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Matchday in Japan

By 6 min read

By the time you read this the event will have already transpired. Hopefully things will have gone according to plan and my beloved Celtic Football Club will have progressed to the final of the Scottish Cup.

For as I write this latest blog I am counting down the days until Scottish Premier League defending champions Celtic face off in their semi-final against Scotland’s newest club, the recently promoted Scottish Championship winners, Rangers.

“Who cares??” is what I would guess you, dear readers, are probably thinking about now.

What place does waxing lyrical about a Scottish soccer team have on a blog about life in Japan?

Please bear with me, and read on. This will all make sense in a minute.

As you probably know, I’ve been away from my native Scotland for 10 years already, mostly dividing my time between Japan and Hong Kong.

I’m often asked, by both my students and my Japanese friends and colleagues “What is it you miss most about Scotland?”
Well, it’s safe to say it isn’t the weather, nor is it the sunny disposition of some Glaswegians!

No, what I miss more than anything is that big match atmosphere. Whether it was following the Scotland national team or following Celtic, I was there every home game and quite a few away games too. I miss my trips to the stadium to see my soccer team play.

I’ve talked about this with quite a few of my foreign friends here and it is a situation that resonates across different countries and across different sports.

My friend from England, who currently teaches at an Eikaiwa here in Japan, laments that he won’t be there when his beloved Leicester City, hopefully, clinch the English Premier League title next month.

Likewise my friends from the US greatly miss being able to take in their favourite baseball and basketball teams, oh and what’s that other sport they play? The one that looks like Rugby with crash helmets?

Of course I jest, back in February even I myself was a little downbeat at not being able to watch the magnificent spectacle that is The Super Bowl, given the huge time difference between Osaka and the US.

One particularly dedicated friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, called in sick for work on that Monday morning, and was last seen ambling in the direction of Osaka’s trendy Shinsaibashi district to take in the big game at one of the many sports bars in the area. Given the size and scope of an event like the Super Bowl, a number of the more “foreigner friendly” bars in the area like to open up early and get the crowds in for these events.

In my case, the time difference between Osaka and Glasgow isn’t quite so drastic, a mere 8 hours in summertime. This, coupled with the fact that games between Celtic and this new Rangers team are continuing the traditions of the previous rivalry by kicking off earlier in the day, primarily to give the often rowdy rival fans less drinking time before the game, means that I can look forward to a kick off of around 8pm on Sunday evening.

However, unlike the saturation coverage the vastly over-rated English Premier League enjoys across Japan and indeed most of the world, Scottish Football has always been perceived as something of a sporting backwater, uninspiring and best ignored.
Given the fact that Scotland’s only international trophy success thus far has been winning the Kirin Cup in Japan back in 1995, the point is hard to dispute!

So, for followers of “minority leagues” such as Scotland, getting a bar or other venue to show the game in Japan is going to be very difficult.

However, if you shop around, you might just get lucky. These days many bars in Japan have televisions and internet access. If you are a regular in the bar and it’s not too busy and if you ask them nicely they may just put the game on for you. There are various websites that stream these games, but of course as a fine, upstanding citizen, I always insist on using the official club source for streaming games online.

Indeed the internet really has been the salvation of foreign sports fans in Japan.

I recall a conversation I had with a fellow Scottish football fan in Tokyo back in 2007. He told me how back in the 1980s, he would often get VHS tapes of games sent over from Scotland, at great personal cost and also meaning he wouldn’t be able to watch the game until 2 or 3 weeks after the event.

Of course back in those days the lack of internet also meant that in Japan “avoiding the score” was nowhere near as difficult as it is now. As I’m sure you can imagine, the result of Aberdeen vs Dundee United was hardly headline news in Tokyo!

So, going to your favourite bar is one option, but it somehow doesn’t really capture the thrill of the big match. The stadium, the singing, the camaraderie with rival fans, these are things that can’t really be replicated in the sometimes sedate, stale atmosphere of a small Japanese bar. Unless Japan are playing in a World Cup game of course, in which case, all bets are off!
So, together with some friends we have resolved to create our own mini Hampden Park on Sunday. We are getting together to watch the game on my friend’s big screen TV with us all pitching in to make some half-time snacks, drinks aplenty and more than a little bit of banter as well.

Ironically, there are only two of us in the group with any real interest in this game. Myself as a follower of Celtic, and my fellow Scot, and very good friend, who suffers from the unfortunate disorder of being a Rangers fan!

Joking aside, I think most foreign sports fans in Japan would agree, it is great to watch a game with someone else who understands the culture and the rivalry and can appreciate it along with you, regardless of what team they support.

We have something of an international flavour to the event with people from Japan, The US, Canada and Australia all joining in.
So, in keeping with the traditions of past Scottish Cup semi-finals, we have chosen a neutral venue. Our host, my cricket-loving, Pims-drinking English friend, is about as far removed from Glasgow’s footballing rivalry as one can be.

Whatever the result and whoever does go on to win the cup, it promises to be a great night!

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