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…