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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