Yokohama F Marinos 4 Urawa Red Diamonds 0 (29th August 2015)
After the best part of a week travelling round Japan’s roads less travelled, by Western tourists at least, in Matsumoto, Takayama and Kanazawa, it was back to Tokyo, in time for this match in neighbouring Yokohama.
In a few days of variable weather conditions, from windy from the outer remnants of Typhoon Goni ravaging Kyushu a few hundred miles to the west, to starting to crisp up in the blazing sun, to sadly grey skies back in the capital, I somehow knew that even if the drizzle put a literal dampener on the afternoon, the roof I’d have above my head at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium all but guaranteed a dry evening.
At least I’d arrived in some style. After taking the Yamanote Line, of commuter squashing fame, down to Shinagawa Station – giving me another chance to go through Ebisu station and wonder why they played the Harry Lime theme over the PA system, I could board the Shinkansen for a bullet train trip to within a few hundred metres of the stadium. As it was, the walk, short as it was, was still longer than the train ride, with the 12 minutes it takes to get to Shin-Yokohama being one of the bullet train’s shorter rides. I didn’t even get to see the guard come through the carriage and do the customary bow to the passengers as he reached the end of the car.
Obviously there was yet another Hub pub, handily placed near the station exit, and a few home fans stopped by for a pre-match pretence at being English, in a world were ordering a pint of Bass Ale is quite exotic. There weren’t that many though, which surprised me, as this game looked set to be the biggest crowd of the three games by far.
Once outside though, there was enough of a crowd filing towards the stadium, just beyond the modern mass of office blocks and multi-storey karaoke bars that sprout around every major station in Japan, to give it the hint of an event rather than just another game. With Yokohama’s main team (Yokohama FC play across town in J2) being Japan’s 3rd best supported club, averaging over 25000, and visitors Urawa from the far side of Tokyo averaging 40,000+, a crowd approaching 40000 was possible.
The home team certainly have a stadium with a pedigree. The Nissan Stadium hosted the World Cup Final in 2002, the Confederations cup Final the year before, as well as no fewer than nine World Club Cup Finals. It’s just a pity that Yokohama’s average crowd, commendable as it is, means the ground is 2/3rds empty on most matchdays.
This did have the advantage though of making the tickets cheap. I went for the unreserved seating, available on two sides of the ground at a bargain ¥2500 (about £12.50). This did present one problem though. While I can read (slowly) Katakana, one of Japan’s three alphabets, this ticket was still, to me, virtually unreadable. I didn’t have the faintest clue where in the ground I was supposed to be. Knowing I had a 50/50 chance, I just took a guess that it’d be on the side that I’d entered, and was fine. I did appear to emerge into a roped off area at first, but was pleased to see a good number of free seats in good positions.
At least that was what I thought. You’d then notice that there was something on the seats. It appears that the German beach towel policy was in operation in this unreserved area, with people leaving some of their belongings on the seats to claim them at a later time. Hopefully, unlike sunbathing Germans, they didn’t have to get into the ground at 4 am to stake their claim.
I found a seat nearer the corner, and the ground seemed, with the aid of a large splash of dark red away fans at the far end, to be filling up nicely. I guessed over 40000, but I’d been a bit mislead by the two unreserved sides looking mainly full, as well as forgetting the ground only holds 72000.
I say “only”, but the place looks absolutely massive, like it should hold at least 10000 more, with two tiers of seats seemingly so far back from the pitch that you could easily play a game of cricket or Australian Rules football at the venue. Strangely, the view wasn’t quite as bad as you’d expect, although the place is never going to gain plaudits for being an intimate venue.
If it can’t do intimate, it’d have to do noisy, and it managed that OK. The home and away fans were almost trading songs. I’d heard a lot of singing during my time in Japan, but nearly all of it was from Japanese pop, virtually all of which features cute young girls singing in a style which made the Teletubbies sound like Motorhead, so it was good to hear some sung by people who’d actually gone through puberty. It would have been nice to know what they were singing. The Urawa fans, at stages, seemed to be singing “Come on Derby” and “Swindon, Swindon”, both of which seemed unlikely choices to encourage a team from the north of Tokyo.
I’d seen Urawa play before, on my last trip to Japan seven years earlier. It’d been one of the most disappointing games I seen in my travels. A terrific stadium, an excellent crowd, and an appalling 0-0 draw. This game would also see Urawa failing to score, but beyond that, the game could hardly be more different.
In fairness, both teams played their part. It’s just that Yokohama F Marinos were rather better at doing important things like getting shots and goal, and stopping the other team from doing the same.
There wasn’t a huge amount Urawa could have done about the first goal though. A free kick outside the area was in perfect range for ex-Celtic Midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura. I can recall Tokyo pubs packed with green and white clad fans watching games from the Scottish Premier rather than the English when Nakamura was in Glasgow. And he didn’t do his popularity any harm, in this part of the Greater Tokyo metropolis anyway, by expertly curling the free kick over the wall into the top corner, to put the home side 1-0 up.
The 2nd goal, Urawa had rather less defence for, literally. A through ball over the top really ought to have been cut out by the defender, but instead he tumbled to the ground to allow a 0ne-on-one chance that was tucked easily beyond the keeper.
The third was again partly down to slack defending. A cross was cut back to Yokohama’s Manabu Saito, recipient of the gift for the 2nd goal, standing alone in the “D”. This time nobody fell over. Instead they just stood and watched as Saiko used the almost absurd amount of space and time he was given to strike the ball into the top corner.
Just when I was beginning to wonder if I should check the morning papers for talk of suspicious betting patterns, Urawa’s keeper pulled up a great save, tipping a high shot over the bar to prevent his side going 0-4 down.
Never fear though, as our old friend Mr Non-existent-marking showed up to allow an unchallenged header from the corner to wrap up the scoring at 4-0 from six yards. A banner in the Urawa end said “Nothing is beyond you”, but coming back from 0-4 down would be a stretch.
With 25 minutes left, there probably ought to have been more, but the home side clearly saw 4-0 as the time to go into “feet up and slippers on” mode, perhaps also with a Yukata for good measure with this being Japan, as they comfortably saw out the game.
All that remained was the unexpected and highly unusual sight of the final whistle being greeted by the unfurling of literally thousands of red, white and blue umbrellas. In unison they were then twirled and bobbed up and down, as if Mary Poppins was leading the ultras’ choreography.
It was a fine final touch to end this little football tour. It’d been a great trip, and even though I still had one final day in Tokyo left, as far as the football went, it was with a touch of regret sayonara, but most definitely arigato gozimasu.