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The Sweat of the Twelfth Man
This week, the JFA announced that about 810,000 people applied for the lottery to get tickets for the home game against Bahrain in March. There are only about 60,000 seats at the stadium, so the odds are pretty insane given that we aren't even at the World Cup, nor are the opponents any famous star-studded team.

I thought that while we had this month break until the next qualifying game, I'd touch on the Soul of the Twelfth Man, the supporters of the JapanNT. There seems to be a lot of opining that the Japanese supporters at the North Korea game were so emotional, cheering and waving flags, because of the political antagonism that exists between the countries.

jpnchn.jpgIf these people had any previous experience watching JapanNT games, they would have soon realized how off the mark this is. Opening and final games in qualifiers are especially difficult, and supporters always have flags and chant... I feel like the entire game was tainted by the overzealous media, coloring the air with something that should have been kept to a minimum.[cont'd]
The World Cup, as any footballing fan knows, is a sacred event. It is all agony and angst, all for the hope of one moment of triumph and joy. It is all difficult, always full of surprises, and the rush is like none other. The qualifying rounds for France 98 proved to be a very treacherous road, where Japan saw coaches fired, Kazu egged, and a last extended time goal drive Japan on to the main event. But that joy was soon snuffed out in the group rounds. While the team itself was trying to fight their way onwards, the supporters were having their own joys crushed. We all remember the huge problems they faced when they arrived in France, only to find that the tickets promised them did not exist. I remember hearing stories about how even the Ultras couldn't get in. The leader of the Ultras apparently gave up his own chances at getting a ticket to try and find as many for his fellow supporters; but the supporters would not go in without him. They chanted in the streets, and were soon joined by the local French townsfolk who were touched by their plight and perseverence. When they did get in at later games, their behavior was noted by the international community -- there is the famous story of how the supporters even picked up after themselves, leaving the seats clean of garbage. The press and Fifa suits later singled out the Japanese supporters for their exemplary behavior.

I recently visited a blog maintained by a Japanese man who is one of the cheer-leaders for the NT games. He had been addressing people's complaints about why there weren't more cheer songs. There was another complaint about people who sat during games and didn't cheer. At first I agreed with the first, and questioned the latter. But then he answered: First and foremost, the supporter's main duty for rooting and chanting is not to have a good time, not to entertain themselves or the viewers at home, but to help the team win. Really, it's as simple as that. One cheer song sung with the soul of all Japanese bodies in attendance is more powerful than ten fun songs sung without solidarity. And for people who were lucky enough to win tickets and attend, the seats they warm have a value that perhaps cannot be measured unless you're one of those who applied and lost out. Recently, one of the best examples of this powerful cheering was at the Oman game in Muscat last October. If you have a video of that game, you should definitely check out the cheering in the background. The Japanese supporters were chanting their lungs out, and their passion certainly reached me halfway across the world.

Some people may think this is a bit extreme. Sure, it is. And it isn't. At least, Japan is certainly not the only footballing nation to feel this way. The North Korean game was almost insane with media build-up; but I never once thought that the passion of the supporters had anything to do with the fact that the opponents were North Korea. There is business to be done here, and really none of it is political. When Chinese spectators decided to make things political in last year's Asia Cup, and the embassy had warned Japanese supporters of attending the final game, Japanese supporters showed up anyway. And they carried signs of friendship and peace as well as Chinese flags. Without their presence, I don't think the joy the team felt when they grabbed that Championship trophy would have been as sweet -- I remember the Japan supporters chanting the support song, and seeing the team respond by jumping up and down to the beat.

There was a guy last year who I first noticed at the Hungary (I think) game, carrying a large sheet with "ハンガリー 遠すぎ!” (directly translated, "Hungary, way too far"). I think I saw him again at the game in Singapore, but with Hungary changed to Singapore. It was a joke, of course, but it was also a playful reminder of the lengths that people go to see our team play, and to give them a little push from behind.

This year will entail many interesting away "missions" for Nippon's twelfth man. There is a 100,000+ capacity stadium waiting in Tehran -- and with warnings from the Iran football federation regarding women's clothing/modesty, it looks like supporters will have to be sensitive to cultural issues as well. The problematic away game will probably turn out to be North Korea. The NK government seems to be reassured by Japan's behavior in this month's game, and will be issuing tickets for Japan. However, there are still problems regarding visas and most importantly accomodations. I read that although 5000 tickets may be allowed, there may only be enough appropriate housing for 2000. Needless to say, the availability of those 2-5000 tickets is all thanks to the great spirit and behavior of the supporters, and the backup work done by the JFA to keep negotiating channels open.



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上記広告は1ヶ月以上更新のないブログに表示されています。新しい記事を書くことで広告を消せます。