There are very few places in the world where a player has their name sung for missing an open goal. Except Japan, that is…
Several of my initial impressions of Japanese football have changed as my knowledge and understanding of the sport and the country develop.
One thing that I am still bemused by is the reaction of supporters in the stadium when one of their players messes up though.
The first time I noticed this odd custom was at Ajinomoto Stadium not long after I’d arrived in Japan. FC Tokyo were playing Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Tokyo’s striker, Cabore, was the only man forward for his side, closely marked on the halfway line facing his own goal.
The ball was played up to him and rather than controlling it he performed a late shimmy, completely confusing the defender, and let the ball zip into the space behind them.
As he turned to fruitlessly chase it down (the ball was now 30 or 40 yards away) the covering centre-back simply strode across and cleared his lines.
The fans were delighted by the trickery though and burst into applause for his completely unsuccessful piece of skill. Then a chant of his name began to ring around.
Attempts at something out of the ordinary and near-misses are – and should be – celebrated in football, if they are well-executed and have the potential to positively impact on the game. Useless showboating should not be rewarded, though.
Likewise, a player should never have his name sung for missing an open goal from one yard.
However, that is exactly what happened at Todoroki Stadium after Junichi Inamoto somehow managed to miss a gaping net against Albirex Niigata.
I’m all for supporting your team and also think that booing those you’re supposed to be getting behind is unproductive nine times out of ten. However, missing an open goal when under no pressure is not something that warrants adoration.
He didn’t miss on purpose, of course. He’s trying his best and merely lost concentration at the critical moment so you don’t need to boo him, but why on earth cheer?
Players always drum out the platitudes about it being ‘great to have the fans behind you’ and insist that the ceaseless drumming/singing/clapping motivates them on the pitch but if your name is going to be sung regardless of your performance then perhaps, sub-consciously, you are slightly less focused out there.
I’ve recently started to watch Premier League football again and after a brief period away from the English game I have been struck by the difference in atmosphere at stadiums back in the UK and J.League venues.
In England fans react to the game. Their involvement in, enjoyment of and frustration at what is happening on the pitch are all tied up with the action that unfolds.
Sometimes this results in the ground being fairly silent, but it also means that when something noteworthy happens the decibel level raises and the mood of the game, the fans and the spectacle shifts accordingly.
Compare this to the constant drone of singing in the J.League.
Fans have their routines the world over and I am fully aware that there is no ‘right way’ to support a football club. In fact, that is part of my argument.
I enjoy speaking with supporters before matches but on more than one occasion have had my conversation abruptly called to a halt because it is time to start cheering the team.
At these times the person I am talking to has also seemed hesitant to stop but has withdrawn seemingly out of duty.
When you are in the stadium you are not at work. You are free and have chosen to spend your leisure time watching and supporting your club.
Therefore, if you want to grumble about a miss or take a break from jumping up and down you should be free to.
If the support from the terraces ebbed and flowed with the game then the efforts of the supporters could truly have a part to play on proceedings. A sudden burst of noise, for example, could provide the players with that adrenaline rush to fuel one last push for that crucial goal.
If they are just treated to the same hypnotic displays that they’ve been hearing since Round 1 though, then the level of tension and excitement befitting the end of the season is not quite the same.