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.
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