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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 14:52 GMT
Fever pitch in Japan
Japanese football fans
There is rivalry between fans but no hint of anything physical
test hello test
By Charles Scanlon
BBC Tokyo Correspondent

Early Saturday morning outside the Saitama stadium near Tokyo and hundreds of supporters are already waiting in line.

It is 11 hours before kick-off, but that is not dampening anyone's spirits.

It is the first home game of the season for the local team - the Urawa Reds - and waiting all day is one way of showing the extent of your dedication.

Japanese football fan
Waiting all day for kick-off is a way of showing dedication
Michael Takahashi, with his long hair and leather jacket, is a fanatical reds fan.

He is organising the others to make streamers to throw during the game.

Each one will be placed carefully on 30,000 seats before kick off - supporting a team is a serious business in Japan and meticulous preparation is the key.

Burgeoning football culture

"We've only had 10 years of professional football here," says Mr Takahashi, "countries like England have had more than 100 years. We're gradually building our own football culture here."

Three hours before the game and the gates finally open.

To get into the stadium, supporters must run the gauntlet of security staff; dozens of young girls in red jackets shouting "Irashaimase" or welcome.

The pre-match tension is beginning to build - but nothing to unsettle the polite decorum that is such an intrinsic part of Japanese life.

"Oh Oh U-rawa Reds", chant the fans in English as the match gets underway.

At the far end of the stadium - the opposing FC Tokyo fans put up a rival song.

"Come on score a goal" they sing - the English language seems to be making more inroads on the football terraces than anywhere else in Japan.

There is rivalry between the fans but no hint of anything physical.

British influence

The idea is to out cheer each other. And that goes for the "Urawa Boots Boys" too - a group of hardcore supporters whose influences are unmistakably British.

I don't think people will call us hooligans anymore once the English have been here

Noboru Takishima, member of the 'Boots Boys'
With their mod parkas and their Doc Martens, the boots boys exude more menace than anyone else in the stadium.

But it is a victory of style over substance.

Noboru Takishima is a 'Boots Boy' - he is excited if a little apprehensive about being confronted by real life England supporters.

"Japanese people really know nothing about hooligans. But we've studied them and we have a better idea.

He says, "If they cause trouble here there's not much we can do about it. I don't think people will call us hooligans anymore once the English have been here."

The fans' behaviour is put to the test today - the reds are one-nil down in the first home game of the season.

Michael Takshashi, leader of the 'Urawa Boots Boys'
Fans stay behind after the match to help tidy the stadium
The final whistle leaves the Reds stunned and silent as the visitors at the far end erupt in celebration.

But the atmosphere is sombre rather than threatening as they file out of the stadium.

No trouble

Hans Ooft, the Dutch manager of the Urawa Reds says there's never a hint of trouble.

"I cannot speak for the future, but the way they enjoy the match and the whole day is tremendous. They can't be negative. The England fans will wonder what the hell is going on over here".

There is no rampage through the streets by angry fans after the game.

They don't even have time to drown their sorrows.

There's still one last duty to perform.

They've agreed to stay behind and tidy up the stadium.

See also:

08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Japan
27 Nov 01 | World Cup 2002
Japan's World Cup venues
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