Far and away: The story of Japan's World Cup venues

by Alastair Himmer

Last weekend, I was on tour in China with British Football Club Tokyo. We played so badly in the annual Shanghai Sevens tournament that I decided to give poor Shunsuke Nakamura a break in this week’s column (something about the pot calling the kettle black).

One thing I noticed in Shanghai — when I wasn’t in a crumpled heap on the turf or upside down under a barstool — was that the city has a beautiful state-of-the-art stadium smack bang in the center of town.

The 80,000-seat Shanghai Stadium is a ripsnorter of a venue, located just 20 minutes from Hong Qiao International Airport, 45 minutes from Pudong International Airport and right in the heart of Shanghai’s main commercial district.

Completed in 1997 at a cost of $190 million, Shanghai Stadium boasts “the world’s longest cantilevered steel truss roof,” which is Greek to me but sounds hugely impressive nonetheless.

The stands are covered, according to the official brochure, with “a 28,000-square-meter membrane of Teflon-coated fiberglass” in between the above-mentioned trusses, so presumably you could fry a lot of eggs on the roof in summer without leaving a mess.

But let me slip out of my anorak and get to the point. It was not so much the design features of Shanghai Stadium that impressed so much as its accessibility. There are no fewer than 10 bus routes to and from the stadium as well as a metro station. What a concept!

Let’s compare that to, say, Oita Stadium, located a hovercraft and excruciating taxi ride away from the local airstrip, and Niigata Big Swan Stadium, which is stuck in the middle of the paddy fields two hours north of Tokyo.

Oh, what fun we are all going to have at next year’s World Cup. Imagine the joy soccer fans from all the over the world will experience on their magical mystery tour of Japan. Cameroon versus Argentina in Miyagi anybody?

Ah, Miyagi, now there’s another cracker. Picture the scene: you’ve just been asked directions from a flummoxed African decked out in Cameroon colors at Tokyo station (assuming he’s FOUND Tokyo station from Narita airport).

“Take the Bullet Train to Sendai.”

“No, S-E-N-D-A-I. Yes, it sounds a bit like Senegal, doesn’t it? Only it’s not. Yes, then hop on a train to R-I-F-U.”

“No, it’s not Japanese for ganja! Then, uh, walk. Mountains, jungle, stadium. Can’t miss it, mate.”

When I was at Miyagi Stadium, I was afraid to go any further than the car park in case I got lost in the surrounding hills for 20 years like that Japanese soldier after World War II.

Oita is the same. Lovely stadium, but WHY OITA?! What possessed Japan’s World Cup organizers (JAWOC) to pick Oita, other than the obvious “bung” under the table?

Oita, Miyagi, Niigata, even Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture, are all ludicrously difficult to get to by any form of transport other than, say, your own private helicopter followed by a parachute drop.

So why, then, did JAWOC ignore the obvious candidate of Tokyo when deciding on Japan’s 10 World Cup venues? Nagoya and Hiroshima, too, have reason to feel extremely cheesed off at not being selected.

Tokyo Stadium (capacity: 50,000), Toyota Stadium (45,000) and Hiroshima Big Arch Stadium (50,000) could all stage World Cup matches AND offer overseas fans considerably less stress than an $800 away-day to Kyushu or Hokkaido.

If you are going to build new stadiums for the World Cup, why not bulldoze Tokyo’s National Stadium, which has become little more than a giant toilet anyway, and build a spanking new one in its place? Too easy, I guess.

And another thing, while we’re at it. Is Japan cohosting a World Cup or an Olympic Games? I refer to the fact that SEVEN of Japan’s 10 venues come complete with an IAAF-approved running track.

The upshot of this brilliant idea is that supporters are so far away from the pitch the players look like insects.

The atmosphere at International Stadium Yokohama, the venue for next year’s World Cup final, is about as pulsating as a Tupperware party. Talk about a $600 million waste of money.

Only Kashima, Saitama and Kobe can offer soccer-friendly stadiums where the stands hug the pitch as they are supposed to, as opposed to SEVEN track-free venues in cohosting South Korea. Go figure. So after your wild goose chase from one end of Japan to the other, please don’t forget your binoculars.

Answers on a postcard to this weeks pop teaser: HOW STUPID IS THE NIKKAN SPORTS DAILY?

Just days after doing a fictional hatchet job on Kashiwa Reysol manager Steve Perryman, the Nikkan Sports came up with a typically slanted piece on soccer hooligans on its back page last Thursday.

Under the heading “Lock Up the Hooligans,” the daily carried a half-page photo of an England fan, face painted in the flag of St. George and with six earrings through his right ear, one through his nose, one through his bottom lip and one through his eyebrow.

Only, ALL the earrings were SUPERIMPOSED, along with a fake mohican.

Now call me oversensitive (although not when Italians routinely stab each other to death at Serie A matches and South American fans are still shooting referees over dodgy offside decisions!), but WHY did the Nikkan Sports need to add the superimposed piercing?

To make this England supporter look more menacing, by any chance?

And why, pray, would they want to do that? Because it fits the Japanese stereotype.

By the time England had overwhelmed Germany 5-1 in Munich on Saturday night to take a major step toward qualifying for the World Cup, there had been 156 arrests in the city. But over 100 of those detained were Germans.

The local police blamed German neo-Nazis for skirmishes in Frankfurt’s red light district on Friday, while Austrian hooligans were also among those arrested on Saturday. The English “fans” who were involved in trouble over the weekend should hang their heads in shame and anybody with an ounce of common sense would agree that they should be locked up and stripped of their passports.

But the Nikkan Sports desperately needs to get some perspective and look at the facts before it stirs up the kind of anti-English sentiment that does a huge injustice to REAL England fans all around the world.

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