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April 2009

Friday night’s alright for football

21 Apr 2009(Tue)

After a rainy Saturday afternoon at the cinema a couple of years ago – outside of the football season, obviously – one of my old friends from university in Japan was clearly in a hurry to leave. Her bloodshot eyes betrayed utter exhaustion, and working 14-hour days at the office for the previous few months had clearly taken its toll. I bade her farewell and told her not to work so hard, but apparently, my interpretation had been a little simplistic. ‘Oh no, I don’t really have that much to do’, she explained, ‘but everyone a year or two older than me always arrives at eight. It would look bad if I didn’t get there by seven’.

 

Nobody in our group but me, the only foreigner, expressed any surprise at this remark. I cannot state categorically that it never happens anywhere else, but personal experience working for a major electronics company has seemed to confirm that this need to keep up appearances is one of the major contributors to overtime in Japan. Indeed, it is perhaps second only to delays caused by the inability of younger employees to express their objections to the mistaken ideas of their supposed superiors. The manoeuvrings of Shigeru Yoshida’s government within global politics in the 1950s helped galvanise the population towards decades of unprecedented growth and prosperity, but one wonders if the overly conservative nature of those growing up in this era hasn’t brought about unnecessary toil for Japanese workers since then. With globally-renowned technology and such a fabulously dedicated workforce, it is almost tragic to ponder just how powerful this country could be if only its basic workplace protocol were managed with a little more common sense and efficiency.

 

Of course, now we are in the midst of a global recession, companies and financial institutions throughout the world are under much more immediate pressure to streamline their operations and eliminate anything that might be deemed wasteful. They say that Japan is a good place to be in a crisis, but the excesses of the past have led to significant job losses here too, and only now – and for this reason – are those in charge beginning to work to reduce the nation’s massive overtime burden. There are, I’m sure, a whole range of approaches that could be used to achieve this, but in any case, a J. League meeting between Gamba Osaka and Montedio Yamagata was at least sufficient incentive for 10,159 people to finish work early and make it to Banpaku for 7.30pm last Friday.

 

Football has a curious relationship with the final day of the working week. TV influence and Thursday night UEFA Cup football provide high-profile action on each of the other six days, but the Bundesliga is the only major league to feature a regular Friday fixture. In England, the unique Good Friday programme has been lost to the swollen Champions League, leaving only the odd Championship or League One match attempting to steal some attention before the weekend starts in earnest. Last week’s game in the J. League, meanwhile, was only a freak occurrence – Gamba travelled to Indonesia the following day ahead of their ACL match with Sriwijaya tonight – and with the attendance well down on the home side’s weekend average, it probably won’t be repeated too often. As the ban on supporters using drums after 9pm suggests, Japanese football wasn’t designed with weeknights in mind.

 

For those of us who were there, though, it was a terrific experience. The crowd may have been no larger than at most midweek games, but the atmosphere was clearly enhanced as fans could enjoy their Friday nights out without the prospect of work to follow in the morning. Even if the drum ban was particularly harsh on their much smaller number – indeed, it was not until just after 9pm that Gamba scored twice to secure a 2-1 win – the away supporters who made it all the way down from Yamagata deserve plenty of credit for their part as well. It’s nice that we football fans were able to do our bit for the economy, and in fact it was so much fun that, if only I were old enough for my opinions to count, I might even suggest we did it more often.

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From Suwon and Paraíba to Manchester and Porto, via J2

13 Apr 2009(Mon)

It is somewhat ironic that what originally had been widely considered to be the least interesting of this year’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final ties is now the most delicately poised. FC Porto’s priceless away goals in their deserved 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last week made a mockery of any suggestions that Manchester United would have an easy passage through, and have given Sir Alex Ferguson’s side a real mountain to climb if they are to keep their Quintuple hopes alive and set up a meeting with Arsenal or Villarreal in the last four.

 

From a Japanese perspective, however, this meeting was always a fascinating one, pitting on opposite sides arguably the two most famous ‘foreigners’ to have learned their trade in the J. League before going on to make a name for themselves in Europe. Plenty have made the journey in the opposite direction, but few players have managed to use Japanese football as a springboard to global stardom as successfully as Park Ji-Sung, who was plucked out of Myongji University in his native South Korea as a teenager to spend three seasons with Kyoto Purple Sanga. Park would later develop further under his former national team coach Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven, before a move to United that has seen him decorated with honours on both the domestic and the European stage. At the moment, however, not even he can hold a candle in the battle for column inches to the latest new kid on the block to have emerged from these parts.

 

The comic book-inspired nickname ‘Hulk’ makes the bandwagon currently following Givanildo Vieira de Souza an easy one on which to jump. Few European commentators and headline writers can resist referring to anything he does as ‘incredible’, even while little else that has been said about him offers anything to mask the impression that the journalists have been caught just as unawares by the Brazilian’s emergence as have opposing defences. In an otherwise highly interesting article in yesterday’s Observer, Amy Lawrence became the latest to mistakenly suggest that it was the fans of Tokyo Verdy, and not his mother, who originally conceived this nickname – for those of us around when he moved to the Japanese capital, it was merely a delicious coincidence that a well-built attacker named Hulk was going to be appearing in green for the foreseeable future.

 

Nevertheless, Hulk’s time in Japan was often an enigmatic one. Having arrived at Kawasaki Frontale as an 18-year-old from Vitória in the Brazilian second division, he burst onto the scene with two goals in two games as I covered the Emperor’s Cup back in 2005. Already with a full quota of foreigners, Frontale then sent him out on loan to play the following two seasons in J2, and it was here that he first began to really thrive, scoring 26 goals in 41 games for Consadole Sapporo in 2006 before helping Verdy to promotion with 37 goals in 42 games the following year. However, even when he returned to Kawasaki at the start of 2008, he was still not on everyone’s radar – when Hulk’s face appeared on screen during an evening of drinks amongst associates of Six, a commentator with the state broadcaster NHK had to ask me who he was – and his brief career back in J1 was certainly a turbulent one. Unhappy at his role within Takashi Sekizuka’s team, he left Frontale just two games into the season to return to Tokyo, but despite scoring seven times in 11 top flight games, he was on the move once more a mere four months later. By this point, Hulk had lost confidence in the Verdy management and in Japanese referees – even if he did insist that he still loved both club and country – but his former side were left non-plussed when the player was pictured at the Estádio do Dragão in an FC Porto shirt before the transfer had been announced or even finalised.

 

To fans in Sapporo, where Hulk managed to pick up 15 yellow and three red cards in a single season, his apparently volatile nature will be little surprise, but – supposing he stays – perhaps a change of culture in the Portuguese league will help the Brazilian reach a greater level of mental and technical maturity. His play, while powerful and explosive, can lack the intellect needed to channel these strengths at the right times for the good of the team, but both Ferguson and Abel Resino of Atletico Madrid speak from personal experience when they point to the striker’s potential. Verdy supporters may point to his sudden departure as the major cause of the team’s relegation last year, and it is certainly tragic that Hulk’s time in J1 was so limited, but should he develop into anything like the player that Park Ji-Sung has become, you feel that he would always be welcomed back to Japan with open arms.

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Announcement: The Football Japan Minutecast has been relocated

9 Apr 2009(Thu)

Thank you to everybody who has already subscribed and listened to the Football Japan Minutecast.

 

Unfortunately, due to system reasons, we have now had to relocate this podcast to a different URL.

 

Please follow the instructions for re-registration below to download this week’s and all future editions of the podcast.

 

 

iTunes users:

http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=311602769

Click on the above link to access and subscribe to the Minutecast directly via the iTunes Store.

 

All podcast-compatible audio software:

Drag and drop this link into your audio software window to subscribe to the Minutecast.

 

 

All previous and future written articles will now be available on a special Minutecast page within the Football Japan website. The related audio podcasts may also be listened to and downloaded here. (This page will be given its own new design in the next few weeks.)

http://minutecast.footballjapan.jp/

 

The new system will help us provide a higher quality service, offering better audio and greater ease of use. We apologise for any inconvenience, and hope that you will continue to enjoy the Football Japan Minutecast.

 

 

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 6 (6 April)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 5 (30 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 4 (23 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 3 (19 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 2 (16 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 1 (9 March)

 

(All previous podcasts have been edited for better sound quality. Musical intros and outros, featuring ‘Gone’ by The Mortals, have also been added and will be used in all future episodes.)

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Football Japan Minutecast launched

2 Apr 2009(Thu)

After a slight delay, Football Japan is now able to announce the launch of our new Football Japan Minutecast service, as first detailed here a few weeks ago.

 

The new service provides a short round-up, in English, of the latest news surrounding the J. League and the Japanese national team, and is available in both text and audio formats. We hope the Minutecast will both help keep football fans from overseas in touch with the latest goings on in Japan, and provide material of interest to Japanese fans keen to practise their English.

 

Initially, new Minutecasts will be available every Monday, with the written articles published on this page. We plan to expand this service in future, and launch a free e-mail magazine feature as way of providing you with the articles as soon as they are published.

 

The podcasts are already available, and you can subscribe by following the instructions below.

 

 

iTunes users:

http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=311602769

Click on the above link to access and subscribe to the Minutecast directly via the iTunes Store.

 

All podcast-compatible audio software:

Drag and drop this link into your audio software window to subscribe to the Minutecast.

 

 

We are still working on getting the audio quality and the system itself up to speed, but we hope you will enjoy the Football Japan Minutecast, and we look forward to bringing all the big news in Japanese football to as many people as we can.

 

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 6 (6 April)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 5 (30 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 4 (23 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 3 (19 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 2 (16 March)

Click here for Football Japan Minutecast No. 1 (9 March)

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