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Japanese bars reap rewards of World Cup

by John Maylam

With the World Cup a safe distance behind them and calm restored to the land, it is time to for those involved in soccer’s showpiece event to count their pennies. While Brazil may have won on the field, the business of the World Cup certainly won off it.

A cursory inquiry around Tokyo’s Roppongi district reveals that this victory was as handsome as could have been predicted before the tournament, with the city’s flagship sports bar, Tokyo Sports Cafe, leading the charge for glory.

Open 24 hours a day for the first two weeks of the tournament and boasting four large plasma screens, the Sports Cafe pulled out all the stops when it came to hosting the hoards of fans that descended on the city within the city.

Queues a hundred meters long could be seen leading down the street from the entrance of the bar for the big England and Japan games and one might have been forgiven for thinking that the actual bar itself was the venue for some of the games.

With this in mind, I sat down to talk to general manager Paul Wagstaff, half-heartedly hoping to hear tales of epic bar brawls or celebrations wilder than a party at Dennis Rodman’s house.

I was soon to be disappointed.

“While our turnover increased by 500 percent during the World Cup, we had no trouble from our patrons,” explained Wagstaff. “In fact, the worst behavior came from Japanese fans who couldn’t control their excitement after the Japan-Russia game and started swinging from the lights and even pulled down the ornamental rim around the ceiling twice.”

Some fans, on the other hand, chose to take full advantage of the Sports Cafe’s 24-hour service.

“A group of English fans arrived at the bar at around midday on the Saturday, the day before England’s opener against Sweden in Saitama,” begins Wagstaff.

“When I went home to get some sleep around midnight the same fans were seated in the same place still drinking and when I arrived back at work the next day at midday and saw them still there I felt I had to ask if they were OK. One of the fans looked at me with a slightly glazed look and explained that he had spent ‘five of them brown fings’ (referring to 10,000 yen notes) on beer and was heading off to Saitama Stadium for the game.”

Such excess was not limited to the English fans, nor to Roppongi. On the night of Ireland’s Round of 16 game against Spain, a contingent of Irish supporters emptied 80 30-liter kegs of Sapporo beer and ordered 80 plates of fish and chips at Roger Allen’s Barge Inn in Narita after the final whistle.

Like Wagstaff, Allen reported no trouble, this after shelling out 1.4 million yen on security staff (who spent the month collecting empty glasses) and after being asked by the Narita police to close the place down for the month.

“The Narita police came around one night and actually went around asking fans ‘Are you a hooligan?’ ” said Allen.

For Allen and the Barge Inn, the recipe of big-screen viewing, English breakfasts for the English fans, salsa parties for the Latin fans, all-you-can-eat lunches and game-ticket raffles, served to fans and media arriving and departing Japan, proved to be a resounding success.

“We made more during the World Cup than we would in three Decembers, including New Year’s Eve,” said Allen.

The biggest “incident” during the World Cup at Roppongi’s recently opened Hobgoblin English pub occurred when a group of female Brazilian fans promised to strip if their country won the final against Germany. When the inevitable happened, the girls — true to their word — began to peel their clothes off to the rhythm of the clicking cameras of the impressed revelers in attendance.

Their breaking of the international dress code however, prompted red-faced manager (bar manager, not the girls’ manager) Fred Wolmer, to intervene although he admitted later that he wished that he had brought his camera along.

Wolmer, unlike most other bar managers during the World Cup, decided against employing security personnel as he felt it would take away from the relaxed atmosphere of the place.

The Hobgoblin, while reporting a significant increase in turnover during the World Cup, did not actively seek to cash in on the event to its maximum. Rather, in Wolmer’s words, “We were looking beyond the World Cup in terms of securing our customer base.”

Other businesses to hit the jackpot were those selling soccer shirts and memorabilia. The World Soccer Plaza in Shibuya recorded a 500 percent increase in sales during the tournament, riding the crest of the Beckham-mania wave.

Surprisingly, sales of England shirts outstripped (so to speak) those of Japan and tournament-winner Brazil, and while sales reportedly slowed after the World Cup, England shirts continue to sell like samosas in India.

The fact that the World Cup was a commercial success for those in the bar and soccer retail industry is not exactly a shock on the scale of South Korea reaching the semifinals, but at least it gives some indication, when we all wake up from our World Cup hangovers, of where all our money went.