Sunday, 6 June 2010

More secrets of the Orient

(Taken somewhere - Himeji? - in Japan, April 2010, I think)

 (Taken near Kompira-san, Shikoku, summer 2009)
(I'm not) Looking for Orange Phantasia

The initial ‘hook’ which leads us to support a particular football team is often rather random.

For example, I seem to recall that my grandfather, who had no connection with Birmingham, supported Aston Villa simply because he liked the name.

If we all chose football teams for similar reasons, surely Bulgaria’s ‘Botev Plovdiv’ would be the world’s most popular team.

Once a Botevist, always a Botevist. Maybe even a ... Bultra.

Japan also does a neat line in football team names. Even the oldest sides were founded only in the 1970s, well before the J-League began (in the 1990s), so it's no surprise that a number of their teams have flash, brash modern-sounding titles.

Take the first J-League game that I saw, a few weeks back. It was not between Iwata Rovers and Kawazaki City. No, it was Júbilo [“Exultation”] Iwata v Kawasaki Frontale [“Frontal”], the current team of babyfaced former Arsenal midfield supremo Junichi Inamoto.

The Japanese gift for taking and transcending the meaning of foreign words – as exemplified by so many katakana – applies to soccer teams too.

Jubilo 3 Frontale 1, Iwata, May 2010

Jubilo are the (more sexily-named) Liverpool of Japanese football. Once its most consistently successful side, they have more recently dwindled in the lower reaches of the J-League and only just retained their place in the top echelon last season.

To make matters worse, there’s a brash, funky new kid on the block, in the latest hip trainers, and his name is Shimizu S-Pulse. Founded in the 1990s, S-Pulse - "a combination of the capital letter "S" of "SOCCER, SHIMIZU, SHIZUOKA" and the English word "PULSE" for describing excitement of football-loving citizens and team spirit” ( ) - is now drawing higher attendances than its bitter prefectural rival (Iwata lies just east of Hamamatsu; S-Pulse is the Shizuoka club) and was top of the table the last time I looked.

The Shizuoka upstart has a marketing machine that has gone into overdrive. They are truly 'working their brand'. In Shimizu, you'll find the ‘Dream Plaza’ and many Pulse shop outlets. In addition to its 'Club Philosophy' (‘Common Dream, Common Excitement, Common Pride’) S Pulse also have an annual catchphrase used on its merchandising, which for every year since its inception is listed at :-

1998 Break Through

1999 Dream Stadium 1999

2000 Big Mission 2000

2001 Dynamic Soccer 2001

2002 Orange Fantasia 2002

2003 Exciting Field 2003

2004 Hard & Attack 2004

2005 2005 かける想い

2006 かける想い S-Pulse 2006

2007 かける想い S-Pulse 2007

2008 We Believe 2008

2009 We Believe 2009

I wonder: did they call in that visionary bard (not to mention “Irish singer-songwriter, musician, philanthropist, actor and television-radio personality“ [sic], according to Wiki) Ronan Keating to pen these slogans? His bland signature seems to be all over it.

What would Hristo Botev say?

Perhaps the truth is that football teams should do their talking on the pitch. Which is to say that they say it best when they say nothing at all. (An uncharacteristically perceptive line which Ronan has, regrettably, never quite lived up to in his own career.)

Whatever the truth, we can safely assume that the Saatchis were not involved. Not even in 2003.

But it (the Engrish, that is) gets even better. Shimizu also have a mascot called "PUL". Why Pul? Well, he's “named after the English "PAL", of course, "the similar sound and spelling of PULSE”. “PUL was born as a modern, elegant, charming and energetic character with such necessary skills for football as quickness, strength and wisdom. Plumage of its ears [emphasis added] symbolizes S-Pulse players flying quickly in the field.” ( )

On the Pul.

What could Jubilo do to counter this growing menace? Well, not to be outdone by the scum an hour eastbound on the Toukaidou Line, they have been trying to get their marketing act together too. This includes a catchphrase (currently 'Evolution 2010') as well as an English language page on the way…

I'm not quite sure what happened to Jubilo's last attempted makeover - the ‘Next10 Jubilo Vision’ which it unveiled most definitely to the World in 2003. It's such a priceless all-conquering mission statement that I've copied and pasted it in its original English below:

'Drawing up the "NEXT10 JUBILO VISION" action policy for victories in the next decade'
( , January 27, 2003).

This year, Yamaha Football Club Co., Ltd., "Jubilo Iwata," to mark their 10th anniversary of being awarded J.League status, drew up long-term vision for the next decade as a club, the "NEXT10 JUBILO VISION." The "NEXT10 JUBILO VISION" is an action policy that summarizes the goals that Jubilo Iwata, a team that strives to challenge the world, should achieve in the next 10 years. At the same time is also a promise to the hometown, fans, supporters, and sponsors that support us.

Jubilo Iwata, since its establishment as a club in 1992, has had "the world" as a goal to strive for, and we have acted as a club with a philosophy to continue to be a source of "Dreams and Emotions" to many people.

"Striving to challenge the world with football full of dreams and emotions" - when we made this declaration 10 years ago, we had no idea how far it was to "the world," what kind of path we should follow, how to measure our progress, or the experience to bring us closer to this target.

However, we continued our efforts with the belief that continuing to win and to advance would eventually produce an entrance into "the world," and it is only now that we have reached a point where the path to "the world" is clear.

It is this from these experiences that we regard "START10," or our first 10 years as our "success." We are proud that this success is the result of constantly having our gaze on "the world," our medium- to long-term planning to strengthen the team strategically and striving to construct an operating base with a strong constitution. During this time, we captured six Stage Championships, three J.League Championships, and won the Nabisco Cup once; in international tournaments, we captured the Asian Club Championship and the Asian Super Cup, all significant achievements. Unfortunately, the First World Club Championship which we were scheduled to play in was cancelled; however, we believe that we are getting steadily closer the goals we are striving for. Jubilo Iwata is never satisfied with the present, but we always have higher ambitions in our hearts, and we continue to compete to be the best.


In the next 10 years, Jubilo Iwata will be "Challenging the World."

In the next 10 years, Jubilo Iwata will be "Establishing our own club image" that is hometown-based and that can be supported by all supporters.

In the next 10 years, Jubilo Iwata will display strong leadership so that "the local region will be energized through sports."

Just where did it go so wrong? It really reads as though they had been playing too much Championship Manager. (And I know exactly how that feels.)

So I've done the reconnaissance. Now comes the decision: which Japanese team to support? I’ll run through the options:-

1 Jubilo – first stadium visited; excellent fans. (One I met in the ‘Jubilo Café’ even gave me his scarf (a big thank you to Yuka Shiraki - remember, you're now a 'Gooner'). Not too far from Okazaki either.

2 S-Pulse – Shizuoka team. Shizuoka is, for specific reasons, the Japanese city I feel most connection to. But it all reeks of a commercial enterprise, a bit Manchester Utd (complete with naff slogans). Well and vociferously supported though, and with expat supporter sections too who have made some fine T-shirts ( ) .

(Shizuoka also have a wriggly, skilful striker called ‘Okazaki’ who wins the softest Ronaldoesque penalties, and who has made the Japanese World Cup Squad.)

3 Grampus Eight – Turned around by AW before he came to Arsenal but a Nagoya team. And I have little affection for Nagoya.

So, that's .. inconclusive. None appeal. I might just remain a neutral observer. Arsenal - and Arsenal alone - it shall be. Reality just can't live up to the (orange) fantasy, can it?

Bring on the World Cup!