Posts Tagged ‘Tsunami

03
Sep
11

All for One

After the tragedy in March the J.League acted swiftly and en masse to help the situation. Further to the official recovery efforts the side closest to the disaster hit region, Vegalta Sendai, embarked upon a fantastic run of results that saw the usual minnows vying at the top of the table.

I spoke to several Vegalta fans to find out just how much of an impact the side’s efforts had had in the area for No. 1 Shimbun.

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。

29
Apr
11

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 www.onagawasupporters.com 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 (www.onagawasupporters.com) 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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コバルトーレ女川」というクラブをご存じだろうか。2006年、宮城県の女川町でサッカーの力で過疎を防ぎ、地域の活性化を図るために創立されたクラブで一時は石巻市リーグから東北リーグ1部に昇格するなど奮闘していた(昨年2部に降格したが)。3月11日の大震災以降、僕はこのクラブの名前をしばしば見るようになる。選手が復興のためにひと肌脱いだり、もう一つはあるイングランド人が支援を呼び掛けているからだ。

発起人はイングランド在住で、日本のアマチュアサッカー通、マイク・イネスさんとスーザン・アンドリュースさん。イネスのブログにアンドリュースさんが訪れ、世界中のサッカーファンに女川の支援を訴えようと持ちかけた。

アンドリュースさんは、何度か女川を訪れたことがある。「友人の家族が住んでいて、震災の後、友人は両親と祖母を探していた。父親は見つかったけれど、コバルトーレ・ファンの母を見つけることはできなかった。何か情報はないかとネットで探していたときにイネスさんのブログを発見し、ソーシャルメディアで支援を呼びかけようと思い立った」

イネスさんとともに立ちあげたウェブ(www.onagawasupporters.com)は微力かもしれないがと言いつつも続けている。

「ウェブで支援を呼び掛けるのはささいなことだけど、何もしないよりはマシ。それに、サッカーには世界を一つにする力があるし、計り知れない」

一方、イネスさんが日本のアマチュアサッカー界に興味を持ったきっかけは、シンプルだ。「コバルトーレ女川が過疎を防ぐために創立されたクラブと聞いたとき、すぐに興味を持った。すばらしいアイディアだし、画期的だよね」

3月11日以降、彼もまた気になる日本のクラブの支援に尽くした。アンドリュースさんにウェブ運営の話を持ち出されたとき、迷いはなかったという。

「僕らの目標は世界中のサッカーファンからできる限りの義援金を募ることだ。クラブが自分たちの足で立ち『女川町の地域活性に貢献する』という発足当初の目標に向かうことができればいい」

女川町の世界での知名度が上がって、日本にいる人たちも驚いている。ただ、イネスさんは本当に着目すべきは、女川で起こっていることだと強調する。

「女川の名前がイングランドで広まっている。多分、日本でも少しずつ広まっている。でも、日本にいる人たちに『イングランドの、世界のファンはすごい』とは思ってほしくない。本当に素晴らしいのは宮城の小さな町でサッカーを使って町おこしをしようとしている女川だよ。この試みがあるからこそ、近江弘一GMをはじめとするスタッフ、そして選手が世界中のファンの共感を得ているんだと思う」

15
Apr
11

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.

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.

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.”

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.

19
Mar
11

The Back Post – Football placed firmly in perspective

After the tragic events that took place in the Tohoku region of Japan last week, football has been placed very much in perspective.

The J.League and JFA have done well to bear this in mind, and I discussed their reactions in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami here.




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