15 Dec 2012 – Emperors Cup – Omiya Ardija v Kawasaki Frontale

I very seldom come away from a football match simply thinking “wow”.

For 99% of the time it is a job, a way of life – the experience I have to what a fan has is totally different as I hope I have got across in previous blogs. I am a working professional and its a different ball game. Working on an editorial level, the goal the radio commentators may be enthusing about was probably at the wrong end. Commercially the player I drove 3 hours to get was on the subs bench and I came away empty handed.

The negatives more often than not far out weigh the positives. Thats when the mental toughness has to kick in.

Then suddenly a game like this hits you in the face.

Emperors Cup – Omiya Ardija v Kawasaki Frontale

I had had too many late nights – not drinking or partying – just walking the streets in my own little world. Night views are better the day time views, especially in places like Shinjuku.

Once again I am in my favorite city on Planet Earth – Tokyo – why sleep!?

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I am here covering the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup. I am sooooo tired. Yet the magnetic draw of covering a globally meaningless game between two of the not so popular teams in the J-League’s Emperors Cup means that I am up early again and traveling on the JR Yamanote line to Omiya from Tokyo Railway Station.

Although I have passed through it on a number of occasions, I have never set foot in Omiya. I feel strange excitement of the unknown about today’s game. Something I have not felt for a long long time. The thrill of going to the same stadium time after time does get tiring.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Every fan wants to go to the Nou Camp in Barcelona. Questions with a jealous nature are often fired at me about this magnetic place. My response of batting it off and enthusing about The Mestalla home of Valencia confuses people.

I love the San Siro in Milan but after trip number 100 the adventure just gets mundane. The job just gets like jumping on a bus to attend work in a factory – The only difference is is that the San Siro is my work place and EasyJet or BA is my bus, but I am there to concentrate, work and my job of taking pictures sees me enthuses me all the time – something many forget. I am just as happy with my camera at Aberystwyth Town as I am at Arsenal – however most football fans who are jealous of my job rarely think deeper and they just want to go to Arsenal for the glamour.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Walking in Omiya, about 25km North of Tokyo, banners lined the streets celebrating the local team of Ardija from the main railway station to the local park housing the Hikawa Shrine where the NACK5 Stadium is situated. (NACK5 being a local radio station).

There is immense pride and celebration of their football team in the city of Omiya.

Omiya, like everything Japanese, is spotless. Never in my life though have I had to walk through two Torii’s to get to a stadium.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

A Torii being a traditional Japanese gate, most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto Shrine.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The locals certainly worship their local team with great pride. As do the away team, Kawasaki Frontale.

When photographers talk, we sometimes talk music. When the question of what makes a good gig sometimes comes up – just like what makes a good football match we relate football to music gigs. Although the Nou Camp is a monster of a stadium, the people inside Valencia’s stadium make that a better place for me, but if the entertainment is not good it gets people cold and wanting to go home.

The NACK5 Stadium is clearly not like the San Siro or the Nou Camp. It is leagues below the host stadiums in Yokohama and Nagoya where the FIFA Club World Cup tournament is being staged. It would never feature in a book of a Thousand Architecturally Brilliant Global Stadiums – but this is the home of Omiya. It is where the fans go and support THIER team. It is their church.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The fans are fired up. No drugs, no beer, just simple and pure Saturday afternoon excitement of following their team playing in the Emperor’s Cup.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The competition is like the FA Cup – but with the winners having the prize of entering into the Asian Champions League. The cup competition starts in September. The Japanese League finished two weeks ago, yet as the teams progress in this knockout tournament the games get closer and closer together reaching a crescendo of a Dec 29 semi final and the grand final on New Years Day in the capital city of Tokyo.

Today is the Fourth Round – hardly a global television sporting spectacle.

As with all Japanese club games, there is an utter unison with the fans in supporting their team. Most German fans wear shirts and scarves but this is on a far more epic scale. This would fry the  brain of any UK football fan brain washed into the bizarre notion that the Barclays Premier League is the best in the world.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Colour is there in every sense of the word. Colour for the photographer to capture and the colour for a journalist to write about.

I totally admit that I am a Japanese addict. I love the culture and country and its people. Everything makes me smile. The art, the culture of characters, good luck symbols – everything is abundant at football matches too.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

However I don’t have a blinkered view when it comes to football. Japanese league football is not the best – well not the best in terms of English or Italian, German or Spanish football… but then you can argue what IS the best.

Sometimes the best is too concise, too clinical and too perfect. Exciting football for me is seeing strikers round the goalkeeper only for them to hit the bar. A defender totally cocking up a clearance letting in a forward only for another defender to make a spectacular acrobatic clearance off the line. A 1-0 victory with the last 20 minutes seeing a team shut up shop to stop the opposition getting an equaliser is technical Italian brilliance in terms of coaching but very boring for the fans as indeed the photographer.

Omiya come out fighting. The home team in Orange do nothing wrong except let Kawaskai score a goal – then another, and then another!

After 38 minutes it is 0-3 You would bet your house that Kawasaki would win the tie. A neutral observer would say the scoreline is unjust in terms of the balance in play but goals win games!

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

All the goals are at the other end but the I don’t care. Newspapers don’t need my goals today. I already have an abundance of action and in the first half I have shot probably more fan pictures than I would during a whole season of Barclays English Premier League football.

Half times comes. Like in all football matches, the coaches of the home team 0-3 down are most probably going crazy at their players for letting in three goals. The fans occupy themselves in their own cultural way.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Excitement and smiles are abundant in the Kawasaki away end as their heroes take to the field for the second half. Could it be 8 or 9 by the end of the game? Who knows..!

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I try and share a chat with the Kawasaki Frontale photographer but language barriers stop any deep conversation – I suggest a 0-5 score line as I admire Canon lenses covered with good luck charms on Kawasaki stickers. Shrugged shoulders and “perhaps 7” is the reply!

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Omiya get a goal back.

Frontale keep attacking but fail to score. Omiya then get another goal to make it 2-3.

It is then amazingly 3-3. All the goals still at the other end of the pitch for me!

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Nervousness then sets in with the Kawasaki fans.

Tackles are abundant as both teams fight until the bitter end. The fourth official hold up the board signalling 4 minutes of added time. I get excited about the prospect of another 30 minutes extra-time and possibly penalties.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I have been in this situation many times before. In the cold driving rain at Blackburn Rovers you simply want the game to end. In the gorgeous heat of Qatar or in the USA spending another half hour in bliss weather is a joy. Today is a foggy day. The deep blue skies that I have encountered over Tokyo are not to be seen today. Its a shame as my pictures would have had even far more contrast and punch but you can only shoot what is in front of you!

The unexpected happens.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

With 30 seconds left on the clock, Omiya get a fourth. What a comeback.

Omiya Arjdija 4-3 Kawasaki Frontale. What a game.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

The emotive fans of the away team are left shattered.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Tears are usually abundant at relegation matches – not in round four of a cup competition.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

I keep shooting and swapping full CF cards for empty new ones. There is so much to see and shoot.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

In football terms, how did Kawasaki lose this game? The away fans can’t believe it and are left in utter shock.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

Happy Omiya fans wait by the players entrance to see their heroes and get autographs.

Today I don’t have to send pictures anywhere. There are no deadlines for me. I retrace my steps back to the Omiya Railway Station and head back to Tokyo to continue covering the FIFA Club World Cup.

This is a game I will not forget in a long while. I have never worked it out but I must have shot about 3,000, perhaps 4,000 football matches. Today’s match instantly goes in to the Top 5 games that I have left going ‘wow’ at.

I have never been into architecture but on my travels I get enthused by some small stadiums and some huge stadiums and love working in certain cities and countries. But today was all about the football and the magnetic fans behind me.

A question that is often asked is how many pictures do you take at a game. For me it is normally 600-800, sometimes a thousand. Todays epic total was 4,219!

For the record, Omiya lost in the next round, going 2-0 up only for Kashiwa Reysol to come back and score in the 90th minute to make it 2-3.

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

© AMA SPORTS PHOTO AGENCY

My work never stops. Seeing a football shop on the way home, I shoot yet more pictures, this time of Manchester United shirts.

I have probably shot about 20 J-League games. I very seldom come away from a football match simply thinking “wow”.

Today I went WOW!

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