Going to watch the local football team wasn’t in my mind when I booked this trip but as soon as I found out they had a home game on that weekend I couldn’t deny myself the chance of seeing the match. After all, it’s not everyday that one is in Okinawa!
Chizu said she’d hook me up with a football bar owner called Hiro who is a huge FC Ryukyu fan that would take me to the game. Along with another guy called Austin, who we met in Hiro’s bar the night before, we were driven up to Okinawa city to the home stadium of FC Ryukyu. I don’t think I’ve ever parked anywhere near a stadium car park on a match-day before but that is what you can do in Okinawa and when he opened the car boot I was surprised to see that he had a drum in there for he is one of those fan leaders! Soon after that we met up with the other Ryukyu fans in their supporters group including Chizu’s friend Aika who I met the night before.
As there were still a couple of hours till kick off (we left Naha three hours before kick off!) Austin and I walked round the outside of the stadium before purchasing match tickets for 1500 yen. Aika then came over and said that we could get free pineapple at a stall nearby which is a first-time experience for me at a football match. It may be quite a small thing but it’s these novel experiences which are all part of the appeal of ground-hopping.
Just a few days before this trip I remembered I had seen an article about FC Ryukyu in J-Soccer magazine some time last year so I dug that out and re-read it. It mentioned former Japan national coach Philippe Troussier who was appointed general manager of Ryukyu in the late 2000’s for a bit. He was in charge of Japan during World Cup 2002 which was when I first really got interested in football over here so news of his link to FC Ryukyu was very interesting for me. There was also an interview with a fan (below) and by chance I actually recognised her and talked to her for a bit before kick off and then on the way home when she also caught a lift with us.
Sheets of lyrics were handed out during the pre-match build up and there was even some sort of short rehearsal. How very Japanese I thought! As we took our seats one of the stewards said something about the water sprinklers but I didn’t quite catch what he was on about! As it turned out the sprinkler system would go off a couple of times whilst we were in attendance which some of the kids loved.
On the field the first half may have been quite dull but the views certainly weren’t! The match kicked off at 6pm and shortly after that was a glorious sunset.
The atmosphere in the second half was one that I won’t forget in a hurry. Austin and I were just hoping to experience a goal for our adopted team and as a few chances came Ryukyu’s way the vocal support stepped up a notch. The scoreboard flashed up the words ‘Chance!! Swing the red towel’ and some kids began waving the big flags in front of us. Ryukyu were very much on top against the league leaders and eventually the goal came on 65 minutes.
Sadly that goal wasn’t the match winner as the away team levelled things up right near the end (87 minutes) which was heartbreaking enough for the home fans. It could’ve been even worse though as in injury time Tochigi had the ball in the back of the net again but thankfully it was ruled out for offside. The scoreboard had long been getting the score wrong with the following procession of updates; 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 1-1, 1-2, 1-1. A draw was the end result and Ryukyu fans felt they were unlucky to not have won but also lucky to have just got a point!
On our way out of the ground Hiro introduced us to a trio of FC Ryukyu girls (below) and took pictures of Austin and myself with them.
Final Score: FC Ryukyu 1-1 Tochigi SC
Just over an hour after arriving back in Naha I saw Hiro again as I dragged my wife along to his bar to watch Leicester in a scoreless draw against Southampton. I was the only one really watching that match (a bit like the old days!) whilst a few others had their eye on the Spurs v Man City game which kicked off at the same time.
Cafe De Camp Nou can be found just a couple of minutes walk from Kokusai-dori Street in Naha and is an awesome football cafe decorated with all manner of football paraphernalia (shirts, scarves, pennants, signed photos etc), two big screens, table football, a World Cup trophy attached to a plinth, a good food menu, official FC Barcelona beer and an in-house cat!
Click on the links below to read other posts from this Okinawa trip…