Club World Cup diary (Part 5)
What’s it like covering football matches in the press
box? What does being a semi-freelance writer actually entail? How do you
combine it all with the day job? These are just some of the questions that
beloved family members, friends old and new, and even exciting strangers on
Twitter ask me with truly surprising infrequency.
Nevertheless, like in many professions the busiest part of the year is immediately followed by the quietest, and with the J. League clubs only just beginning to ease themselves into pre-season preparations, now seems like an opportune time to shed light on the above and, ooh, a modicum more with a semi-freelance writer’s diary of December 2011 – a footballing month dominated (in Japan, anyway) by the FIFA Club World Cup, hot off the back of the climax to the J. League season.
Any suggestion that this also conveniently serves as a means of easing myself into pre-season preparations following an extended Christmas break in the UK from which the mince pies and cider still require a bit of working off would be purely coincidental.
Wednesday 14 December 2011: Osaka – Kobe
18:10 A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation from Katsumi Honda, my boss at Football Japan, for our company’s little end-of-year party*. His suggested dates were tonight or tomorrow – nicely coinciding, therefore, with the semi-finals of the Club World Cup. I had already made plans for the second semi in Yokohama but squeezing in an additional trip back to Toyota the night before was going to be a logistical nightmare – in terms of transport, accommodation, and above all the day job – so I expressed my preference for the Wednesday.
(* These are essentially like work Christmas parties in the United Kingdom, although generally carry less of an association with frolicking in stationery cupboards** and, with no Christian tradition in Japan, are instead known locally as bōnenkai; literally ‘forget-the-year parties’.)
(** Does anyone actually do this? Comments below, please. Feel free to keep your own stories anonymous if preferred.)
Happily, this seemed to work out best for everybody else as well, and so on the night that Kashiwa Reysol became the first Japanese club team in history to play a competitive match against the champions of South America, I would have the pleasure of enjoying it all in some very esteemed company indeed. Honda-san’s guest list included Hiroshi Kagawa, the chairman of the company, Japan’s most prolific football journalist with a career dating back over 60 years, and an inductee to the Japan Football Hall of Fame; Izumi Nemoto, Kagawa-san’s personal assistant and a fine writer in her own right with Football Japan, the JFA, and Cerezo Osaka’s website among others; the son of another hall of famer who had captained Japan in the 1950s; and a former ‘quasi-semi-professional’ (plug: see p.182, The Blizzard Issue Three) footballer from just before the J. League era.
The 7pm start provides the ideal excuse to finish up early – despite working from home, alone, I seem to have assimilated the Japanese habit of working until well after dark – and dash out of my flat to head 15 or 20 miles west on the train to just this side of Kobe. The power of smartphones allies quite conveniently with the fact that Japanese public transport does exactly what it says on the tin (or, in this case, timetable), allowing me to walk through the door of the bar at seven on the dot. Three of our party have already arrived. Curiously, however, there doesn’t seem to be a television.
19:30 Thirty minutes and two beers later, Kashiwa versus Santos kicks off in Toyota. So far, the only real mention of it has been from Kagawa-san, who reckons this year is the first time that the club world champions will have been decided in his country (including the old Toyota Cup, dating back to 1980) without him actually being there. Still no sign of a television. Really starting to worry now that I am the only one who cares about this thing.
21:15 Apparently I was the only one presumptuous enough to expect the actual football to be on the agenda this evening. Good job I’m recording it. At the very least, by this point everyone on the table has their phones out looking to see if Kashiwa can somehow pull back the 3-1 deficit. I feel a little bit left out that I’m the only one of the usual group of us on Twitter (that’s me and the approximately nine people who actually read my articles, I jest hopefully) not to be tweeting. But the evidence that the Club World Cup isn’t passing everyone by after all – plus a welcome shift to some rather tasty saké after the fifth beer – provides sufficient comfort. Kampai.
Thursday 15 December 2011: Kobe – Osaka
00:30 I stumble home, take my handy matchday notebook from last year’s AFC Champions League final (it has a little half-page pitch on every double page for you to fill in line-ups, etc) into the living room, and press play. Unlike with J. League coverage, the local broadcaster has mercifully provided a secondary audio feed so that I can swap the often infuriating Japanese commentary with the soothingly familiar voice of John Helm – who I happened to bump into in the corridors of Toyota Stadium on Sunday and, like most commentators I suppose, didn’t look anything like I had pictured in my head.
Back when was I was working in an office, on the days where I had turned up hungover I would always put in so much extra effort that my productivity actually rose, lest I open myself up to the accusation of unprofessionally allowing my personal life to affect my job. Ideally, though, I prefer not to have to concentrate on anything immediately after the drinking session – even if it is only a football match and bit of note-jotting. This sofa is so comfy. I’d quite like to go to sleep on it.
03:00 Right, all done. Quite a good game, as it turned out. Now time for bed. Bit of a headache already. This trip to Yokohama is going to be fun in the morning.
(To be continued. Click here for Part 4.)
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Club World Cup diary (Part 5):