Mark Steel: Dear England fans, let's all try to be nice and friendly like our Japanese counterparts
Fan's Eye View
Wednesday 16 June 2010
Would it help the English if they learnt to be Japanese? For example, after the draw with America, a sensitive chap at my local pub who was wearing a cape – a bloody CAPE with an England flag on it – was almost sobbing with disappointment. "I can't believe they played that bad", he said. "After I got all dressed up an' all." It was heartbreaking, as if his wife had forgotten to come to his birthday meal, and if the England team had walked in he'd have cried: "Frank [sniff], I made a real effort tonight. I put on my best cape and you can't even be bothered to be creative in midfield, ahooo woooo, I can't carry on like this."
At the Japanese Bincho bar in Soho for Japan versus Cameroon, it seemed inconceivable that such negative emotion could take place. The screen was in a small basement, full of implausibly clean wood and hanging lanterns, with a promise of free sake, the alcoholic rice drink, whenever Japan scored. About 100 Japanese fans were squashed together, disconcertingly polite. Each group that arrived lowered their voices as they came in, as if they were arriving late for a lecture, so it would have seemed reasonable if the lights had gone down and someone had announced: "We are honoured today to see the first viewing of Nagisa Oshima's powerful production 'Japan v Cameroon', the opening segment of a trilogy that undertakes to reveal the inner truth behind playing two up-front with a five-man midfield, and has taken 45 years to make. Thank you."
The respectful atmosphere carried on into the game, so in the first 10 minutes the loudest reaction was when the camera rested on a bird in the centre circle and everyone laughed. It was a delightful innocent laugh, that you instinctively join in with, until thinking, "Why am I laughing at a bloody bird in the centre circle?"
Each time Cameroon came anywhere near scoring there was a mass tiny gasp, then as the ball was cleared an enthusiastic but miniature round of applause, the sort you associate with the upper class as they say "bravo", where the hands are never more than three inches apart.
I mentioned to Kosuke, a student from Tokyo with a Japan flag painted on each cheek, that everyone seemed so positive, and he laughed. "Yes, I know this is different from English supporters, who sometimes shout at their players, 'You are an idiot'." Maybe if he takes his friends to the next England game he'll warn them. "Try not to be too shocked, for I hear at the last match some of the more robust supporters called out 'Mr Green, I fear you are an idiot. And furthermore a fool.'"
"We don't boo, as that could be considered insulting," Kosuke's friend Yuko added.
"It can seem that way", I said, "like when they shout 'Heskey, you useless blind donkey wanker', to the untrained ear it can seem disrespectful."
But then the Japanese star Keisuke Honda poked a goal home from five yards and the decorum was torn apart. Everyone jumped on the spot and did their claps, and at half-time collected their free sake. Then everything got louder.
"We just don't expect to win", said Kosuke, which may be why it's not until they go ahead they become all emotional. So with each Cameroon attack they shrieked a little louder, proper shrieks as if some naughty boys had run into the room firing water pistols. By the last 10 minutes, the shrieks were almost constant.
In injury time, a Cameroon header was pushed off the line by the goalkeeper, and there was such a squeal it was touch-and-go whether someone listening from outside would report that the Americans must be using the place to torture al-Qa'ida suspects.
Throughout this time a smell of leaking paraffin, presumably from a lamp, grew stronger, but as eyes watered not one person moved away, although some of the shrieks now contained a coughing element, and it was impossible not to be swept along with this beautifully humble passion that contained not a molecule of animosity, and nor would it if they'd lost.
Maybe we could learn a lot from that. But on the other hand I got a message from a friend on Sunday morning that said, "If John Terry really cared about England, about two months ago he'd have shagged Robert Green's missus." You wouldn't want to lose that aspect of your national culture, would you?
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