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Police squad walking X League beat

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

They certainly have a physically demanding and dangerous job, but they don’t rest even off duty.

The Eagles are unique bunch in the X League, Japan’s top football circuit. The players are officers in the Ninth Riot Squad of the Metropolitan Police Department, which handles situations such as disaster relief, demonstrations and violent disturbances.

The Eagles, formed in 1971, is not a team intended for the benefit of the members’ health. These guys are dead serious about the game and try to take advantage of their physical strength and unity as a team, both of which have been obtained through their work duties, to get victories.

The Metropolitan Police Department team was promoted to the first division this year after going 4-0 in the second division and winning the promotion/relegation game in 2012.

This past Monday, the Eagles took on the Tokyo Gas Creators in the first round of the Pearl Bowl tournament for their season debut game at Kawasaki Stadium. Though they ended up losing 21-3, the Central Division team opened spectators’ eyes with their solid, well-organized contest against Tokyo Gas (the Eagles were down only by four through the third quarter).

“Our players did well,” Eagles head coach Michihiro Ando said after the game. “It was frustrating that we couldn’t score where we thought we could. But I give our defense a mark of 80 (out of 100).”

One of the things that makes life difficult for the team is that it can’t practice as much as other clubs would. Ando, who serves an assistant police inspector at the MPD, says they can only get together to practice once or twice a week at best, when the members are off duty. He added that the team doesn’t have a regular place to practice.

Quarterback Gaku Matsuoka, who joined the MPD this March and played his first game in two years, says they sometimes have to practice and work on the details of their plays following their night duties.

“We don’t have any time off,” said Matsuoka, who previously played for the Meiji Yasuda Pirates. “So we need to make the most of our limited time to practice.”

Despite the trying circumstances, however, the Eagles take the field with high motivation. Matsuoka hopes to be able to show off what the MPD is capable of by playing better in the X League.

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake last year, the Tokyo-based Ninth Riot Squad has been sent to devastated areas to help their revival, and some of the victims have gotten to know the Eagles.

“We’ve been dispatched to Fukushima and the people there cheer for us,” Matsuoka said. “So hopefully we can live up to their expectations.”

Ando said: “We hope that people get to know the Metropolitan Police Department and how close we are to them through activities like this.”

The Eagles’ spring season was over with just one game. But the real challenge for them comes in the fall, when the league has a round-robin regular season and then playoffs for the championship.

“We are not here to lose,” Ando said. “What we aim for is our first victory. And then we’ll ultimately play for the championship.”

Outside the Eagles, there are also the Osaka Prefectural Police Department Shields (third division) and the All FireFighter FireJets (fourth division) as teams with government employees in the league.