Archive for April, 2011

29
Apr
11

Onagawa Supporters / 世界中が注目する。 コバルトーレ女川

Onagawa, a small town in the north of Japan that was devastated by the events of March 11th, and its football team, Cobaltore, have been receiving support from an unlikely source as they look to rebuild. This week I introduced the people behind www.onagawasupporters.com to the readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine. 

By now I’m sure most of you have heard about Cobaltore Onagawa FC, but for those that haven’t let me give a brief introduction.

The team was founded in 2006 with the aim of providing the youth of Onagawa – a small town in Miyagi with an ageing and dwindling population – with a reason to stay in the town rather than heading to bigger, more exciting cities.

So far things have gone well and they quickly progressed from the Ishinomaki City League to Tohoku League Division One, although last season they were relegated back to Division Two (South).

The earthquake and tsunami of March 11th has seen the club become far more literally involved with saving the town though, as its staff and players have taken up a central role in the recovery efforts.

Cobaltore first came to my attention in a blog post written by Mike Innes, an English football fan with an interest in non-league Japanese football. This article was also read by Susan Andrews who approached Mike with the idea of creating a website (www.onagawasupporters.com) to help the area, and I would like to introduce them and their aims to you this week.

Prior to the disaster Susan had enjoyed several visits to Onagawa, and her attachment to the club is a result of a friend who experienced a tragic loss in the catastrophe:

“I have a friend whose family live/lived in Onagawa,” she explains. “While Mike was writing his Northern League Day blog post she was up there looking for father, mother and grandmother. She found her father. Thinking of her mum who was a big Cobaltore Onagawa fan, she spotted Mike’s post and put it on Facebook, where I saw it. It was a sort of tribute to her mum. My friend has not found her mum or grandmother.”

Susan acknowledges that “Onagawa Supporters” is just a small help, but believes football has an incredible power to bring people together.

“I know that supporting Cobaltore via a website is trivial in the face of so much loss, but at least it is better than doing nothing. I am involved for the sake of that friend and the family she’s lost, and because football – the beautiful game – is supposed to be a way to unite the world.”

Mike’s knowledge of Japanese football, meanwhile, meant that he had been aware of the club’s unique story for a while.

“I was immediately interested in what the club was doing: setting up a football club essentially to prevent rural depopulation was an exciting and ambitious idea, so I’d been keeping a close eye on Cobaltore and their progress.”

After March 11th he wanted to help out any way he could, and after being approached by Susan he didn’t think twice about establishing the site. “I just thought to myself, “This is something I really can do to help.” Our aims depend on how much money we’re able to raise through the campaign, which needs support from football fans everywhere.

“Put simply, we want to make the biggest contribution we can towards enabling Cobaltore Onagawa to stand on their own two feet and do what the club was formed to do: to play football for the future of Onagawa.

“The tsunami has made that goal much more difficult to achieve but it hasn’t changed the fundamental purpose of Cobaltore.”

Several people in Japan are amazed that the club is receiving attention from the home of football on the other side of the world, but Mike is keen to stress that the real news is what is happening in Onagawa.

“I know that some people in Japan have said about the Onagawa Supporters campaign that it’s amazing that a club like Cobaltore Onagawa has gained attention in England, “the cradle of football”. I’m very grateful for those kind comments, but I want WSM readers to know that the amazing part of this story is not about England or English fans. It’s about how a group of people in a small town in Miyagi are using football to make a future for their community, which to me really is extraordinary.

“For what they are trying to do for Onagawa, I think that (GM) Koichi Ohmi and the staff and players of Cobaltore Onagawa deserve the support of football fans all over Japan and across the world.”

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コバルトーレ女川」というクラブをご存じだろうか。2006年、宮城県の女川町でサッカーの力で過疎を防ぎ、地域の活性化を図るために創立されたクラブで一時は石巻市リーグから東北リーグ1部に昇格するなど奮闘していた(昨年2部に降格したが)。3月11日の大震災以降、僕はこのクラブの名前をしばしば見るようになる。選手が復興のためにひと肌脱いだり、もう一つはあるイングランド人が支援を呼び掛けているからだ。

発起人はイングランド在住で、日本のアマチュアサッカー通、マイク・イネスさんとスーザン・アンドリュースさん。イネスのブログにアンドリュースさんが訪れ、世界中のサッカーファンに女川の支援を訴えようと持ちかけた。

アンドリュースさんは、何度か女川を訪れたことがある。「友人の家族が住んでいて、震災の後、友人は両親と祖母を探していた。父親は見つかったけれど、コバルトーレ・ファンの母を見つけることはできなかった。何か情報はないかとネットで探していたときにイネスさんのブログを発見し、ソーシャルメディアで支援を呼びかけようと思い立った」

イネスさんとともに立ちあげたウェブ(www.onagawasupporters.com)は微力かもしれないがと言いつつも続けている。

「ウェブで支援を呼び掛けるのはささいなことだけど、何もしないよりはマシ。それに、サッカーには世界を一つにする力があるし、計り知れない」

一方、イネスさんが日本のアマチュアサッカー界に興味を持ったきっかけは、シンプルだ。「コバルトーレ女川が過疎を防ぐために創立されたクラブと聞いたとき、すぐに興味を持った。すばらしいアイディアだし、画期的だよね」

3月11日以降、彼もまた気になる日本のクラブの支援に尽くした。アンドリュースさんにウェブ運営の話を持ち出されたとき、迷いはなかったという。

「僕らの目標は世界中のサッカーファンからできる限りの義援金を募ることだ。クラブが自分たちの足で立ち『女川町の地域活性に貢献する』という発足当初の目標に向かうことができればいい」

女川町の世界での知名度が上がって、日本にいる人たちも驚いている。ただ、イネスさんは本当に着目すべきは、女川で起こっていることだと強調する。

「女川の名前がイングランドで広まっている。多分、日本でも少しずつ広まっている。でも、日本にいる人たちに『イングランドの、世界のファンはすごい』とは思ってほしくない。本当に素晴らしいのは宮城の小さな町でサッカーを使って町おこしをしようとしている女川だよ。この試みがあるからこそ、近江弘一GMをはじめとするスタッフ、そして選手が世界中のファンの共感を得ているんだと思う」

23
Apr
11

ACL Commitments helped Kashima prepare

Before the J.League restarted this weekend I had the chance to speak with Kashima Antlers’ head coach Oswaldo Oliveira at JFA House.

The Brazilian felt his team were ready to get going again, and his comments can be found here.

22
Apr
11

Home from home

At the start of the month I travelled north to Sapporo. It certainly won’t be the last trip I make to the city…

Within a few hours of arriving in Sapporo I was sat in a jazz and blues bar (“Boogie”) discussing Britpop, football, and the marijuana laws in the UK and Japan. Then the owner turned up, put his band’s CD on, sang enthusiastically along and insisted on buying me some beers. As first impressions go it’s fair to say I was rather taken with the city. 

Of course, I wasn’t just there to sample the evening entertainment though, and my initial motivation for travelling north had been to watch a game at Sapporo Dome – scene of that David Beckham penalty in 2002 and the only Japanese World Cup stadium I hadn’t been to.

I had considered cancelling my trip after Consadole’s match with Verdy was called off because of the earthquake, but eventually decided to make the pilgrimage anyway and am delighted I did.

Arriving at the Dome with a slightly groggy head from the night before, it wasn’t quite as I’d imagined though.

Perhaps it was my hangover, but, as I recalled from the pictures in 2002, the stadium resembled a spaceship set in the middle of the countryside all on its own. Instead, it is actually located in a fairly non-descript urban area and struck me more as a huge blob of melted solder than a UFO.

Spaceship or not, it is still a very impressive sight and I was disappointed I would not be able to see a match there this time around. 

Luckily Consadole were in action over the weekend though, and the next day I headed to Miyanosawa for a friendly between the top team and their Under-18’s. 

Set against a mountainous backdrop that was made all the more impressive by the heavy sheets of snow that were falling, Miyanosawa is the exact opposite of Sapporo Dome and is what I would call a proper football ground. It felt like I was at a non-league game back in England – and I mean that as a compliment.

The club shop, situated in one corner of the ground, is without doubt the quaintest I have ever been in, and the oak-effect and dim lighting made me feel as if I was in an English country pub (sadly there was no ale available though). On the second floor was a similarly-themed football museum, and it was really nice to wander round here and get a feel for the, albeit short, history of the club before the game kicked off.

There was a real community feel to the stadium and I sensed a definite closeness between the players and their fans – and not just because the stands are right next to the pitch.

This impression was enhanced by the fact I had come directly from the Japan game in Osaka – where every appearance and wave of a player was greeted the shrieks of hysterical teenage girls. As Maya Yoshida commented after training the day before that match, the atmosphere at Nagai was more like that at a SMAP concert than a football stadium.

In Sapporo things were far more football-like though, and despite the freezing conditions everybody stuck around after the game – which ended 1-1 – for a series of charity events to raise money for the relief efforts in Tohoku.

The youth team’s Takuma Arano patrolled the car park with a megaphone drumming up custom  for Hironobu Haga and some Consadole old boys who were accepting donations, while the rest of the players patiently signed hundreds of autographs and then took part in a charity auction of various football memorabilia. (Gon’s boots sold for ¥50,000, although he was nearly outdone by those of the next-big-thing Hiroyuki Furuta whose went for ¥40,000).

The feel-good spirit at the club put me in a great mood so I thought I’d spend my last night in Sapporo the same way as I’d spent my first. With a plane to catch the next day I decided to steer clear of “Boogie” though, opting instead for a couple of quiet local brews and some jingisukan. Before I knew it, it was 2am and I was still chatting away to the regulars in “Afro”…

Perhaps it’s a good thing that I couldn’t see a game at Sapporo Dome this time; now I have the perfect excuse to go back…

15
Apr
11

Gotta catch ’em all…

Suits say the funniest things…

A couple of weeks ago so much of what I hate about the English Premier League was summed up by one man in a suit. Gavin Law is his name and he is the group head of corporate affairs of Standard Chartered – the bank that this year became Liverpool FC’s shirt sponsor in the most expensive deal ever (20 million pounds per season).

The combination of the words ‘corporate’ and ‘football’ instantly sends a shiver down my spine but Mr. Law’s recent comments – when he suggested that the bank would like Liverpool to sign some Asian players for commercial gain – annoyed me, even by the standards I usually set for the bilge spouted by people in his profession.

He was quoted by The Independent and Liverpool Echo as saying:

“We would love the club to have players of nationalities from the markets in which we operate. They are not going to get them from all 75 but if they could sign some – if they could get a Korean, Indian, Chinese player – look what Park [Ji-sung] has done for [Manchester] United in terms of coverage in Korea.

Oh no…

“Liverpool are more aware than most other clubs we’ve spoken to of the commercial opportunity for them. If they can sell a million shirts with another Mr. Park on the back, why wouldn’t you?” 

Mr. Law, please stop before you say something really stupid…

“The markets in Asia and the Middle East are so nationalistic, they are very proud about their countries. One appearance from a player, say from Dubai in the Premier League, and you’d have the whole of Dubai watching it.”

Ah, like that.

“The Kenny magic is all around the world, everybody believes Kenny can take the club (forward) and that means they stay focused and that means they stay in the newspapers around the world… we are looking for brand awareness.”

Let’s leave it there shall we?

Ok, the problems with these comments are fairly obvious, but let’s take a second to dissect them a little.

Firstly, there is the suggestion that the club could collect nationalities from Asia and the Middle-East, rather like Pokemon. Footballing ability appears to be a secondary concern, as long as they can catch them all (although Mr. Law seems a bit put-out that limits on squad size would prevent this becoming a reality).

Then the example of Park Ji-sung; a player who’s popularity in Korea – and Manchester – is such because he is a key member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. He was not signed because of how many t-shirts the club can sell in Korea – or Manchester – (they sold plenty without him), but because of what he brings on the pitch.

To assume that “Kenny” would gladly sign any old “Mr. Park” to increase shirt sales implies that Mr. Law is not as close a confidante of the Liverpool caretaker-manager as his casual first-name-terms approach would suggest.

Next up, the declaration that “the markets” – I guess in non-corporate-speak you could refer to them as “people” – “in Asia and the Middle East are so nationalistic”.

Mr. Law, let’s call him Gavin, not only suggests here that he is more than willing to exploit the fans in this part of the world, but he is also foolish enough to declare it publicly.

Furthermore, while supporters here are perhaps slightly more enthusiastic consumers than elsewhere, they are also becoming more cynical of the European clubs’ motivations – because of idiotic statements like those made by Gavin – and tend now to wait until a player achieves success before they get too excited.

Unfortunately, comments like these from people with no understanding of the game can only hinder the steady progression of Asian players’ in Europe. Just as the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo begin to establish themselves in the top leagues, attention has been rediverted to their commercial potential.

Rather than opening the door to the likes of Keisuke Honda – who is reportedly angling for a move to the Premier League – I would advise such players to perhaps take these views into account before deciding their next move, and to maybe join a club which exhibits a genuine interest in their abilities on the pitch rather than the impact they can have on the profits off it.

15
Apr
11

Getting the ball rolling

For the town of Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture the local football club, Cobaltore, is central to more than just the relief efforts:

After reading my article on Cobaltore here, please visit Onagawa Supporters for more information and to help out any way you can. Thanks.

07
Apr
11

Cop out?

The will-they-won’t-they concerning Japan’s participation in the Copa America is dragging on a bit so I decided to clear it up for Weekly Soccer Magazine.

The J.League and JFA certainly have some tricky decisions to make over the coming weeks, and just how the five rounds of postponed J.League matches can be made up in an already packed schedule is not an easy problem to solve. 

Luckily I have had a lot of time on my hands lately though, and so have been able to come up with the answer for Mr. Ogura and Mr. Ohigashi: and the good news is that the J.League and Copa America can both still go ahead.

Essentially there were three options available:

Option 1. The national team travel to Argentina with any players that Zac wants to take and the J.League keeps the mid-season break as scheduled. The five rounds of matches are then made up throughout the course of the season, with one extra round per month in May, June, September, October and November.

Option 2. The national team withdraw from the Copa America and during that scheduled five week break the J.League make up the matches.

Option 3. The national team still take part in the Copa America and the J.League play rounds 2-6 at the same time. Either Zac is asked to function without any J.League regulars, or clubs are asked for their co-operation in the matter.

 

None of these options are ideal and somewhere along the line somebody is going to have to compromise. However, the recent events in Tohoku mean that flexibility is required – and should be expected – to resolve the situation.

Initially I was leaning towards the first option. All of the J.League players are professional athletes who are paid to keep themsleves in top physical condition. As such, asking them to play five matches a month rather than four is not a particulalry big demand. As a fellow journalist pointed out to me the other day, if Crawley Town of the English Blue Square Premier League (5th Division) can play twice a week, then surely J.League players can.

The problem with this option though was the break in the middle of the season. The more I considered it, the more that five-week period bugged me. It would essentially be a week for each player who is actually likely to be missing from the J.League and featuring for Japan in Argentina (Nishikawa, Inoha, Tulio, Endo, Maeda). This seems like an awful lot of time to be wasting when there are games to be played, and so I began to consider option 2.

The national team pulling out of the Copa America would ease the strain on the players but it just seems a little drastic – again bearing in mind the number who will actually be missing from the J.League. There are a few other domestic players who are on the fringes of the national team (Iwamasa, Kashiwagi, Fujimoto, Honda) but their spots could easily be filled by young J.Leaguers yet to cement places at their clubs, or J2 or University players.

 

And so I settled for option 3; the best of both. But, are J.League teams asked to get by without their stars or does Zac have to choose his squad solely from overseas players and the lesser-lights?

The latter. The Copa America is, essentially, meaningless. Japan are travelling to Argentina to gain experience (and probably make a few yen, of course), and none of the J.League players who will be missing out are lacking in either. The European-based players will have finished their seasons by then and will bring more than enough quality to the squad, with the remaining places being taken up by satellite members of J1 teams, second division players and members of Sekizuka’s Under-22 team.

If I were in charge, for example, my squad would look something like this:

Eiji Kawashima, Shuichi Gonda, Shunsuke Ando; Atsuto Uchida, Takuya Okamoto, Michihiro Yasuda, Maya Yoshida, Tomoaki Makino, Yasuyuki Konno, Yuto Nagatomo; Yuki Abe, Makoto Hasebe, Hajime Hosogai, Keigo Higashi, Akihiro Ienaga, Ryo Miyaichi, Kazuya Yamamura, Daisuke Matsui; Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, Takayuki Morimoto, Shoki Hirai.  

Still a strong line-up, with some potential Samurai Blue regulars of the future getting some crucial experience around the full national team, while the J.League can go about its business as usual until December.

So there you have it, problem solved.

07
Apr
11

The Back Post – Charity begins at home

Speaking before last week’s charity match in Osaka, Mitsuo Ogasawara described the scenes that greeted him and his family when they travelled to Tohoku in the days after the tsunami.

These comments and how he thinks football can continue to help the region formed the basis of this month’s Back Post, for The Daily Yomiuri.




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