Shimizu S-Pulse’s head coach Afshin Ghotbi was the target of a ridiculous banner at the recent Shizuoka derby, but the Iranian-American refused to get angry with the perpetrators, instead taking the high-road.
I have spoken several times about my desire to see more passion in Japanese football stadiums, and at Nihondaira for the Shizuoka derby I got it.
While the catalyst was a reprehensible banner that nobody with an ounce of intelligence would condone, the reaction by the Shimizu supporters, and that of the Jubilo fans in response, served to create an electric atmosphere.
As news and pictures began to appear online of the S-Pulse fans storming the away end and attempting to remove the banner in question I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find the scenes exciting.
The Shimizu fans were quite rightly enraged by the offensive message on display, and immediately set about removing it from the stand. The Jubilo fans, meanwhile – many of whom were doubtless unaware what the banner said, and may have reacted differently if they had – also assumed the defensive and stood their ground.
As a result a new chapter has been added to this famous fixture.
Afshin Ghotbi himself, while unaware at the time what was happening, admitted to being moved by his fans’ actions, telling me that, “I think that the reaction is in a way very honorable. They really love their club so much, they love their manager so much that they stood up for him and tried to defend him. Not so much the fight, but the fact that they actually went and tried to remove the banner.”
His thoughts on the individuals responsible for the banner – two teenage Jubilo supporters – differ from mine slightly though.
I would personally like to see them banned from attending J.League games again. I appreciate that they are young (and stupid) but can’t help but feel that there is more to their actions than just an act of immaturity.
If they had just shouted something out in the heat of the moment in a misguided attempt to stand out and/or impress those around them then they could just be dismissed as naïve (and stupid). But to take the time and effort to gather the materials and make a banner suggests that they may actually believe that Mr. Ghotbi is somehow a justifiable recipient of such abuse.
The S-Pulse coach takes a far more tolerant – and, admittedly, productive – stance though, and would welcome the opportunity to share an audience with them.
“It would be an interesting thing to meet with those two fans, face-to-face,” he said. “Just to enlighten them and give them a hug and show them that we’re all the same.
“We were born in different places but in the end we’re human beings. Maybe that experience can show them the right direction, because they’re young – they’re just young people and I think they don’t know any better.”
He does believe that the J.League should exert more control over what messages are displayed in its stadiums though, pointing out that they are symbols of the entire club, not just the people unfurling them.
“There should be some guidelines on which banners can go up representing that particular club and they should be checked at the entrance by the leaders of that club.”
Although he is clear that these measures should not be “strict”, he does feel that certain subjects have no business in a football stadium, stating simply that, “Really there’s no place for political statements when it comes to football matches.”
The timing of the attack is also hard to understand, with Japan still in recovery from one of the biggest tragedies in its recent history – and one which has sparked assistance from all over the world.
“We experienced such an enormous, historic tragedy with the tsunami, and those kind of events should unite us more than anything else,” he said.
This is far from being the first time that the Iranian-American has experienced discrimination though, and after a lifetime as what he terms “a global citizen” he refuses to be overly concerned by the event, instead suggesting that it should be used to bring about a positive development in the Japanese game.
“If we do the right things now it can create a moment of growth for all Japanese people and Japanese football.”
One thing that has certainly been heightened is the animosity between Shizuoka’s two clubs, and I am certain that there will be plenty of passion on display the next time the sides meet.