Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why I follow...

"Why I follow..." returns in 2011, detailing stories from fans far and wide as to why they support the club they do. In the first edition for 2011 Ben Maxwell, an Australian living in Japan, outlines how he came to support FC Tokyo.

In a roundabout way, Ruud Gullit is the reason why I follow FC Tokyo. I had arrived in Japan in the spring of 2000, and upon moving into the western outskirts of Tokyo Prefecture, I realised I needed a football team to support (having already chosen the Yomiuri Giants as my baseball team).

None of my co-workers in my new job had any interest in the J.League, so it was going to be up to me to find a team with no influence/interest from others.

I was living in Tokyo, but was almost as close to Yokohama and Kawasaki (and Hiratsuka) as I was to central Tokyo, so there were quite a few teams in my area. Little did I realise that my choice would be made in a convenience store, and because of an expression coined by that Dutchman with the dodgy perm, but thats how it happened one day, when I walked down to my local am/pm to buy god knows what.

am/pm just happened to be the shirt sponsor of FC Tokyo at that time, and at first I laughed to myself when I saw this poster (see above) in the window. But then I thought, hey, if these guys play Sexy Football, then that's my decision made, I'm in!

Due to working weekends, I was stuck with following results only, and I didn't actually go to a game until May 2002, when I got my first taste of a Tokyo Derby, albeit a midweek League Cup game in front of 6,500 fans. We came from behind to win, and it made me doubly glad I had chosen The Gasmen over Tokyo Verdy (or The Spews as I call them), as the away end contained all of about 100 dirty greens that night.

Also due to work I wasn't able to be at the League Cup Final in 2004, when we won our first major trophy, beating the dispised Urawa CubicZirconias on penalties, but I started going more regularly in 2006, and then properly took the plunge in 2009, getting my first season ticket.

And what a season it was, 2009: we finished fifth, our best-ever finish, and the undoubted highlight was that sunny Tuesday in November, when we won the League Cup for a second time, beating our neighbours from across the Tama River, Kawasaki, 2-0.

On TV I'd watched Liverpool win the Champions League (among other trophies), and Essendon win AFL Grand Finals, but that day was the first I'd ever had when one of my teams won a trophy while I was there. Absolute euphoria, and to do it against one of our big rivals made it all the sweeter.

L-R: Graham, Tomomi and Ben celebrate after FC Tokyo
won the 2009 J.League Nabisco Cup
Here's a pic of (from left) my On the Gas co-writer and Ajinomoto Stadium next-seat neighbour Graham, my fiance Tomomi and I basking in the glory of that fantastic day.

As good as 2009 was, 2010 was three times worse (or maybe four). Its still gutting to think about it now, but to wrap it up in a few words: We were absolutely sh#te and got relegated. Thats right, League Cup winners and fifth in the league, to 16th and relegated in just one year. Simply stunning, and my anger and rage and frustration took quite a while to die down, but writing about it helped, and I started On the Gas as a kind of therapy!

So last Saturday, we were back at Aji Sta for the first game of the new (J2) season. It turned out to be a 1-0 win, far from convincing but hopefully the first of many as we look to bounce straight back up to J1. It was a long way from Sexy Football, but I'm glad I spotted that poster way back when, and I consider myself lucky to follow FC Tokyo.

You can keep up-to-date with the latest from FC Tokyo by following Ben & Graham's On the Gas blog ( and you can also follow Ben on twitter @benjmaxwell

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