Monday, September 20, 2010

Why I support...

In our latest edition of 'Why I support...' we catch up with Brett from Melbourne, who has developed a love for Yokohama F. Marinos over the last few years.

This is his story:

I married my wife back in '95. She was the youngest of 4 children, and the only girl of the siblings. Her youngest brother in that year went to Japan to teach English in secondary school and has lived there ever since. In 2000 he settled in Yokohama.

Yokohama F. Marinos fans against Shimizu S-Pulse
in 2008 - Brett's only time he's seen Yokohama live
Back home in Australia, after enjoying the football matches held at the MCG during the 2000 Olympics, come 2005 we started to give the then new A-League a go and followed this upstart team, Melbourne Victory. We weren't members that season, and the team finished second last that season. I felt we needed to support them, so in mid 2006 the whole family became members. 

Fast forward to 2007, and my brother-in-law's daughter (our niece) was graduating the secondary school that she was attending in Yokohama. The school was an American run international school, so graduation was the full cape and gown affair like we see in every college movie. Well, my wife, 7 year old son, and I decide we would embark on our first international trip to Japan to see her graduate.

We had already known from our previous viewing of the 2002 World Cup, that football was big in Japan. However, prior to our trip we didn't really relate to any team over there. As we based ourselves out of Yokohama for this trip, we learnt about the two teams in Yokohama: Yokohama F. Marinos and Yokohama FC. 

This quick Wikipedia summary gives you a bit of background between the two teams:
'In 1991, Yokohama F. Marinos was one of the founding members of the J. League. In 1998, after losing one of their primary sponsors, it was announced that crosstown rivals Yokohama Flügels would merge with Marinos. Since then, an F was added to the name to represent the Flügels half of the club. Many Flügels fans rejected the merger, rather believing their club to have been dissolved into Marinos. As a result, they refused to follow F. Marinos and instead created Yokohama FC, F. Marinos' new crosstown rivals.'

Unfortunately, at that time the J-League was in it's summer break and we missed seeing both of them at any game in Yokohama.

Yokohama F. Marinos during a weekday
training session in 2007

However the reclaimed dock areas of central Yokohama have in the last 15 years been transformed in the Minato Mirai 21 urban area. Along with a vast shopping/business/recreation area, Minato Mirai 21 is the home facilities of Yokohama F. Marinos.
This facility contains all administrative, training, and marketing departments for the club. Well, if we couldn't see a game, we would stop by the club shop to get a souvenir or two. As it turns out their club shop over looks their training facility, and the Marinos were in a practice match at that time. 

After purchasing some F. Marinos souvenirs and trying our best to speak Japanese to the sales assistants, we learnt that their training sessions are open to the public to watch. Along one side of their #1 training pitch, is a basic, but modern 2000 seat stand for fans to watch.

Yokohama F. Marinos training facility as viewed
from Landmark Tower in Yokohama (2007)

So that afternoon  we got to sit in the stand with about 250 other F. Marinos supporters to see the squad play some football. Unfortunately for that trip to Japan, that was the only time I saw them, and we thought it would be years before I get to see them play again...

... 10 months later the family is back in Japan again!

Why did we come back to Japan so quickly?
Our home team Melbourne Victory decimated the A-League season of 2006-07, winning both the Premiership (top of the league) and the Grand Final that season. This earned them a spot in the AFC Champions League for 2008.
So after discovering Victory's group stage draw brought them up against Gamba Osaka (The eventual AFC Champions of 2008), it was an unanimous family vote to head back to Japan to support our team on a 9000 km away trip.

But this time, we got my brother-in-law to get tickets to a Yokohama F. Marinos game at their home ground, 'The NISSAN' - the stadium of the 2002 World Cup final. It was our first J-League match and loved it. The crowd, the singing, and the international spoken football language of "WHAT FOR?!?!" to the ref. Yep, Yokohama F. Marinos become our Japanese home team.

Brett's son with enthusiastic Gamba Osaka fans
during their clash with Melbourne Victory in the 2008 ACL
Later that week, we travelled from Yokohama via shinkansen to Osaka to meet up with fellow Victory, A-League, and Australia football supporters to stand in the wet terraces of Gamaba Osaka's home ground at Expo'70 Stadium.
We sang, we joked, we abused the ref, but while the result didn't go our way that night, the team appreciated our efforts in making the journey to support them.
When leaving the stadium we all mingled with the Osaka supporters. Like that Mastercard television advert of a few years ago, we spent about 45 minutes after the game swapping scarfs, caps and anything we had that was Melbourne Victory with the Gamba supporters, as well as getting picture together.
It truly was a case of Football bringing people together. An evening we would never forget.

After this trip, we are J-League fans for life.

In 2011 the Victory will once again travel to Japan to compete in the AFC Champions League. I'll be back there again. Go Victory! Go F. Marinos!

P.S. J.League survival tip - They have beer girls who go up and down the aisles, serving beer in milk shake cups at around 500¥ to 650¥. But if your budget is blown for the night, and you find only 250¥ in change in your pocket, don't panic - they will serve you 250¥ worth of beer. How good is that!

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