It’s probably fair to say that I have embraced Japanese football these last couple of years and the 2015 season has seen me take in a handful of live games in the likes of Hiroshima, Sapporo, Yokohama, Omiya, Urawa, Kashiwa and Tokyo and last week I had another J-soccer experience but this time it was a public training session rather than a match.
On Friday lunchtime I cycled from the all new Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Itabashi-ku to Akabane station where I took the train on up to Saitama Shintoshin station to meet up with Yuki who is actually the brother of the girl I met up with in Sapporo back in June. He has been one of my students for many years now and when we get the chance we often talk about football. For the last couple of months we have discussed going to watch a training session together and he got back to me a couple of weeks ago saying that a Friday session (my day off) had been announced on the club website.
The station isn’t too far away from the Nack5 Stadium in Omiya which I visited back in September with my friend Jack to see a J2 league game. However, this time we walked for about 15-20 minutes on a beautiful sunny Autumn afternoon to the Ohara Training Ground and took our place in the 200 or so seats provided for the fans.
When we arrived there were already twenty or so people in attendance and by the time the session started at 2:30 pm nearly three times that many people had congregated in the seats and on the clubhouse veranda above. After a while the players began to gradually emerge and took their place on one of the two full-sized grass pitches. I thought the fans may have clapped the players when they appeared but it was all quiet and respectful.
Behind the seats is a club house and the upstairs part is a supporters cafe which I popped into for a gander. It was a really nice and spacious place with large windows, comfy chairs, tables, vending machines, stools and a giant 42 inch TV. There were also some display cabinets full of trophies, pendants, mascots and photographs and one of the tables had a miniature model of it’s former Komaba Stadium embedded in it.
As it was a public session I guess that explains why there were no set-piece practice routines. As it was, the players practiced in small groups doing some kind of headers and volleys activity, a piggy-in-the-middle type game and eventually a practice match. I’m sure there were some other training exercises too but nothing seemed too strenuous and the players were in a jolly mood ahead of an important league game the following day.
The session only lasted for about an hour and as the players left in dribs and drabs a few fans made their way over to the side but it was far from the surge I was expecting. A few female fans brought gifts for their favourite players and they, along with some of the kids, got autographs and photographs.
This was obviously our first training session to attend and we didn’t really know how things worked or what to expect. We thought the players would automatically come over to see the fans but it seems that you have to get the attention of the player(s) you want to see. Yuki wanted to get his shirt signed by central midfielder Yōsuke Kashiwagi and I wanted to meet the Reds captain (and former Leicester defensive midfielder) Yuki Abe but unfortunately he disappeared fairly quickly once training had finished which took us by surprise a bit.
Watching training was ok but nothing too exciting for me as I’m not a Reds fan but Yuki was loving it and I could understand why. For many supporters, it’s very rare to see your teams players beyond the usual match day experience so to see them up close in a more regular everyday situation was pretty cool. Ultimately we failed on our individual missions but next time (if there is one!) we know what we’ve got to do.