Monday, October 11, 2010

Why I support...

Urawa fans in full voice
In the latest edition of why I support, Ryan Steele from Adelaide explains his love for Urawa Red Diamonds.

“Why are you wearing this scarf?” an old lady – an Urawa supporter – asked me during half-time at Nagai Stadium. Urawa were away to Cerezo Osaka on a Saturday afternoon in the Springtime, and I found myself being the only foreigner in the away section.

It was a novelty for everyone involved and a tale for the supporters to tell their children and their children’s children.

I shrugged at the question. I sipped my bottle of water, wondering how it could be answered in the space of a half-time break. All I could think to say was, “We are Reds,” a universal phrase known across all Urawa supporters; a motto that reflects the passion and love that every Red Diamonds fan has for the club, one that’s even emblazoned on the jerseys of each season.

She nodded in agreement, as if to suddenly forget that I was a white man in a Japanese stadium, wearing Japanese clothes, following a Japanese team and leaving all of her curiosity behind.
I looked into his history and found that the man – a Japanese man – came from a team called Urawa Red Diamonds.

After a lot of thorough searching, I finally found some footage. Some of it was from earlier years – years when the likes of Masahiro Fukuda, aka “Mr Reds”, was scoring goals left, right and centre – and some small snippets were from the then-current years, being their stint in J2, and also video and pictures of their supporters.

I’m an Urawa Red Diamonds supporter. I have been for many, many years. It’s an ongoing story that throughout the years has become a little (very) blurry from many drunken nights in Tokyo.

Back in the early turn of the century, I was a big fan of Dutch football, notably of Feyenoord. One of the players, Shinji Ono, quickly became my favourite player after seeing many moments of brilliance in passing, vision and even the occasional goal (whenever he wasn’t injured from a heavy challenge).

The view from the away fans section at Nagai Stadium
for the game between Cerezo Osaka and Urawa Reds

I was thoroughly impressed; not in love, but definitely a fan. If Facebook was around at the time, Urawa would have been liked with the biggest thumbs up possible.

I did my best to keep tabs on the club. It definitely wasn’t easy back then; streaming video wasn’t very common or even well-known, nor was information in English (not to mention my limited knowledge of Japanese, which more or less came from friends in Japanese and an early school education).

Some amazing players came through the club; Emerson (now known as the controversial Brazilian-Qatari national team representative), Donizete and Tomislav Maric to name but a few.

Then, joy of joys, Shinji Ono returned to the Red Diamonds. My attention became more serious through that amazing 2006 season. They won the major double that year – the J. League and the Emperor’s Cup (and the Super Cup at the start of the season) – and I fell more in love with them each game. The players, the formation, the manager; it all seemed brilliant.

Shinji Ono left after winning the AFC Champions League in 2007, when his contract ended, signing a contract with Bochum. I found that my attention didn’t leave the club.

Urawa's home ground - Saitama Stadium - in all its glory

I was captivated. I soon realised it wasn’t just Shinji Ono, it was Urawa that I liked so much. They had become a part of me and I had formed a link that was so strong, so unbreakable that Urawa was part of my heartbeat.

I’ve been to JapanTokyo, specifically – several times in recent years and I even lived there for a very brief spell in 2008. I’ve made a lot of friends through football in Japan and I have a lot of memories; most of which are good.

The J. League, and Urawa specifically, has unexpectedly been a large factor in who I’ve become today and I find it hard to imagine a life without the Red Diamonds.

If I had said that to the old lady, we would have missed the rest of the game. I think “We are Reds” sums it up nicely and it’s exactly how I feel today.


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