Saturday, July 16, 2011

Supporters' pride dashed by baffling J. League decision

By Daisuke Matsuura

The offending banner
The game against Albirex Niigata on Saturday 16th July is the first game for some S-Pulse supporters, including myself, to start their three game ban from S-Pulse games.

Though the first announcement about a punishment had been made in late June through the official website, S-Pulse finally reached their final decision to ban supporters,  who got involved in the derby incident in May, from three consecutive games which include two home games (16th and 27th July) and one away game (23rd July).

On May 28th, Shimizu S-Pulse and Jubilo Iwata were meeting at Nihondaira Stadium for their clash, their 44th overall, and their first derby of the 2011 season. It was about 40 minutes prior to kick-off when the stadium broke into furious booing from Shimizu supporters towards Iwata supporters.

"To Ghotbi, stop producing nuclear weapons"

That's what it said on a banner hung in front of Progresso, a leading supporter group of Jubilo Iwata. A handful of S-Pulse supporters quickly reacted to the insulting banner against S-Pulse coach, Iranian Afshin Ghotbi, rushing towards the other end and running into the centre of Iwata supporters to ask them to give up and hand over the banner.

The banner was eventually collected by stadium security staff (not by Shimizu supporters) and the two genius Iwata supporters were banned right away from the stadium on that day.

That's brief summary of what happened before kick-off. The game started and carried on without delay.

The next day Jubilo Iwata officially apologised on their official website along with announcing the indefinite banning of the two supporters. Progresso also announced their own ban, since the two men were Progresso members.

After these two announcements from Iwata, it seemed that everything was over, although there were still voices which demanding heavier punishment for Iwata. However, a few weeks after the derby, no Shimizu fans could imagine what was going on between J. League and S-Pulse officials behind closed doors.

On June 30th, as mentioned in opening paragraph, S-Pulse released the following announcement on their website:

1. S-Pulse to pay fine 2,000,000 JPY, while there was no fine for Iwata.
2. S-Pulse to ban supporters who crossed the barrier to enter the Iwata fans sectrion for three games scheduled in July.

There were actually some rumors amongst the core members of Shimizu supporter groups that some might be banned for rushing into Iwata supporters' area. Some of us were ready to accept banishment from a few home games.

But a 2,000,000 JPY fine on our club was a totally unexpected decision by J. League, and what we couldn't understand was that Iwata weren't handed a fine.

On 2nd July before the game against Kashima, I was asked to come to a stadium office and sit at a table with S-Pulse club officials.

At this brief meeting, I officially received a notification of banishment from the club. I knew what would be coming out of his mouth, so it did not surprise me at all. I even knew what would happen to me from the moment I rushed towards the other end of the stadium on the derby day. 

But I have no regrets whatsoever. I did that for our coach Ghotbi and for our pride. All S-Pulse staff knew what made us run towards Iwata supporters. An S-Pulse staff member told me that it took three full weeks to reach final agreement with J. League because they tried to protect us while J-League just focused on the result of what we had done.

There are still many supporters, not only those who are punished by this decision but also those who are not, feeling that this banishment doesn't sit right with them. This decision has created tension between club officials and supporters at the beginning, and it still remains unsolved. But at least I can accept it now.

But there were many things I was dying to know and I was given a chance to ask. Among many questions I've asked, the one I really wanted to find out was why was Shimizu fined, but not Iwata. Here is what I was told:

1. Fine of 2,000,000 JPY on Shimizu S-Pulse is for failing to control stadium security under authority as match host;
2. No penalty on Iwata because J. League officials deemed that the banner was not racist.

According to this S-Pulse staff member, S-Pulse must be responsible for everything that happens  inside and outside the stadium on their home match day as the host team. Even if the trouble is caused by the away team supporters, like it was this time, S-Pulse will be the ones to accept responsibility.

He added that it was clearly stated under J. League rules, so there is no room for us to argue with J. League. They (S-Pulse) actually tried to convince J. League that responsibility should have been split  with Iwata, but J. League didn't accept this saying that they had found that the banner not racially motivated, thus there was no fault on Iwata side.

It made me totally speechless. I believed and was totally sure that their banner would bring huge problems for them because it was a self-explanatory message written on the banner. But if J. League say it's not a problem, what did we fight for?

J. League must explain to all of their fans and supporters how they have reached a decision that this banner was not racially motivated. If you step outside of Japan, you will be instantly banned or even arrested if you put up such a banner in any football stadium. That's how the football world sees racial abuse or any racially motivated action.  The J. League surely have drawn a wrong line between good and bad.

I can't help myself thinking like this now - what if we put up a similar banner or exactly the same banner with a different name of a player, a coach, or whoever from Iwata at the upcoming second derby in September. Who would be punished then?

After what I've heard, it would be Iwata if Iwata supporters take any action to try to stop us. If they decide to stay, doing nothing (maybe just booing), what would happen then? Yes, we can just keep hanging our insulting banner for the entire 90 minutes at their home stadium.

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention to do what they have done. But it is true that if there is a club you hate and if you are dying to see them sweat, you already know the best and the easiest way to achieve that. But do you really want to see football played in a stadium with such an atmosphere?

Of course I trust all supporters from all J. League clubs. They must be smart enough to judge what is good and what is bad. However, you never know when the same incident may happen again in some stadium by some foolish supporters.

Who is to blame then? That is to say, J. League have made it easy for such foolish away supporters to get everything their own way. Confronting such wicked away supporters, how can we protect our beloved club as home supporters? How can we fight for our beloved players, a coach, and family in the same shirt?

So let me say it again, J. League have drawn a wrong line. I will continue asking J. League through S-Pulse club officials.



  1. I think that it is quite hard to ban them. but at least is a disciplinary decision and it will be reflected that the situation won't repeat again.