loyola and former national team striker and avid skateboarder.
“It was going to take seven years to recoup our investment. Then this guy” (he points to his business partner Paolo Misa) “talked some sense into me.”
Misa convinced Gonzalez that an indoor Football venue would be a more viable use of their spare warehouse space. The result is believed to be the first indoor artificial grass Football pitch in the Philippines, The Camp.
Measuring just 50 meters by 26 meters, the field is not meant to replace a full Football pitch that can have dimensions of up to 68 meters by 105 meters.
Instead it will be a field where small-sided, mostly recreational play can take place even when it rains.
The Camp is in a warehouse formerly used by Gonzalez and Misa's Aloha Boardpsorts venture in the AFP-RSBS industrial park in Taguig. It's not difficult to find. From Makati, get on the East Service road, pass through the tunnel under C5 as it curves into SLEX, then you'll spot the Shakeys and Racks signs. Turn left into the AFP-RSBS entrance and park at the parking area on the left. Walk in between the two warehouses, turn right, and there you are.
Thankfully, there are plenty of jeeps that ply that route, making it very accessible even for those without cars.
Apart from the smallish size, there is another constriction as well: beams spanning the ceiling are somewhere between four and five meters above the ground. High kicks get ensnarled in the steel.
But Gonzalez sees the glass as half-full.
“It gets players to put the ball on the ground, which is what coaches want anyway.”
At any rate, Gonzalez and Misa are considering removing the beams in a year or two.
There are other unique features of The Camp. Firstly, the Decorea turf (same supplier as FEU's pitch in Diliman) is laid out on bare concrete. Decorea advised them against putting a layer of rubber underneath, because its flatter if the carpet is on the floor.
The plastic grass is from Taiwan and like the Emperador Stadium and Turf BGC, has rubber infill. The surface doesn't feel as pillowy-soft as those two Limonta Sport installations, but its certainly soft enough.
The fact that The Camp is indoor gives another huge advantage over outdoor fields: the infill doesn't get hot, so players stay comfortable even while playing at midday on hot days. Players who have trained in outdoor artificial fields with rubber infill on hot days say you can feel the heat through the soles of your shoes.
During the day, skylights let in natural light, which means indoor lights are not needed until nightfall.
The Camp is also more than just a field. A “functional training center” gym will open right beside it. And beyond the far end of the field a physical training/ recovery room, complete with massage tables, is taking shape, along with mens and womens lockers.
Walk up the staircase and an viewing area will soon become a place for people to relax, have a snack or maybe even a stiff drink while taking in the Football. Gonzalez and Misa hope to get a concessionaire up there too. The partners envision the area as a place where parents who bring their kids there to play can relax while waiting for them to finish.
The Camp aims to attract Football schools, and many have already booked slots. But UFL teams are also a target.
“Most (UFL) teams train in turf BGC but only use half the field, because they do drills. So we figured, if they need a place to train, its the right size.”
There are two small seven-a-side goal frames, four kiddie-sized goal frames, and one regular sized frame for shooting drills.
The frames came free with the Decorea grass, which has a ten-year warranty. A brush machine has also been thrown into the deal to help keep the grass in tip-top shape.
One thing is for sure: The Camp comes as a bargain. Misa says that it cost only four million pesos to lay in the artificial grass, fix up the dressing rooms, and construct the the gym. My sources tell me that is a fraction of what DLS-Z paid for its almost full-sized field, and far less than the cost of FEU's field. I have been told that Emperador and Turf BGC are both much dearer than DLS-Z and FEU.
How does it play? Brilliantly.
For an hour myself and my Football buddies engaged in some 7-a-side action, and the surface was consistent, smooth, and quite natural in feel. Large windows on one side keep the heat tolerable, and large fans also keep us cool.
Of course it was unavoidable to have balls stray into the ceiling, but we made a simple rule: if one team kicks the ball into the air and it hits metal, the other team gets a throw-in.
Gonzalez says its a seven-a-side field, but it feels cramped for that many players. In fact, FIFA recommends that a 7-a-side pitch should be no less than 70 by 50 meters, bigger than the Camp's playing area. With fourteen players, goal attempts were few and far between. Six on six would have been better, and five on five would be ideal.
In fact while playing I couldn't help but get the impression that it was a Futsal (Indoor Futsal) court that wants to be a Football pitch. Even the penalty area markings seemed to be borrowed from Futsal, which is a five-on-five game. The dimensions of the playing area seem more suited to the Indoor game, which has a maximum size of 42 by 25 meters, with 40 by 20 being the minimum for International play.
Had The Camp gone Futsal, it would possibly be the first internationally-sized Futsal court in the country. Most Futsal in the country is played on Basketball courts, which are tiny in comparison (28m by 15m.)
Part of me wishes that instead of grass, Futsal tiles, or some multi-purpose material, had been laid in instead. Having a flat surface might have also opened the facility to other kinds of use, like, say, ballroom dancing.
But as an artificial grass pitch, it nonetheless shines. The Camp proves that you don't need a huge space and tens of millions of pesos to have a Football field.
Gonzalez and Misa's field of dreams is the first indoor pitch in the city. Lets hope it isn't the last.
For reservations email Paolo Misa at email@example.com. Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.