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The World Seen With  A Football Fan's Eye

Urawa Red Diamonds

29.05.2013 J1 LEAGUE 2013
Urawa Red Diamonds - Vegalta Sendai 1:1

It was not the easiest thing on the earth to get the tickets for the match and this was not about their attractiveness – a 60 thousand venue was visited by ca. 24 thousand spectators that night. It was all about a formal and bureaucratic side of it – one has to first register himself (obviously in Japanese) quote his shoe as well as collar size in order to obtain the club’s go-ahead for choosing the sector and seat followed by the due payment. I treated this a personal goal to get the tickets prior to our arrival in Japan and although I tried to activate a few communication channels, only one appeared effective: Takeo first offered three options to choose from and suggested, according to his view, the most attractive one and then took care of the transactional side of our choice. He handed over the tickets to us during a lovely dinner in the Tokyo city centre thus combining the useful with the pleasant.
One need ca. one hour to get from Tamashi station to the stadium: first by JR railway and then by Tokyo subway. Having left the last station building we were stunned to see a superb-formed queue for buses bringing the fans to the Reds venue. More or less 2 km by foot, after a few minutes pros and cons brainstorming (considering our shoes conditions among other factors) we went for the walking pleasure hence using an opportunity of blending into the atmosphere of the crowd. It differs substantially from the one in Europe: hardly any pre-match emotions, not even a single song praising the glory of Urawa Reds. We were hoping to at least be listening to some bad names towards the opponents, and even this has failed either. Maybe because quite a large number of fans involved those apparently coming straight from the office, dressed in a dark suit and keeping brief cases or laptops under their arms. To cut it short: the ultras were scarce. Instead, we could admire several banners hanging proudly in the fence with slogans proudly cheering the clubs name and same time integrating its supporters: “We love you, Reds”, “Go ahead Reds”, “You are in our hearts, Reds” just to quote the most aggressive ones. We passed by a few portable food outlets (junk food might not be the proper term for those) along with one outlet offering European clubs’ jerseys – due to a complete lack of interest the owner was yawing in a pretty friendly manner, most probably hoping for a more connoisseur-like audience next time.
Loaded with positive energy we finally reached the stadium gates and the club souvenirs’ outlets nearby. As many as seven people approached those (we counted them all) so no elbow fight appeared necessary. The security check at the entrance was a lot of fun: an elderly man felt truly embarrassed to gaze into my wife’s bag, and having found no trace of chemical or biological weapons, he nodded making it clear the procedure was herewith finished. Getting to our sector as a bit more challenging though, a stadium crew lady’s English was good yet limited to one single word: “yes”. Prior to the kick off, we enjoyed a true supporting concert with its quality matching all major European leagues teams, just have a look into the movie attached. We were surprised to see quite a sizeable group of Vegalta supporters despite an over 300 km distance they had to make to get to the Reds stadium.
The hosts looked like Man Utd at the first sight: red jerseys, white shorts and black socks. Yet here any resemblance finishes off: performance level is different and candidates for joining Shingi Kagawa at Old Trafford were hardly identifiable. The Reds opened the game with passion however the guests’ goalkeeper felt bored for the first 30 minutes or so, when he had to save a coincidental shot from...his own team mate. Vegalta seemed to be waiting for the Reds arguments since the score was far more important for the hosts: still in the League championship race. They were enormously struggling to get any closer than the fringe of penalty area where their creative capabilities were rapidly ceasing. Free kick shots usually sent the ball into the audience behind the goal. The referee had no reason for any extra time queries hence he finished the first half exactly 45 minutes after the kick off. And here came another surprise for us: no queues at the food outlets, vast majority of the fans remained seated and started consumption of snacks and drinks brought to the venue by themselves. Sticks pattering and munching seemed to have been deafening the commercials on the beamers.
Vagelta came to the pitch to the second half visibly determined to reach out for the full jackpot. So did the Reds yet they had been locked in their own half (which looked almost like an ice hockey classic) on several occasions which made the local supporters truly upset. And when the ghost of a goalless draw, so much hated by the fans all over the world, was coming nearer and nearer, Brazilian Marcio Richardez, introduced in the second half produced an impressive pass down to his colleague who was then fouled in the penalty area. The stadium revived, several magnificent flags had been proudly waved again. The penalty executor, Yuki Abe remained cold blooded despite some desperate attempts by Vegalta goalkeeper to delay the process (he seemed ready to apply for half an hour break to call his mother) and brought the Reds in lead. An when the audience already got used to the thoughts about victory, Vegalta managed to equalize which, with all frankness, they deserved a lot – if they had shown more courage in the first half, no reasons for joy for the hosts fans would have been left. Their Star, Brazilian Wilson, who has an episode in Italian Serie A on his account, did not offer anything amazing that night, and was overshadowed by the Team midfield brain, Shingo Tomita (no. 17) who, at least in my opinion, has all qualities to qualify him for European League appearances: ubiquitous, technically brilliant, courageous, creative – features so much sought by the football scouts.
The audience had to swallow the draw despite some greater appetites yet hardly big whistles or complaints could be heard: in general, spontaneity level in a range from 1-10 we would pitch at 2. Which is well pictured by the following fans reaction: if a goal chance would make somebody pick up from his chair, he would do it in a way which by no means could drive some annoyance to the fans in the rear rows – a sort of cultural behaviour.
On the way back to the subway station, the owner of the souvenir stand was still yawning while cursing the business concept he decided to follow. Going for chips or sushi would have probably ensured better stream of revenues – as we could recall from maths lessons, every natural figure is greater than zero.
Worth noting: no police forces were in the stadium area, just a few traffic regulators were watching the fans passing by.
Subway station crowded although no use of elbows appeared necessary again and the train left for Tokyo city centre on time.

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