When Stephan Schröck was competing in the top football league in Germany, he used to receive letters from his fans. Every player had his own mailbox just for fanmail, he explained to us. However, he admitted that he was quite lazy to read through all of them.
But as he was going through the stack one day, he found a letter addressed to him from the Philippines. Someone wanted to know if he was interested in paying for his mother’s home country. After all, he was half-Filipino and eligible to obtain the documents to represent the flag.
As he read it, he admitted, “At first I thought it was a joke. I never knew that the Philippines had a football national team.”
He called up the person who had written the letter. Discovering that it was a real opportunity, he thought, “Yeah, of course. What took you so long to write me a letter?”
Little did he know that he would go from representing the national team in international tournaments, to over a decade later, gunning for the highest position in Philippine football: President of the Philippine Football Federation.
For nearly an hour, Schröck talks to us about his vision for football in the country—his plans, his goals, the road ahead, and what the future might look like. But even with his eyes focused on driving forward, he keeps his rearview mirror in check, looking back at all that he has experienced as an athlete and all that the sport has given him.
“Football was always the biggest part of my life,” he reminisces. “For me, it’s just natural to give back.”
Like any other kid, especially in the football-loving country of Germany, Stephan Schröck started playing the sport in the backyard with friends. From boxing training with his dad, he would catch up with his friends to kick about, and eventually, it stuck.
At six years old, he enrolled in a football club. “My friends were all enrolled in the same club so it just made sense for me to join,” he explained. Like many, it was more of a social thing for him growing up. But over time, it evolved into something that bore more meaning and significance in Schröck’s life.
When he turned 15, he was already invited to try out for a professional football club. However, instead of playing with his group age, he played with talents who were up to four years older than him. Being the small fry in the Under-19 age group, he couldn’t help but doubt himself at times. He wondered if it would be better for him to wait for an opportunity with his actual age group.
But he persevered throughout the rest of the week playing with the big kids. “They have two arms two legs, same as you, so why should you shy away from the challenge you know?” he reassured himself.
Three days later, the club presented him with that golden ticket—a contract for four years.
From there, he transitioned up to the second-tier football league in Germany, and the Bundesliga with 1899 Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt.
His career path sounds like that of most professional football players. Start young, work hard, and make your way up to the big leagues. But in reality, football was more than just a career path for him.
Stephan Schröck grew up with a single mom. His parents were separated and his family was not terribly well-off. With his mom raising both him and his sister on her own, she juggled up to three jobs just to, as he recalls, “keep us above water.”
“I think there was never a day where [my mother] didn’t mention to me that she is bringing home the bacon and cooking the bacon at the same time. She made me understand that she puts a lot of work into giving me the life I have,” he expressed.
Schröck’s mother was not short of reminding him about her struggles. So he understood at an early age that he had to wear two hats: breadwinner, and father figure, especially to his younger sister. He carried these responsibilities on his shoulders through school and in training.
Despite the hand he understood he was dealt, Schröck found an outlet in his passion.
“[Football would] make me forget about the troubles at home,” he shared with us. “Football gave me a safe place, a happy place where I felt free, where I felt no worries at all. Throughout the years, I still carry that feeling with me.”
“Outside the pitch, I really took care of my sister. I tried to be like a big brother and a father figure at the same time,” he said. “But looking back it made me stronger. When I compare myself to my old teammates back then, I think I turned out pretty good.”
Indeed, he did. Playing professionally gave Schröck the means to support his family (and then some). But he wouldn’t have gotten there without his family. “Even though I mentioned she juggled the jobs and the household and raising me and my sister alone, she always found time to bring me to the training to attend my games. That meant a lot to me,” he shared.
At the time, Schröck admitted that he didn’t realize how much effort his family put into shaping his career. But as he grew older, he began to understand what this consistent and continuous support would do for his passion. Supporting him and helping him pursue his passion, his family was his rock. And with his successes, he was able to give back to them.
Years later, he finds a bigger way to pay it forward. Yes, still a player for the flag, but simultaneously dreaming of ways to do more for our local athletes.
Suiting up for the flag
Schröck made his international debut for the Philippines in 2011, competing with the Azkals in the World Cup qualifiers. In 2016, he started playing in the Philippines Football League, then known as the United Football League. He represented Ceres F.C., now referred to as United City F.C., and was one of the key figures that led the team to three straight league titles.
Now, 11 years after his debut in the Philippines, he is the veteran on the Azkals Development Team, a team dedicated to training and improving the skills of the country’s young talents on a professional level.
Looking back at his time in the country, he admitted that coming from the top football league in Germany, he noticed that the professional league in the Philippines was set up differently. However, he commends the positive changes he has witnessed over the past decade.
“The Azkals are very competitive now. While 11 years back, looking at the squad, it had nice characters, very nice people, also equipped with abilities. But compared to now, [the difference] huge.”
Schröck attributes much of the growth in Philippine football to the country’s professional league. Having a competitive environment with multiple teams fighting for trophies and league titles helps improve and widen the talent pool in the country.
“In the past 4 years, we got ourselves to a standard where we can really push hard and really try to make something big happen,” he adds. “I’m very proud of that, to be part of that journey and eventually climbing the ladder and leveling up the entire environment.”
Now, Schröck wants to take that level even higher.
“It’s time to look at new options where I can help the game. Why not gun for the biggest position in the sport?”
The vision developed
Running to become the President of the Philippine Football Federation is a bold step. As Schröck said himself, it is the biggest position in the sport locally, and it comes with immense responsibilities. But, based on his entire life—his childhood, upbringing, and professional experiences—he sees Philippine football’s potential through a unique set of lenses.
“I am half Filipino but I did not grow up here,” he admits. “Things are different here compared to Europe. When I look at it here, everyone is looking for a breadwinner. Everyone in the family would look for a kid that will excel in some kind of area, and football was it for me.”
Growing up with a single mother and becoming the father figure at such a young age, Schröck knows what football can do not just for one athlete, but for an entire family. When he was younger, he admitted that his mother, like many parents, wanted him to focus more on his studies before becoming a professional athlete. However, when he brought home his first paycheck, she gave him the go signal to focus on football. And from that, he has been able to provide for his family.
“[Football] gave me everything I have,” he says.
But it isn’t just smoke and mirrors with Schröck’s vision. He understands that in order to achieve something like this, there needs to be intelligent action and a clear target. And for him, this is the professional league.
“Many many people talk about the grassroots,” he says. “But you have to give people a pathway. You have to give them a long-term vision.”
“You have to really push the league so it becomes a sustainable living and a very good environment which can create money and at the same time give money to people, and then everything will fall into its place. The grassroots will become better, the coaches will become better… It creates a lot of jobs, it creates a lot of opportunities, and it will bring everyone together.”
This is a foundation-setting step that Schröck has already started. With the Azkals Development Team, not only does he compete, but he also leads the team. He has created a professional training environment for players who are as young as 16, giving them the platform to develop as players and match, and perhaps even surpass, the level of those who play in other countries.
Through this, he is giving these players a much-needed trajectory. He is giving them a vision of where they can see themselves in the future. And with the experience they are accumulating, even from young ages, they also gain the confidence to take it further.
Apart from this, Schröck also expresses that football has given him experiences like no other. Traveling to numerous countries, meeting countless new people, competing against the best of the best—there aren’t many avenues from which people can experience this.
With football, bringing more development to a professional league opens the door to opportunities for so many people. With over 25 players in one squad alone, “you can produce so many huge stars and breadwinners and caretakers for the family,” he explains.
Ultimately, his vision comes from a place not of personal interest, but of one that has evolved and matured from his experiences growing up and the circumstances he was faced with. With everything football has given him, he wants that for many others.
Coming full circle
A seed was planted the moment he stepped onto the pitch wearing the Philippine flag for the first time. But the roots of it now—his upbringing, his professional experience, and his commitment to Philippine football—have already begun branching out.
“I always wanted to do something big here, I always wanted to achieve something for my people,” he expresses.
As a football player who has competed in Bundesliga, there were many opportunities open to him. He could have easily walked away from Philippine football with the options open to him around Asia and Europe.
But, he tells us that this thought isn’t one that he toys with in his mind.
He has won title after title and represented two countries. He has given much of his career to Philippine football and is now at a point in his life where the sport has given him the means to live comfortably.
Despite all that he has achieved on the pitch, a vision still remains. But even more than that, a passion.
“I love where I come from. I love what my mom did for me. For me, it’s just natural to give back,” he tells us.
Coming from that moment Schröck first read the offer letter to suit up for the flag, wondering if it was even a real opportunity, unknowing that the Philippines even had its own national team, he went on to bring pride to the country and win multiple titles.
Now, he is finally channeling his energies and motivation to elevate his fellow Filipino athletes, teams, and the entire sport in the country. This is a bold step that should not go unnoticed, and if not for any other reason, at least so that no one will ever have to wonder the same thing about Philippine football again.
Interview AMANDA FERNANDEZ
Photos EXCEL PANLAQUE
Art MARC YELLOW
Sittings Editor AMANDA FERNANDEZ and JAMES CRUZ
Location ASCOTT MAKATI