Stuart Frisby is currently in Japan and his account of professional football in Japan is an insightful look at football outside the focus of mainstream media.
Japanese football is a strange affair, as you sit on the backless seats of the Hakata-No-Mori stadium in Fukuoka Japan, glancing down to the ultras to the right, and to the junior ultras to the right of them, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a tense Brazilian league game.
For Japan and it’s footballing landscape is a little like Legoland Windsor. Urawa Reds are the Manchester United influenced heavyweights, Sagan Tosu are an homage to Italian giants AC Milan and Gamba Osaka are a tribute act to Internationale in all but their footballing ability.
It seems that at the rebirth of professional football in Japan, creativity and tradition were in equally short supply, so club bosses simply picked from seemingly nowhere a club to imitate, and with it, a footballing philosophy to adopt. For this influence runs deeper than the colour of the home kit. The Tosu stadium in Saga prefecture, Kyushu looks like it has landed from a small Italian city – complete with it’s faded pink seats and steeply inclining terraces. Avispa Fukuoka – my local team and Sao Paolo clone are no different – the Brazilian heritage runs throughout the club – from the imports of ailing/failing Brazilian footballers, to the words of the chants enthusiastically belted out by the hardcore element of the home support.
But for Japanese fans, none of this matters. Like the rest of us they want to see a good game of football, have a sing song, and eat some dodgy stadium food. Only in Japan it’s more likely to be an anonymous pile of untreated meat, rather than a nasty pie filled with a pile of untreated meat as you might be used to back in blighty.
Since moving to Fukuoka a few weeks ago I’ve seen three games involving my adopted team. They’ve lost all three, scored only once, and had five players suspended following some very South American style outrage during the local derby a couple of weeks ago. Their once promising push for promotion back to the elite league of Japanese football – J League 1 – seems to be dead in the water, their six straight defeats putting paid even to the chance of appearing in a one off promotion/relegation play-off at the seasons end.
Instead, it appears that the team – managed by former FC Koln striker and Leverkusen assistant manager Pierre Littbarski – will have to wait until next season to push for that aim. There will need to be some clearing of dead wood before a real promotion push can be made too. Full-back Alvin Ceccoli, who has played for Australia more than once is a shocking player, and seems to be sailing by simply because he comes from a slightly more traditional ‘football nation’. Frontman Abraham Lincoln Martins (I kid you not) should also be shown the door. Think Peter Crouch in physique, Carlton Palmer in flair, and Ade Akinbiyi in shooting ability – that is Lincoln. Again, his Brazilian passport seems to be the only thing keeping him in the side! He is currently serving a five match ban for elbowing an opponent during the recent Kyushu derby, and then having a proper hissy fit after being sent off.
The one bright spark in the side is creative midfielder Kohei Miyazaki, a man not even considered a first team regular until recently, he has a touch of class about his game. He reads the attacking game well, can pick out a pass and is a decent tackler. He has played in J League 1, and is a player who could probably play at a higher level in Europe. The 24 year old is yet to represent Japan, but whilst playing in a poor team he is showing some deftness with the ball at his feet, don’t be surprised if he moves to a J1 side before Avispa become one.
So that is the current state of things here in Fukuoka, The local side not doing too well, but we’re all hoping they will spring back to winning ways in their game against Ehime FC. If they don’t, the pressure way well begin to mount for the manager and his assistant (former Spurs player Ian Crook).