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Ask coach Ernie Nierras what he thinks about the on-going discussion regarding the Philippine women’s national football team’s monicker “Malditas” and he’d be the one to tell you he couldn’t care any less.
“You can call (them) whatever you want, say whatever you want to say, but support. If you disrespect (the team), I will go after you. I will respect your opinion. You can call me an a–hole for calling them the Malditas, I don’t care. As long as you show support to the team,” Nierras told Sports Bytes Philippines.
The former national team head coach for the women’s side himself and the long-time Stallion-Laguna F.C. tactician coined the term himself back during the squad’s preparations for the 2005 Southeast Asian Games which the country hosted.
Nierras was the manager of the national team back then, while Marlon Maro served as head coach. And the backstory for the monicker that is now the subject of heated discussions across social media platforms was likewise interesting.
“We had a whole bunch of senior players the coach would refer to as ‘Tanders’, kasi senior eh,” he shared, referring to the colloquial slang word “tander” from matanda which means old.
“So the younger players, including my daughter, I started referring to them as Malditas. So Tanders and Malditas. Kasi ang kukulit eh. Feisty talaga. It’s not maldita as a bad word. It was the attitude behind the whole team.”
The term surprisingly stuck and was well-received at the time by the Filipino sports community, and has since become a part of popular sports culture.
“I didn’t know it was going to stick,” he added.
In spite of its negative connotations, particularly the word being related to being a “brat”, it’s actually the Filipina athlete’s signature bravery and feistiness that the monicker encapsulates, so much so that governing bodies FIFA and the AFC, and even Wikipedia for that matter, recognizes the monicker.
“AFC and FIFA started to use that name also, referring to our women’s team and we were actually very happy because there are only six countries in the world that have a monicker,” Nierras mentioned.
That signature feistiness could be seen every time the Malditas enter the field, be it on the attacking third as they press or on the defensive end where they never give up.
But Nierras also pointed out the monicker is technically not official, hence no point in even debating about it in the first place.
“There is no specific purpose for changing (the nickname). Our name will always be the Philippine national women’s football team. You do not see Malditas on the scoreboard,” he said.
“If it’s something that helped us get attention, which in 2005, we needed, so it carried over. Now, some people will like it, some won’t. But it wasn’t a popularity contest. It wasn’t meant to make other people happy or put the attention on me. Put the attention on the girls, on the team, that was the purpose. It suddenly became a battlecry for the girls. Because they would really see it that the girls would play hard, the Philippines, we trained them against men’s teams, boy’s teams, youth teams, that was the attitude. And it stayed. And now, suddenly, a clamor to change the team name?”
Rich history; ‘Something ours’
Beneath the “Malditas” monicker is the significance that comes along with it, something Nierras has been proud of for a long time.
“The people who understand it appreciate it. Even the Spanish FA was so proud when they saw the name. They said, we should have used that name for our national team,” Nierras shared.
Of course, the mentor was referring to CF Madrid, a third-division Spanish club which faced the Azkals in the friendly back in January 2012.
Unbeknownst to a lot of football fans, the women’s side also played CF Madrid, and officials of the squad were in awe of the Malditas monicker.
“So we gave them a jersey of the Malditas. They were so thrilled, they were like, shoot, we should have named this our team’s name. But it’s now the Philippines’,” Nierras recalled.
“And then now you have people who want to remove it … We should be proud FIFA and the AFC recognizes us using that monicker. That’s great. It’s something that’s ours. It doesn’t belong to anybody else, just like the Azkals.”
Focus on historic milestones
At the same time, Nierras wants Filipino football fans to channel their focus to things more deserving of attention, like the women’s national team’s milestone itself when it conquered Thailand for the first time ever in history via a 1-0 victory behind Chandler McDaniel’s lucky goal.
“What people keep forgetting is that (Friday) night was history. They’re so caught up in the name (that they forget) we never won against Thailand,” he said. “Nobody expected this. The girls just kept quiet. Throughout the pandemic, they kept grinding, training, doing whatever they have.”
Indeed, the squad’s historic win has been quite overshadowed in the Facebook group “Philippines Football League Fans United” as most posts in the group revolved around discussing the monicker, or whether or not fans want it changed.
And Nierras wants more attention given to the more relevant storylines. Given that regardless of the result against Australia, the Filipinas have a great chance of advancing to the quarterfinals, putting them just win away from the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“If we tie or beat Indonesia, that’s it, we’re in (quarterfinals). Our chances are very good. What people should focus on is on that. Not the name. Monickers are just nicknames to just give it more flavor, some appeal. But (Malditas) really mean the attitude of players,” the mentor added.
“If they wanted to do that (change), they would have done that a long time ago. Whoever came up with that, I don’t think I have to say who started all this intrigue … well, it evolves. The connotation of something evolves into something which is good.”
The national team’s win over Thailand on Friday ended a 12-match losing streak against its Southeast Asian counterparts, setting up a giant possibility of progressing to the world stage in the days to come.
“Right now, the attention we are getting is good. That’s what we need. I’m telling you, this year, you will see more Filipinas playing in professional leagues in Asia,” Nierras said, mentioning countries like South Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as potential destinations for Filipina footballers.
Lastly, Nierras hopes that the great showing by the national team in the past few years would also serve as an inspiration for the entire Philippine sports community, including decision makers, to develop local women’s football even more.
“Let the girls have their glory. They deserve it,” he closed. “Focus on what the team has been able to do, not the name. That flag on the jersey is the most important thing and that’s what fully represents us. Not the nickname, not the monicker. It represents the attitude of the players we have. We have to give them their due. Whatever name you want to call them, it doesn’t matter. Team Philippines, that’s not gonna change. That’s what we need to do. We do not have to worry about the name.”