31
Jul
11

Northern Leagues United

Onagawa Supporters, who I introduced to readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine back in April, are still going strong and recently received assistance from some friends in the north of England to help those in the north of Japan.

In the weeks after the tragedy of March 11th a great many statements and pledges were made declaring unity and a desire to help out whatever the cost during a time of great need. 

Whether it was celebrities competing to see who could donate the most millions of yen or clubs and federations vowing their flexibility, it seemed that nobody could do enough to make the recovery process easier.

T-shirts were printed – and are still being, apparently Lady Gaga and Posh Spice designed some to help raise their profiles… sorry, money for the victims – CDs were recorded and commercials quickly made to help the situation.

While a great deal of these efforts were made with the best of intentions and have undoubtedly helped people in real need, sadly a lot was little more than empty rhetoric.

Consider, for example, the failure of the J.League, JFA and clubs of overseas-based players to arrive at a compromise and the Samurai Blue’s consequent withdrawal from the Copa America; Team as One? ‘Well, yeah, but not if we have to do without our best players.’ Stand with Japan? ‘Of course, but we have pre-season training then so sorry, he’s not going to Argentina.’

And while this is disappointing, unfortunately it is unavoidable.

Sadly, as time goes by the impact lessens and people, however well-meaning, start to lose enthusiasm. Just how much Japan playing in the Copa America would have helped is very much open to debate, for instance – even more so when you have a multi-million pound footballer who could be getting injured there and missing the new season for you.

While several of the grander proposals have fizzled out or been caught up in bureaucratic red-tape though, a great many smaller campaigns are still going strong and bringing about real change in the affected areas.

Some of you may remember that back in April I wrote about the plight of Cobaltore Onagawa and the group that was founded to help the club stay in existence, Onagawa Supporters.

This was, essentially, two English football fans with loose attachments to Onagawa who wanted to help out somehow.

Well, the group is still going strong and has raised enough money to replace the kits of the Cobaltore Under-12s, -15s and -18s, all of which were destroyed in the disaster. 

Also, while the top team will not be playing at all this season as the players are helping out in the town in more practical ways, the Under-18s have returned to competitive action – in their new uniforms – and recently took part in the Tohoku Club Youth tournament alongside the likes of Vegalta Sendai and Montedio Yamagata.

Furthermore, as a result of the publicity created by Onagawa Supporters, a unique charity event – Northern Leagues United – took place in the north of England at the start of July to raise further funds to keep Cobaltore’s youth teams in operation in 2011.

Three matches were played at the home of Birtley Town Football Club (who play in the English Northern League) – including the inaugural ‘Onagawa Cup’ – and Mike Innes of Onagawa Supporters described the event as “an expression of support for Cobaltore from the grassroots football community in the north-east of England”.

Nearly 300 people were in attendance – breaking Birtley’s record – and hundreds of pounds were donated to help the cause.

While the money raised sounds modest, 100% of it will go directly to Cobaltore and will help cover the real, day-to-day costs of keeping the club in existence.

A message from General Manager of Cobaltore, Koichi Ohmi, was read out to all in attendance at Birtley by Susan Andrews of Onagawa Supporters, which said:

“I want us all to keep going, to make the people we love and the community we love happy once more.  Together, we will stand up, and walk on towards a brighter future.”

Indeed, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a slogan and song that has been adopted by Japan as the nation works to rebuild.

The actions of a small town in the north of England – in which, like Onagawa, the football club provides a central focus – demonstrates the extent to which this message has spread, and provides further proof of the power of football to create meaningful relationships and bring about real change in even the toughest circumstances.

             *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

続けていくことが

復興への第一歩に

3月11日の東日本大震災以降、人々は被災地を助けるため、さまざまな行動を起こしてきた。これまで、多くの芸能人やお偉いさんが義援金を寄付しており、この働きかけはまだ続いている。

レディー・ガガやポッシュ・スパイス(ビクトリア・ベッカム)はTシャツをデザインし、売り上げを義援金に回している。CDをリリースする人がいれば、CMをつくる人もいる。もちろん、こういった働きかけは、被災者の方の手助けになってきたはずだ。同時に、ただ単に美辞麗句を並べ立てた物もある。

例えば、日本人を抱える海外クラブが選手を出し渋り、日本代表はコパ・アメリカに参加できなかった。「シーズン前の練習があるから、アルゼンチンに送り込むことはできない」というクラブ側の声が聞こえてきそうだった。

悲しいけれど、どうしようもない。

残念だけど、どんなに衝撃的な出来事も時間が経つと心の中から消えていく。善意があっても徐々に熱意を失ってものなのだと思う。日本がコパ・アメリカに出場していたら、どれほど国民に勇気を与えていたかも分からない。クラブからすれば、週に数千万円を稼ぐ選手にケガをさせたくないものなのだろう。

ただ、力は小さくとも、被災地の復興のため、義援活動を続ける地域もある。4月、僕はこのコラムで、コバルトーレ女川の存続のため、あるグループを創設したことについて触れた。2人のイングランド人が何とか資金を集めて、日本のクラブを助けようというものだ。

活動は今も続いており、コバルトーレ女川のU-12、U-15、U-18用のユニフォームを買いそろえることもできた。女川のトップチームが今季プレーするのは無理だけど、Uー18は本格的に活動を再開。仙台ユースや山形ユースとともに東北クラブユース選手権に参加した。

また、イングランドの女川サポーターが広告を続けたことで、ユニークなイベントも行なわれている。7月上旬、女川のU-18を支えるため、ノザン・リーグ・ユナイテッドという義援活動を開催。バートリー・タウンFCというクラブのグラウンドを使用し、3試合行なった。この試合にはバートリーの新記録となる300人の観衆が集結。すべての義援金は女川に届けられた。

このイベントが始まる前には、コバルトーレの近江弘一GMのコメントも読み上げられた。

「人々や地域が幸せを取り戻せるよう、この活動を続けていきましょう。一緒に立ちあがり、歩んでいきましょう」

イングランド北部の小さい町での行動だけど、そのアクションは日本のユースチームの再建に役立っている様子。サッカーを通じて連係を深め、生活に変化をもたらせることは、十分可能なのだ。


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