Posts Tagged ‘Onagawa Supporters


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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Onagawa Supporters / 世界中が注目する。 コバルトーレ女川

Onagawa, a small town in the north of Japan that was devastated by the events of March 11th, and its football team, Cobaltore, have been receiving support from an unlikely source as they look to rebuild. This week I introduced the people behind to the readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine. 

By now I’m sure most of you have heard about Cobaltore Onagawa FC, but for those that haven’t let me give a brief introduction.

The team was founded in 2006 with the aim of providing the youth of Onagawa – a small town in Miyagi with an ageing and dwindling population – with a reason to stay in the town rather than heading to bigger, more exciting cities.

So far things have gone well and they quickly progressed from the Ishinomaki City League to Tohoku League Division One, although last season they were relegated back to Division Two (South).

The earthquake and tsunami of March 11th has seen the club become far more literally involved with saving the town though, as its staff and players have taken up a central role in the recovery efforts.

Cobaltore first came to my attention in a blog post written by Mike Innes, an English football fan with an interest in non-league Japanese football. This article was also read by Susan Andrews who approached Mike with the idea of creating a website ( to help the area, and I would like to introduce them and their aims to you this week.

Prior to the disaster Susan had enjoyed several visits to Onagawa, and her attachment to the club is a result of a friend who experienced a tragic loss in the catastrophe:

“I have a friend whose family live/lived in Onagawa,” she explains. “While Mike was writing his Northern League Day blog post she was up there looking for father, mother and grandmother. She found her father. Thinking of her mum who was a big Cobaltore Onagawa fan, she spotted Mike’s post and put it on Facebook, where I saw it. It was a sort of tribute to her mum. My friend has not found her mum or grandmother.”

Susan acknowledges that “Onagawa Supporters” is just a small help, but believes football has an incredible power to bring people together.

“I know that supporting Cobaltore via a website is trivial in the face of so much loss, but at least it is better than doing nothing. I am involved for the sake of that friend and the family she’s lost, and because football – the beautiful game – is supposed to be a way to unite the world.”

Mike’s knowledge of Japanese football, meanwhile, meant that he had been aware of the club’s unique story for a while.

“I was immediately interested in what the club was doing: setting up a football club essentially to prevent rural depopulation was an exciting and ambitious idea, so I’d been keeping a close eye on Cobaltore and their progress.”

After March 11th he wanted to help out any way he could, and after being approached by Susan he didn’t think twice about establishing the site. “I just thought to myself, “This is something I really can do to help.” Our aims depend on how much money we’re able to raise through the campaign, which needs support from football fans everywhere.

“Put simply, we want to make the biggest contribution we can towards enabling Cobaltore Onagawa to stand on their own two feet and do what the club was formed to do: to play football for the future of Onagawa.

“The tsunami has made that goal much more difficult to achieve but it hasn’t changed the fundamental purpose of Cobaltore.”

Several people in Japan are amazed that the club is receiving attention from the home of football on the other side of the world, but Mike is keen to stress that the real news is what is happening in Onagawa.

“I know that some people in Japan have said about the Onagawa Supporters campaign that it’s amazing that a club like Cobaltore Onagawa has gained attention in England, “the cradle of football”. I’m very grateful for those kind comments, but I want WSM readers to know that the amazing part of this story is not about England or English fans. It’s about how a group of people in a small town in Miyagi are using football to make a future for their community, which to me really is extraordinary.

“For what they are trying to do for Onagawa, I think that (GM) Koichi Ohmi and the staff and players of Cobaltore Onagawa deserve the support of football fans all over Japan and across the world.”

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Getting the ball rolling

For the town of Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture the local football club, Cobaltore, is central to more than just the relief efforts:

After reading my article on Cobaltore here, please visit Onagawa Supporters for more information and to help out any way you can. Thanks.

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June 2023