15 November ~ On November 3 I went to my first major game in Japan, the final of the Nabisco Cup – the equivalent of the League Cup – played out between Sanfreece Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata at Tokyo's National Stadium. In stark contrast to most domestic games, it was a near sell-out. Passionate fans who'd made long journeys from Hiroshima and Iwata were joined by Tokyoite football fans, like me and my girlfriend, for what proved to be some very entertaining football. However, the game will stick in our memories, not for the football played, but for the way it was watched.

Watching football in Japan could be a dream for an amateur anthropologist, as many stereotypically Japanese characteristics were on display at the final. Poor decisions by authority figures (the referee and linesmen) were greeted with silent acceptance by the respectful crowd. Support behind the goals was very loud and highly organised but fans in the main stand were eerily silent, courteously observing the preference of those around them for a quieter atmosphere, in the same way Tokyo commuters do on trains.

At games in England my girlfriend is, of course, usually in a (albeit growing) female minority. This is definitely not the case in Japan, where the gender mix behind the goals is about 50/50 and elsewhere more women than men can be seen. Unlike many social realms here, all-male groups at games are rare but plenty of young and even middle-aged women watch together. Matches are also popular dating spots, with admission similarly priced to cinema tickets. And a lot of the guys seem to be dragged along by far more enthusiastic girlfriends. The feminisation of football in Japan is also visible in the press area, where at least 25 per cent of the reporters at the game were women.

Another contrast with football in England was the way the final was commercialised. Going to this year's Carling Cup final with Villa, I was shocked that the sponsor thought charging over £4 for a pint of swill was a good way to promote their brand. All fans arriving at the game were greeted with complimentary snacks from the sponsors and a match programme. Though cynically I couldn't help thinking they missed a trick, leaving a sports event without feeling exploited was very refreshing. The underdogs Hiroshima almost won in regular time, but Iwata equalised to make it 2-2 with a few minutes left, and then pulled 4-2 ahead in extra time before a fantastic free-kick from Japan international Tomoaki Makino gave Sanfreece renewed hope. The eventual Man of the Match, Ryoichi Maeda, ensured the 5-3 win for Jubilo with his second goal – a neat chip – and there was final excitement as Sanfreece's Makino missed a penalty in the last minute of extra time.

Despite the goal-fest, I'll remember the game for how distinctly Japanese/non-English it was. Amazingly, the crowd reacted more loudly to video replays of the goals and other key moments than to the actual events themselves. The crowd had specific songs for scoring a goal and specific songs for conceding one. They even all followed specific movements (everyone swinging scarves around their heads) for winning corners. At the end, Man of the Match Maeda was presented with a large cheque by the sponsors. Despite being an international, his salary would pale in comparison to stars in England, so you could feel a little happy for him. But imagine seeing one of our Premier League stars receive their performance bonuses on the pitch after a game – surely blanking the thought of these large sums from your mind is the only way fans of England's top clubs can continue to see any "magic" in our game.

Pound-to-yen exchange rates don't favour a trip to Japan for football tourism right now. A pint costs around £7. But to anyone rich enough, I'd strongly recommend the visit. If football is an international language, it's still spoken with a very distinct accent in Japan. Simon Cotterill

Comments (5)
Comment by Dalef65 2010-11-15 16:20:06

Sounds like a different game altogether......
Perhaps a little bit antiseptic.....

Comment by SolihullSlater 2010-11-15 23:13:22

Sounds very like the J-League games I saw there, apart from all the goals.

Comment by FCKarl 2010-11-16 06:37:30

Why should this experience in Tokyo be so "unique?" Sounds like you had a very nice time. Good match. Good fans. Friendly people.

Isn't that what the standards should be? Every time?

I suspect that there are many older WSC faithful who recall all-too-well the very, very troubled mass hooligan days.

I can certainly recall some matches I saw in and around London and one in particular in Coventry where it was simply ugly, unpleasant, unsafe. Not much different when visiting Holland, Italy, and Germany. These experiences were dangerous to say the least, but also a waste of money and time. (situations you just could not know as a visiting fan hoping to see different teams and a different ground)

So football -- for me at that time -- became something I just read about in the papers and saw sometimes on TV.

Is that what we want?

And tell me, what's the overall Euro-zone problem with women fans in the stadium?

Also, why always encountering: Lots of police, barriers, police vehicles, and police on horseback as you made your way back home.

Sorry…but I’ll ask: Was there a lot of police security at that cup final in Tokyo? I doubt it. Particularly in comparison to what you encountered when you went to see Aston Villa in the cup final last spring, right?

Why does a sporting event attended by the general populace require uniformed and armed forces the size of what you need for a mini D-Day invasion?

At various times I’ve also taken youth teams to pro matches. And I feel responsible that the kids get a positive experience before, during, and after the match. But I will never do this unless I can be assured of a safe and “clean” experience.

So…I just don't understand why family-friendly atmosphere is such a foreign concept in so many Euro-zone stadia. What, the real footballing experience requires drowning in alcohol, chain smoking, vile language, repetitive off-color chants, abuse heaped at every slight opportunity upon manager(s), players, linesmen, referees, opponents, opposing fans, and, and, and...?

I challenge your thinking: Having more women present does not feminise the game. No way.

There are other parts of the world where one can sit in any part of a stadium while wearing an opposing club's jersey or colors and NEVER feel out-of-place or in any way uncomfortable. (particularly if one is well mannered) The fans are still passionate about their sport but they take your “opposition” with humor or just take it in stride.

Gosh, silly me. I thought people attended sporting matches to enjoy the sport and view live those who perform that athletic discipline best. Even though we have put many aspects of football’s horrid 1970’s and 1980’s behind us, there is still a “longing in the air" at top league Euro stadia for…for bits of thuggery, anti-visiting fan groups abuse, the chance at some small-scale violence, verbal scuffles with the authorities, etc.


Why do I purposely have to spend twice what I can afford to spend on ticket(s) to avoid the unpleasant and unnecessary?

I can always want my team to win and I can be very biased in that way but always also appreciate the skills and abilities of the opponents, yes? (and recognize kindred spirits in the fans present who support the opposing side) Or is this asking too much?

Even if my "ideal" is not your cup of tea for your personal best-case stadium footballing experience, know that the probable financial success of your favorite clubs and the league systems will require more and more family friendly, women friendly planning and infrastructure.

There is just no other way. That’s the future if your club is to survive. Just look at attendances, merchandising, club finances everywhere outside the Premiership and Europe’s elite clubs that regularly feature in the Champions League/Europa League.

Everyone else is slowly dying away. Clubs and leagues.

As an example: Today WSC also featured the story of Venezia United as a club that must resurrect itself from the ashes. And this story is a microcosm for many ills in Italian football.

Any smart club leadership on the Italian peninsula will indeed find much to like about the family & women friendly models as a way to bring back fans, sell tickets, get the merchandising rolling, and attain some kind of long-term financial stability.

They desperately need fans, people in the stadia, and stability

Comment by stefanole 2010-11-16 15:43:48

Hiroshima had to be favourites in that game. Their record against Iwata is s****e, but they finished fourth in the J League last year and have stayed consistently above Iwata this season too. That doesn't happen by accident. Your J League knowledge is probably out of date.

Comment by LeeSKGerrard 2010-11-17 00:26:48

Foreign people like Japanese football is great. I love J-League! But I am studying in UK.

Jubilo win or draw every game from September. No loses. So Jubilo is the favourite for Nabisco. And they have 4 major cups. So Hiroshima was not favourite. And Hiroshima star Sato did not played in Nabisco because injury.

I think Japan soccer stadium is good atmosphere. But I like England too. No more hooligans, I think.

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