Posts Tagged ‘JFA

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.

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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。

07
Apr
11

The Back Post – Charity begins at home

Speaking before last week’s charity match in Osaka, Mitsuo Ogasawara described the scenes that greeted him and his family when they travelled to Tohoku in the days after the tsunami.

These comments and how he thinks football can continue to help the region formed the basis of this month’s Back Post, for The Daily Yomiuri.

31
Mar
11

Japan as One

Before travelling down to Osaka for the Japan v. J.League ‘Team as One’ match at the start of the week, I wrote about the importance of the game for Weekly Soccer Magazine.

Nagai Stadium is certain to be an emotional place on Tuesday night.

While I was very disappointed with New Zealand’s decision to back out of their scheduled game with the Samurai Blue, I think that it is crucial this match goes ahead and feel that the time is right for Japan to come together to not only remember all of the victims of the tragic events of the past few weeks, but also to look forward.

Indeed, if New Zealand had honoured their commitment they would have found themselves in a no-win situation. Most likely they would have come up against a hugely fired-up Samurai Blue team who would have been more determined than ever to put in a performance and secure a good result in front of their own fans. Had the Kiwis been able to brave this onslaught and been victorious themselves though, it would have been hugely dispiriting for their hosts.

Now, with the match set to be contested between a full strength national team and a selection of the biggest stars currently playing in the J.League it is sure to be stirring occasion for everybody packed inside the ground and the many millions watching at home – particularly when Kimigayo strikes up.

Such was the desire to be involved in the match and to help out in any way possible, J.League chairman Kazumi Ohigashi revealed that he had to turn down several requests from players to be included in the ‘Team as One’ squad.

Speaking at JFA house when announcing the selection Ohigashi said, “Many players wanted to join but we only had room for 20 members so I was very sorry that I had to refuse some players.”

With competition so fierce it is little surprise that the chosen few were so eager to accept their call-ups, with everybody desperate to do what little they can to help out in the current circumstances.

Ohigashi confirmed this keenness – including on the parts of players from Kashima Antlers and Vegalta Sendai, two of the most affected areas:

“All the players said yes to our offer as soon as possible. Sendai and Kashima experienced a lot of damage but their players said ‘ok, and thank you for the offer’.”

This enthusiasm to be a part of the event was shared by supporters, with tickets at the 50,000 capacity venue selling out in under 2 hours – an incredible feat.
 
The chairman’s rationale for the evening, which will be shared by players, supporters and media alike, is simple:

“This match I want to be brave and positive for the victims,” he said.

One man who is certain to embody this spirit is Kazu, who Ohigashi revealed was the first man to confirm his availability for the match.

Employing Kazu’s star status was a smart move on the part of the J.League, and the 44-year-old – who was an unannounced presence at the ‘Team as One’ press conference – sparked a flurry of activity upon arrival as photographers scurried around to get the perfect shot. 

He expressed relief at being given an opportunity to do something to aid the relief efforts, however small, having experienced a similar helplessness to most of the population as the tragic events unfolded. 

“After the earthquake I was thinking ‘what can I do to help?'” Kazu said. “This was a very difficult question for me. I wanted to do something to improve the situation through football, and so when I got the offer to join this charity match I was delighted to have the opportunity to cooperate with the Japanese soccer world.”

When asked if he had a message for those affected most deeply by the tragedy Kazu replied.

“This is a very difficult and very serious situation. Maybe I can try to imagine how they feel but I think their real situation is beyond that – it is unvbelievable.”

And this is something that everybody involved should bear in mind. Real people have experienced, and are still experiencing, real suffering and this game is merely a diversion to raise much-needed funds and to provide some brief respite from the current difficulties. It does not mark the end of the situation but might just provide a point from which the country can start to pick up the pieces and begin to look to the future.

31
Mar
11

Coming together to give strength

The Japanese national team took on a J.League ‘Team as One’ on Tuesday, to raise money for the relief efforts in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Here’s my preview for the match, including comments from Yuki Abe, Eiji Kawashima and Kazu.

25
Mar
11

Moral support

Sometimes when it feels like nothing can be done, even the smallest gestures can go a long way.

I would like to dedicate this week’s column to the victims of the tragic earthquake and tsunami of March 11th and offer my deepest condolences to their familes, friends and anybody affected by the catastrophe. Football is entirely irrelevant at times like this.

Who wins and loses, whether the referee was right or wrong, and if a player stays or goes are all put into stark perspective by such horrific events, and it has been incredibly difficult to give the game a moment’s thought over the past 10 days.

The overwhelming popularity of the sport around the world means that it does have the potential to help though, if only in the smallest of ways.

Take, for example, the solidarity shown by Japanese players in Europe who were in action the day after the earthquake and tsunami struck. Although they were unable to assist – like most of us – in physical or practical ways, they were unanimous in their offers of moral support for their country, and had their sentiments echoed by teammates and opponents alike.

Yuto Nagatomo was the first to play and was joined in wearing a black armband in respect of the victims by his Internazionale teammates and the players of Brescia. Samuel Eto’o, upon scoring Inter’s goal, celebrated by poignantly hugging the Japanese fullback.

Nagatomo confessed he found it difficult to focus before the game but said he hoped his participation could, in some way, provide strength to those back home. “It was terrible. I felt totally shocked. Before the game I was totally confused as I kept thinking about what was happening in Japan” he was quoted as saying on Goal.com.

“I managed to set aside all the negative thoughts and I focused on the game (though). I thought that being a good soccer player I could give courage to my people.”

Tomoaki Makino, meanwhile, has been using the medium of Twitter to lend support to his compatriots. “At times like this we need to get together, hand in hand. It’s just a little but I think it can give everyone strength,” he sent on the evening of the tragedy.

Although several Japanese are absent, there are foreigners in Japan who are doing their best to fill in. Machida Zelvia coach Ranko Popovic, for example, has expressed his desire to help the country recover from the situation. “I love the Japanese people, they are incredible.” he said. “I am Japanese now, I am part of this. If you are part of the good times you must also be part of the bad times too. We must give our maximum, mental and physical.”

I have been hugely impressed and moved by the reaction and behaviour of the Japanese people during this difficult time and commend the great flexibility and adaptation that everybody has shown. This extends to the J.League and JFA who have acted swiftly and sensibly to postpone all domestic league football for the foreseeable future as well as the scheduled national team friendly against Montenegro in Shizuoka on Friday.

I also wholeheartedly agree with the decision to keep the March 29th fixture in place, and believe this will be an excellent chance to show solidarity and pay respect to the victims. It will also provide an opportunity to raise huge funds for the recovery effort, although this would have been even truer if New Zealand were making the journey to Osaka having recently experienced a similar tragedy of their own.

Popovic agrees, and draws upon his own playing days during the war in former Yugoslavia to demonstrate the healing power football can have, even in the toughest of times. “All of our hearts and souls are with the Japanese people and I know they have more important things to think about but it is important to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and football can help to do that,” he explains.

“Everybody is different, but I experienced the same in Serbia in the war – I lost my house – but playing gave me the power. “Now we have to be a unit and all of the world is with Japan. People where I am from especially understand. We know disaster and catastrophe and how it feels to lose lives and houses. Now we must work for the people who have lost their lives and those that are left behind. This is our message.”

23
Mar
11

J.League ‘Team as One’ squad announced

On Tuesday the J.League called a press conference to announce its ”Team as One’ squad to face the national team next week.

The full squad and comments from J.League legend Kazu can be found here.

21
Mar
11

New Zealand leaves Japan on its own

New Zealand pulling out of their friendly with Japan at the end of the month because of media reports surrounding the current situation at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was incredibly disappointing.

The move means that rather than the two countries being able to share a moment of solidarity in the wake of their recent tragedies, Japan will now be moving forward alone, something I discussed for When Saturday Comes.

17
Jan
11

Cup of Kings

There may no longer be a huge amount of prestige attached to winning the English FA Cup – largely because there is no real benefit of winning the tournament – but the winners of the football association cup in Japan certainly have an extra incentive.

Although many see the Emperor’s Cup as little more than a consolation prize, I am happy that the winners get Japan’s fourth and final Asian Champions League spot. As far as I’m concerned, winning a trophy is more of an achievement than finishing fourth in the league and the ‘Champions’ league should be contested by champions.

Speaking after Kashima defeated Shimizu on New Year’s Day, Oswaldo Oliveira was delighted to have won the competition for the second time and his comments highlighted the importance of adding the extra incentive of a Champions League spot to the competition.

“I was worrying about this (qualifying for the Champions League) because it will be our fourth time to play in the tournament since 2008. If we missed out on 2011, I would feel very sad.”

“I couldn’t allow myself to end the year without winning a title so this victory means a lot to me.”

Match-winner Takuya Nozawa also reflected on the value of the victory, commenting that, “We really wanted to qualify for the Asian Champions League and we got it done. Although we weren’t able to win four straight J.League titles I feel that in part we made up for it by winning the Emperor’s Cup.”

This hits the nail on the head, and while a strong league finish demonstrates consistency over the course of the season it does not bring with it the same thrills and tensions as a cup run. Players should want to be winning trophies rather than finishing in third place in the league.

Last weekend was the third round of the famous English FA Cup – the tournament on which the Emperor’s Cup is based. Despite the history and tradition attached to this trophy however, very few of England’s big teams are really too concerned with the competition any more, with fourth place in the Premier League offering more financial gain and the chance of Champions League football. The FA Cup does not currently provide a gateway to that continental competition.

In last year’s third round – when Premier League teams enter the draw – Manchester United lost at home to Leeds United, who are now playing in the third tier of English football, while Liverpool fell to defeat against Championship side Reading at Anfield; both teams had bigger fish to fry.

This lack of interest in the cup was then contrasted by the depressingly over-the-top celebrations by Tottenham Hotspur when they beat Manchester City to secure fourth-place in the Premier League.

Champagne corks were popping and the manager, Harry Redknapp, was showered by a bucket of iced water as the players celebrated their achievement.

Redknapp, who had won the FA Cup with his former side Portsmouth in 2008, made it abundantly clear which success he valued more greatly, exclaiming that.

“It’s even better than winning the Cup. The Cup you can win with some lucky draws. You all know that if you can get some nice draws, three or four wins and you are there. But I think this a better achievement.”

He then continued by claiming that, having secured a qualification spot for the European competition, his team’s final league position didn’t actually matter too much.

“I just wanted to finish fourth but the chairman has just asked me who Arsenal are playing on Sunday and I think he wants to see if we can finish above them. I’m just happy with fourth.”

This is a sad indication of the plight of modern football, with finishing fourth in one competition – not even a medal position in other sports – being deemed of greater value than coming first in another.

Unfortunately, such an attitude is understandable though, and, while it would be great for teams to want to win a trophy for nothing more than prestige and glory, the financial pressures on professional clubs these days mean that is just not realistic.

By having the final ACL position tied up with victory in the Emperor’s Cup, the JFA is doing better than the English FA in keeping its teams interested in its cup competition though, and as long as that bonus is attached to lifting the trophy, J.League teams will have to keep treating the tournament with respect.

31
Dec
10

Where’s the Endo the road?

I wanted to write a season review and look ahead to the next one for my last Soccer Magazine column of 2010. The congested structure of the Japanese football season made this a little tricky though…

As I sat on the plane to England for my hard-earned Christmas holiday I began to write this week’s column. Seeing as the 2010 season has almost concluded and the New Year is fast approaching, a reflection on the past season and look forward to the next initially seemed like a good idea.

Then I stumbled upon a problem. Just when did the last season begin, when would it finish and when exactly would the new one begin? I began to go through my notes and searched for a period in the last year-and-a-half when there hadn’t been any Japanese football taking place.

It turned out there hadn’t been one, and there wasn’t going to be for some time to come.

To demonstrate the intensity of the schedule, put yourself into the shoes of Endo Yasuhito for a moment.

The 2009 J.League season started in March and officially came to an end with a 2-0 victory over JEF last December, but there was still the Emperor’s Cup which didn’t conclude until New Year’s Day 2010.

A couple of weeks after winning that he was training with the national team in preparation for the East Asian Championship and just 10 days after China secured victory at Kokuritsu he was back in action for Gamba, playing against Suwon in Korea in the ACL.

The 2010 J.League season was then underway, but, mercifully, after just 12 rounds of matches there was a break. Oh, not for Yatto, as this ‘break’ was for the World Cup and he was off to South Africa (via Switzerland and Austria).

After playing every minute for Okada san at the tournament there was still no time to put his feet up as J.League games were back on and his team needed him after a fairly miserable showing in the first part of the season. 

He helped to turn things around for Nishino san, got his regular spot in the J.League Best Eleven and can finally look forward to…the Emperor’s Cup. Again?! Oh well, just three more matches at the most and then he can take some time off.

But wait! The Asian Cup! 

OK, if he can just put it in in Qatar and then surely he can take it easy for a little while?

Oh no, hang on, then the 2011 ACL and J.League season will be getting underway, then there’s another ‘break’ – this time for the Copa America – the end of the J.League, probably the Emperor’s Cup (there’s always the Emperor’s Cup – if only he had Tulio’s timing when it came to injuries)…it never seems to end – and potentially won’t until January 2012, almost three years after this sequence began.

This, of course, is an extreme case but it demonstrates wonderfully the problems that the current fixture list makes possible for the best Japanese players.

Also, while only a small minority of players take part in this whole schedule, the J.League as a whole is not helped by all of these mini-breaks which disrupt the flow of the season and detract from the momentum of the title chase and relegation battle.

The only answer, in my opinion, has to be a shift to the European August – May season.

This would not interfere with Japan’s major bi-annual tournaments (the Asian Cup – interestingly, with the 2022 World Cup in mind – is only being held in January this time because of the intensity of Qatar’s summer) and commitments such as the East Asian Championship could always be used to provide University or fringe players with vital national team experience.

The Nabisco Cup could cease it’s group format and become a simple knockout competition – which would make it easier for it and the Emperor’s Cup to run within the regular season – and it would also mean that clubs could easier deal with the increasingly frequent loss of their best players to the European leagues, with their departures coming in the Japanese off-season, rather than in the very middle.

Bringing about such changes would surely provide J.League players with more recuperation time and, most importantly, give the league the chance to run consistently, from start to finish with no breaks – which can only be a good thing for all concerned.

01
Dec
10

Interview with Alan Wilkie, Part Two

Here is the second part of my interview with Alan Wilkie, who has just concluded a stint as Top Referee Instructor for the JFA. It appeared in Weekly Soccer Magazine on the 23rd November.

In last week’s column former English Premier League referee Alan Wilkie provided his opinions on the stadiums, fans and players in Japan. Having come here to assist in referee development though, what are his thoughts on the men in the middle?

Well, upon arrival a year and a half ago, some differences were immediately clear.

“Referees would not manage or engage with the players – communication was a big problem. My initial impression was that referees in Japan referee in isolation, they are not part of the game they are peripheral to the game. That was one of the main things we had to break down as a team of coaches.”

How did the Japanese officials take to being told what they were doing wrong though?

“Once people recognised that I had something to offer the support and the camaraderie in the JFA refereeing team was very good. There are some very good people working in the JFA.

“What I try to do is influence people, I don’t tell anybody anything. I try to persuade them and give them a good example.”

The biggest problem, he believes, lies not in the ability of the officials, but in their confidence.

“The issue in Japan is that most of the referees are very, very self-conscious and self-deprecating. I will not allow the de-brief to be ‘you did this wrong, you did this wrong’. The way that I de-brief is that I get people to accept that they may have been able to do things a little better, and it works.”

Increased confidence results in increased respect – something Alan does not believe Japanese referees receive much of at the moment.

“In Japan, cautions mean nothing. You can tell nobody cares by the demeanour of the player when the referee’s cautioning him, he’ll just walk away and wave his hand. That shows complete disrespect and I’m trying to get the referees to change the yellow to a second yellow and red because it’s dissent.”

Diving and other gamesmanship is also on the rise, but Alan is surprisingly not totally against this.

“It doesn’t matter whether I think it’s negative or not, this is football. If the J.League wishes to be in the top 10, or perhaps the top 5, in the world, they will have to be able to compete and deal with exaggeration, overreaction and gamesmanship.”

2010 was a fantastic year for one J.League referee – Yuichi Nishimura, who was 4th official at the World Cup Final – and Alan is very proud of the 38-year-old’s achievement.

“Nishimura was my best pupil. The way that he handles and uses his body and the way that he engages with players is European. That’s why he’s a success.”

He also has a lot of respect for his boss, Yasuhiro Matsuzaki.

“[He] has football and refereeing at heart. His vision is to see football in Japan develop into a European style. I admire his vision very much and think he’s much-maligned and much misunderstood.”

So, as his time here comes to a close, what are his final thoughts?

“The best thing is seeing progress, seeing success, seeing referees develop. [But]I’m not finished! This is ongoing. I keep saying to the referees that if you sit and look at the good things you’ve done you’ll be left behind. Keep going.”

And has he learned anything to take back to England with him?

“I’m taking away masses and masses of training techniques because in Japan the methods of training leave England way behind. Every time they do a practical training session there’s two football teams there. In England we pretend and make referees be players, can you believe that?!”

Recent changes at the top of Japanese football also encourage him, and he expects big things of the game here in the future.

“There is a change of chairman in the J.League and I have great faith in his vision. [Kazumi Ohigashi] gives me the impression of being a man of integrity and direction.”

“Junji Ogura; I have great aspirations for him. I think he will be monumental in the development of football. Great vision and also an extremely nice man. Sometimes they don’t go hand in hand, but I think with him you will get results. I quite seriously have great hope for Japan, I really do.”




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