Putting the queue in football

'A surreal and frustrating experience….' The second World Cup instalment from our man in Japan.

robert lyons

Topics Politics

‘A surreal and frustrating experience….’ The second World Cup instalment from our man in Japan.

Tuesday 11 June

Today we see our first live match. We are told to get the Shinkansen (bullet-train) to Kakegawa, then a bus to the stadium – but it turns out that Shizuoka stadium is nowhere near Shizuoka City, it’s merely in Shizuoka prefecture. We might as well have stayed in Tokyo, one of the great cities of the world, rather than stay in a town that reminds us of Coventry. C’est la ville, as it were.

But first, we have a game to watch in the afternoon, so we head for the only proper pub in Shizuoka city centre – the Camelot. There is no lager on draft, so we’re forced to drink Kilkenny, a kind of mild beer made by Guinness. They should stick to making the black stuff.

The pub soon fills up with drinkers, catching the staff off-guard on this Tuesday afternoon. Soon, most of the crowd is delighting in watching France, a team with a number of world-class players led by Zidane, hit Denmark with everything but the kitchen sink…and still lose 2-0. Au revoir, France!

Our evening game is Germany v Cameroon, with a real chance of Germany going out if Cameroon win. What a prospect: Germany and France out on the same day in the first round!

It’s pouring with rain as we leave the hotel later and walk to the station. The Shinkansen is packed, but thankfully the journey takes only 15 minutes. Wind-up number one: we get out of the station to find that our return tickets are only singles, and we have to queue up all over again. Wind-up number two: we then have to queue for the shuttle buses. Picture the winding queues at airport check-ins and multiply by 10 and you have an idea of the snaking line we have to join.

Wind-up number three: we are being ‘cared’ for by hundreds of local volunteers who shout at us in Japanese, often through megaphones. We have absolutely no idea what they are saying, so we just follow the person in front and hope.

On the shuttle bus, we find someone wearing a ‘I’m not a hooligan’ t-shirt. It’s written in Japanese script so it actually says ‘I’m not a fooligan’, since ‘foo’ is the closest thing to a ‘hoo’ sound in Japanese. The thing is, the kind of person who would wear one doesn’t need one – they’re obviously total softies. As soon as they start talking about ‘getting together with the guys’ rather than ‘the lads’, you know they’re just nice middle-class boys who wouldn’t say boo to… well, an extremely polite Japanese person.

The ground was miles from the station. When we arrived at our destination, we still couldn’t see the stadium. Instead, we were taken to a flat dark area of muddy ground, illuminated by floodlights. There were some more buses and more volunteers dressed in white shouting at us in Japanese. I looked at Angus and we thought the same thing.

We’re going to be shot.

Luckily, we were just sent on a route march for about a mile past car parks and around a hill until the stadium finally appeared amid the trees, reminiscent of the entertainment sequence from Apocalypse Now.

We went through three sets of ‘security’. But there was no attempt to check passports, as threatened, and there was only a cursory attempt to search bags. I could have taken ground-to-air missiles in with me and nobody would have noticed. Apparently, as long as we all poured our drinks out of bottles into paper cups, everything would be fine.

Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was good, the ground almost full despite the ticketing fiasco. Cameroon should be doing better, but suffer a failure of nerve whenever they get close to scoring. The Germans are professional/cynical (take your pick).

The wet pitch makes it difficult to tackle cleanly but this doesn’t excuse the Spanish referee, who dished out a World Cup record 16 cautions and sent two players off. So much for the superiority of experienced European officials. Germany win 2-0. They won’t be going home after all.

We get out of the stadium quickly and find a queue for buses directly back to Shizuoka City. Great – no hassle queueing for the Shinkansen. But we waited and waited and waited as the rest of the crowd walked past to the other buses. Even the Japanese seemed ready to start singing ‘Why are we waiting?’. Eventually, the man at the front starts walking backwards away from us until he’s joined by four other people with placards, with different destinations written on them. We join the appropriate queue and grind to a halt again. After a further inexplicable delay, we were led to our coach.

‘Ticket please’, said the little man who checked tickets. We waved our match tickets.

‘No, wrong tickets. You must have special bus tickets.’

‘OK, we’ll pay.’

‘No, you can’t. You must have a reservation’, said the nasty supervisor.

‘OK, where do we get the bus?’

‘Over there.’

So we join another queue – but panic ensues. ‘You can’t go there!’ said another volunteer. ‘Is this the bus for the station?’ we asked. ‘Yes’, he said. ‘Right, we’ll get on that then.’ The volunteer scuttled off to get the chief volunteer who told us we had to get into a line with some other people queuing for that bus. Precisely 15 seconds later, we had snaked our way round to the spot we weren’t allowed to be in.

Back at the railway station, we ended up in another queue. More barking through megaphones, more uncomprehending foreigners coralled like sheep. We stand in the queue for Tokyo and Shizuoka. We miss our train because there should have been another queue for us, so we stand all the way home on the local train which goes via Hicksville and everywhere in between.

Watching footie in Japan is going to be a surreal and frustrating experience.

Wednesday 12 June

We’ve had enough of Shizuoka City, so we travel to Osaka on the Shinkansen (£55 for a very fast, two-hour journey) to watch England.

The problem is, even though we keep asking for ofuku (return tickets), we always end up with katamichi (single tickets). Already this excursion is proving to be expensive.

In Osaka we find a Citibank and get some cash. We head to the stadium on a packed subway train and look out for the ticket touts. There are loads of Japanese holding up signs saying ‘I need a ticket’, but the touts don’t go anywhere near them. One unlucky soul was imprisoned after trying to sell a ticket to a Japanese, so the touts stick to English fans, who are more willing to pay over the odds anyway.
They must have seen us coming.

‘£200 for Category As’, says the tout.

‘Get real… what about £150?’ says Angus.

‘£350 the pair?’

The deal is done. But we only have Yen, not sterling, so we have to do a quick conversion. ‘Seventy-thousand’, I say cleverly, thinking that I have slyly cut the price. In fact, I’ve added £50 to it. I’m gutted, sick as a parrot – a feeling not helped by the fact that we are, according to the tickets, guests of the Nigerian Football Association. We later hear a rumour that an NFA official had been handing out their spare tickets at the ground a couple of hours before, free of charge.

We make up for it by getting two England hats for the price of one from the next itinerant vendor – even if we do look like a right pair of muppets in them. We go through the pointless security and take our seats near the press box. There are lots of Nigerians around us, including one who insists on giving us a running commentary on the game in the style of Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars. ‘Eeza goal! Good boy!’ he shouts, at nothing in particular.

That’s because nothing in particular is happening. It was far too hot to be playing football (34 degrees Celsius on the pitch). Apart from a fantastic shot from Paul Scholes that elicits an equally fantastic save from Nigeria’s goalkeeper, not very much happens for the next 90 minutes. England get a draw and go through to the next round in second place – which means an evening game against Denmark, rather than an afternoon game in the heat against Senegal. Coming second seems a pretty
good result.

After the game, it takes forever to get out of the stadium, as officials shout at us through megaphones. All the time we’re on our mobiles trying to get hold of our mate Hugh. Eventually we find him at the train station entrance. He’s decked in the flag of St George with a hachimaki headband for good measure. There’s a huge queue at the station entrance, with only a few allowed in at a time. So we cross the road and go in the other entrance – no police, no queue, straight on the train back to Osaka.

We set out in search of bars along Osaka’s long arcades. There are loads of hostess bars (if you like that kind of thing and don’t mind having no money left by the end of the evening), but we wander aimlessly for the best part of an hour without finding a pub we like. The trick is to look up, because the buildings have something on pretty much every floor. We eventually find a tiny whisky bar, with just enough room for 10 people to squeeze in. The clientele seem to be businessmen.

We get talking to two of them, both of whom speak a bit of English. Between our pidgin Japanese and their limited English, we have a pretty good discussion about football, places to see in Japan, work, drinking, life in general. We play our trump card among these whisky lovers – that we all met while living in Edinburgh – and suddenly they’re buying us a round of drinks.

It’s soon time for Angus and I to get the train back to Shizuoka – but the station is eerily quiet. We missed the last Shinkansen. Back on the phone to Hugh and half-an-hour later we’ve checked into his hotel. Bill for daytrip so far: £340 each. Ouch.

Then we’re off in search of bars again. We find Jellyfish, a backstreet bar two miles from the hotel. It is trendily American, and has a big screen showing Sweden v Argentina. Unfortunately, we’re watching it on TowerCam, which might give you the spectator’s view of the game but has no replays or close-ups. Still, we get to see the crucial moments as Argentina go out of the tournament.

‘And Juan Sebastian Veron, is going home to his mom, because the English were in Sapporo!’ sang Hugh at considerable volume, mimicking the other England fans there, strangely at odds with his public school accent. As Angus points out, English fans never seem to know (or care) where they are. It doesn’t matter whether singing coarse football songs is appropriate or not, they’ll just do it anyway. The Japanese are either amused or bemused.

Then Hugh starts a debate about whether the Japanese are a superior race and whether they view us gaijin (foreigners) as inferior. I think he’s going native….

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

Sing when you’re winning, by Rob Lyons

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