Despite a return to form on the pitch in recent weeks, it’s off the field issues that have earned the headlines for our beloved club in recent weeks. Of course, as a football fan it’s never nice to see your club on the front pages rather than the back pages, but as a foreign supporters group the challenges we have faced in recent weeks have been particularly concerning. As such, we feel it is appropriate to both inform our readers and offer an opinion on recent events. This post will be separated into two parts. In part 1, for those who have not yet learned of the incident in question, we will explain exactly what has happened and the circumstances around it. In part 2 we will offer our opinion on events.
Firstly, we would like to note that the club or the fans of our regional rivals Kawasaki Frontale were in no way to blame for recent events, but we do feel it’s appropriate to put into context the rivalry between our clubs.
In recent years, ties against Frontale have become increasingly heated. In December of last year, Kawasaki defeated us on the final day of the season to deny us our first league championship in a decade. In May, we returned to Todoroki, the home of Frontale to face them in the final J-League fixture before the league took a two month break for the World Cup. At this game, a Frontale fan laid a scarf over a banner of club legend Naoki Matsuda, which had been positioned in front of the home fans due to a large traveling support. This act prompted a furious response from our fans, who moved towards the home fans and demanded the scarf be removed immediately.
In most other leagues, such actions in a local rivalry would be standard fare. As I write this article from Glasgow, Scotland, such an incident at a local derby wouldn’t gather a single line in a newspaper, with players, fans, managers and even politicians wading into the inevitable controversy that surrounds each Celtic and Rangers game that takes place. However, context is important here, and the J-League is not a league that has suffered from hooliganism or misbehaviour from fans in its 20 year history. The match day experience of fans in Japan is second to none. Stadiums are family-friendly, alcohol is readily available at reasonable cost inside the stadium, and there is little restriction on what fans can bring into the stadium overall. This tremendous match day experience comes at a cost; with the league and clubs’ sensitivity to public relations serving to sanitise the experience of fans who want to participate in ‘banter’ or to poke fun at their rivals. Acts seen as stoking rivalry are frowned upon and deemed ‘provocation’. For example, after Shimizu S-Pulse fans teased their relegation-doomed local rivals Jubilo Iwata in the Shizuoka Derby last year, the club reacted by banning songs and banners whilst the players were not on the pitch, as well as prohibiting them from ‘over-celebrating’ victories.
In March of this year, Urawa Reds, one of the most popular clubs in Japan, were forced to play a home game behind closed doors after fans displayed a banner reading ‘Japanese Only’ at the entrance to the section behind the goal. The Saitama stadium was closed for their home game against S-Pulse, and J-League president Mitsuru Mirai accused the club of “damaging the brand of not just the J-League, but of the entire Japanese football community.” Whilst instances of racism have occurred sporadically in the league in the past, this incident almost went viral. Images of the banner appeared on Twitter, international news outlets such as the BBC and Eurosport covered the story and the response of fans in the league was almost unanimous: racism would not be tolerated in the J-League. The supporters group responsible for the banner was disbanded, and the president of the club apologised for the incident and the slow response of club officials who had bizarrely waited to seek permission from the owner of the banner before removing it from the stadium. Yokohama F.Marinos fans, for their part, spoke out against racism at their next match. Fans Tweeted us pictures of banners they had created and put them out for display at the next available opportunity.
(Photo via @jrwestw1)
Six months on from these events, and Kawasaki Frontale were back in town. Due to Nissan stadium playing host to a national school sports event, the tie was to be held at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa, our second stadium with an attendance of around 16000. If recent ties held at the larger Nissan stadium are anything to go by, this game could have sold-out twice over. Fans packed in to the venue and a full-stadium ‘tifo’ display reading ‘YOKOHAMA’ was displayed prior to kick-off. The match was a heated affair, with Kawasaki having a man sent off in the first half. Throughout the match tensions ran high and the Kawasaki players were relentlessly booed when they took possession and as they approached the corners. Our new boy Rafinha was lucky to stay on the field after apparently shoving the referee out of the way in an attempt to get to Frontale defender Jeci after a poor tackle from the Brazilian. The game finished with a 2-0 victory, our second win over our rivals this year and one of our best performances so far this season. As the dust settled, however, our performance on the field would be overshadowed by the actions of a fan in the stands.
Similarly to the Urawa incident in February, videos and images began to circulate on Twitter shortly after the match showing a Yokohama F.Marinos supporter waving a banana at Frontale’s Brazilian attacker Renato.
With club officials viewing the incident, swift action was taken. The perpetrator was taken aside after the game and asked to explain himself. Whilst he denied his actions were racist, the club took the decision to ban him indefinitely. President Kaetsu described the incident as “Unforgivable”, and even took the step of apologising profusely for the incident.
After several days deliberating, the J-League handed down a punishment to the club, a fine of 5 million yen. League President Mitsui Murai declared that “The club dealt with the case appropriately but we did not feel they were doing enough to raise awareness, as is their responsibility.” As such, at the weekend following the incident when we faced Vegalta Sendai, there were no drums, no ultras and no banners. Fans will participate in anti-racism educational events before taking their place behind the goal once more. The particular supporters group that the perpetrator was a member of (easily identified by their distinctive black shirts) have been disbanded and will not be welcome at any of the remaining matches this season. The club has also asked for a general toning down of the booing during player announcements of visiting clubs, and in particular a cooling down of provocative acts towards Kawasaki Frontale on social media.
We at Tricolore Pride are deeply disappointed with the racist incident that took place at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa recently. We fully accept the decision of the J-League to punish the club in this instance, however we feel we are in as good a position as anyone to offer an insight in to the Yokohama F.Marinos support on this particular issue.
Whilst there were Tricolore Pride members attending the game on that particular evening, none of us were in the vicinity of the incident that took place. Aside from the racist actions of the individual himself, those sitting in the immediate area surrounding him must also accept some responsibility. Self-policing is an important part of any event in which large groups amass. The failure of those around the perpetrator to intervene is of great disappointment.
Only the perpetrator himself truly knows his opinion on racism, however it is obvious that he did not have the sense to know that such a provocative act was not a legitimate way to act at a football match. Education is the key in eradicating racism from both football and society as a whole. It is easy to simply throw a fine at a club and move on, but we commend the J-League for recognising this is not a long-term solution and for indicating a desire to see anti-racism training carried out by fans. We would hope that the fan in question grows to learn from his mistakes and will eventually see the error of his ways.
In the past year alone, we have hosted guests from the following nations at home games: India, the Netherlands, Zambia, Australia, Canada, Scotland, Tunisia, the Philippines, Italy and England. In that time, we have never received anything other than a warm welcome from, what we believe, are the best fans in the country. Fan group leaders have reached out to us, we have been given gifts, shared beers with and chanted alongside many fans. In our experience, race is inconsequential; when you don your jersey, you’re a Yokohama F.Marinos fan and nothing else.
On September 13th, we will face Nagoya Grampus at the Nissan Stadium. On that day, most of the Tricolore Pride blog members will be in the stadium, with Tony and Jamie flying in from Australia and Scotland respectively to see the team play. Yokohama F.Marinos truly are an international club, and, as our success on the field and popularity increases, our fan base is becoming increasingly international in turn. We will continue to encourage friends & guests from all over the world to attend home matches with us, without fear of racism or discrimination in any form.
Please join us in supporting the team to another victory against Nagoya Grampus.
We are Marinos.