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Out with the old – Part 1

2 Nov 2010(Tue)

When the club management at Gamba Osaka met with influential supporters’ representatives last week, the main topic of conversation was the progress of plans being made for a new home ground and, in particular, the shape of the stand from which the latter party will be singing their songs. The stadium design currently favoured by the club, drawn up by Takenaka Corporation, features a ‘VIP layer’ of executive boxes sandwiched between two tiers of seating. Supporters’ groups, however, are pushing for the home end to be remodelled into an 8,000-capacity, single-tier structure that would stand as an iconic wall of blue to inspire Gamba players and fans alike, while also intimidating visiting opponents as a convenient side effect.


The arguments both for and against the existing design lie in its uniformity. Architects and club directors praise the clean symmetry of four virtually identical stands, but while the artist’s impressions are admittedly pleasing on the eye, new stadiums built with a similar ethos throughout Europe in the past decade and a half have often been criticised as contributory factors to an overall decline in atmosphere. Those that have survived the changing times and developed more organically are, as a general rule, all the more beloved of their tenants’ supporters despite – or perhaps largely because of – the quite distinct characters to the structures extending up from each respective edge of the playing surface.


Undeniably the most famous individual stand in the United Kingdom is the Spion Kop at Anfield. While recently deposed owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett did little to warrant even the slightest acclaim during their tumultuous reign at Liverpool, the plans released under their watch for a new facility in Stanley Park (which to this date remains peacefully green and free of diggers) did at least retain a distinctive, single-tiered bank behind the home goal. Japanese newcomers to coverage of the Bundesliga, meanwhile, cannot fail to have been wowed by die Südtribüne at the Westfalenstadion, from which an astonishing 25,000 of the most vocal Borussia Dortmund fans can roar on Shinji Kagawa and company. By unfortunate contrast, the expansion of Old Trafford has concentrated most of those who wish to sing Manchester United songs (and are still willing to pay Glazer prices) into just one of the Stretford End’s two tiers.


‘Call leaders’ at Gamba are insistent that imitating the ‘kop’ style is the only way of maximizing the value that the supporter experience can gain from, and give to, the club. A glance both at the examples above and the circumstances particular to Japan and the Kansai region suggests their logic is sound. At a club that has traditionally struggled to draw supporters – especially before on-the-pitch success finally arrived five years ago – to a Banpaku stadium with perhaps the worst excuse for acoustics in J1, the central supporters’ groups have at least managed to keep 2,000 people coming back to the so-called Curva Nord every fortnight with their passionate singing and idiosyncratic Osakan humour. Their hope now is that a single tier four times as large would allow their effect to be magnified exponentially, not only in terms of reverberating volume but also synergistically – with more to enjoy, greater freedom for those attracted by the enjoyment to show others what the fuss is about, and thus significantly heightened chances that Gamba and their new home might finally become symbols of which local residents could be properly proud.


For a club that has been rightly chastised in the past for ignoring its followers, it is refreshing to see that Gamba has lent an ear to supporter opinion on this matter, but the niggling fear is that chairman Kikuo Kanamori will merely prove to be the talker of the talk that Hicks and Gillett once were at Anfield. The movement for a new stadium first became public more than two years ago, and despite Kanamori’s announcement of an ambitious funding structure (the project will rely largely on public and private donations, which will be exempt from taxation on the proviso that the completed facility is then wholly donated back to the control and possession of local government authorities) before the home match with Shimizu S-Pulse in July 2009, the club is still yet to secure a suitable site for construction. Without this, Gamba cannot legally even begin to collect the funds that will enable them to break ground. Suita was removed from the list of candidate venues for Japan’s 2022 World Cup bid back in March, and whatever happens now, the dream of a new stadium is set to remain purely that for many years yet.



* Further details on the Gamba Osaka stadium project can be found (in Japanese only) at http://www.field-of-smile.jp/. One can only hope that this URL is not indicative of any official name for the eventual arena. Not only does the sheer grammatical awkwardness bring me back to my rant of a few weeks ago about how 350 million native speakers of English are routinely ignored in this country, but ‘Field of Smile’ just sounds like an agriculturally-themed play centre for underprivileged children.

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What happened to the idea of building the stadium on the old Expoland site?

Posted by: Claire | 11/04/2010 at 08:14 AM

Unfortunately, an idea is all it remains. Although the Expoland site has been gradually cleared, it has still not been announced what is going to happen with it. I understand they reopened its pool to the public back in summer, while a small section of it is being used for a year only as - ironically, considering I wasn't aware of this when I wrote the article - an agriculturally-themed experience and play centre.

The idea to build the stadium there was certainly raised officially, as was a proposal by Paramount to build a new theme park there. I have felt all along that Expoland would be the ideal site for Gamba (see http://mabley.footballjapan.co.uk/2008/07/moving_home_at_.html ), but just like it's been for more than two years now, it's still a case of just waiting for news.

I don't know enough detail about corruption in the Japanese construction industries to say much without risk of libel, but it does strike me that where there is a genuine will, large buildings can go up and down rather quickly in this country. Perhaps the tax-exempt donations scheme makes it harder to slip the odd envelope under the table. Or perhaps the will behind the project on the part of the club is slightly less genuine than they would have us believe.

All going well, I'll have the opportunity for another chinwag with some of the people involved in a couple of weeks. Not that I expect they'll tell me too much, but you never know.

Posted by: Ben Mabley | 11/04/2010 at 11:18 AM

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