Supporting a football club is one of the natural things in the world, at least it is to me. But, have you ever thought what it would be like to not only support a team in a foreign country (and by that, I mean REALLY support a team – not claim to support Borussia Dortmund or Lyon because it sounds cool) but to run a supporters club?
I spoke to Stuart (@stuartcw), one of the masterminds behind the Yokohama F.Marinos supporters group, “Tricolore Pride” (heads up, you can find them at @TricolorePride)
1. How long have you been part of this group? And how did the group come about?
Tricolore Pride started in 2008 and has been known as foreign supporters group since then.
I started going regularly to watch Marinos at the start of the season in 2013 when my son got interested in, and started playing, football. A Japanese friend of mine is an official representative for one of the largest shopping streets in Yokohama and so he had match tickets to give away which initially got me hooked. We have known each other for over 15 years, and our families are of a similar age, so meeting up at the stadium was a good way for us to get back in touch.
Even though I remember the start of the J-League in Japan I had never got into J1 so I started out with zero knowledge of Japanese football. Initially, I really knew nothing about the team or the league. I believe in supporting your local team and since we live in Yokosuka, I decided to follow our “Hometown” team, Yokohama Marinos. I have lived within the Marinos hometown areas of either Yokohama or Yokosuka since the very start of my 28 years in Japan so I have a great affinity for the area and the local people and now the club.
As a part of learning about the club and the team I connected with the people who were regularly posting in English on Twitter about Marinos. Later, one of the original founders of Tricolore Pride, Brendan, handed over the passwords for the website and social media accounts to the keen Twitter guys so that we could contribute content on the website. This is now the group which is known as Tricolore Pride.
As a result of keeping up the Twitter presence and Facebook page we regularly get contacted by foreign visitors who want to come to the match. Some of these have joined us at the stadium.
We also have a group of foreign and Japanese season ticket holders, who we met at matches, who go early on the day before the match to claim our place in the line so we can go in to the stadium early on match day. This allows us always to sit in the same area each week and these members have become a defacto group in itself.
So now we really have two groups, Tricolore Pride based around the members distributed around the world and those in the stadium who sit together and who are friends of Tricolore Pride.
## 2. For an average home game, how many people do you welcome into the group? What mix of nationalities are there?
At a home game we can get up to around 20 or more people who want to sit with us. There is a core of about 10 regulars who also invite their family and friends. Sometimes first timers also swell the numbers.
Of the regular members we have Japanese, British, Canadian, American, Italian members and friends. We also are regularly contacted by service people from the nearby US bases who are looking for people to hang out with at the stadium who sometimes join us.
Quite a few of the core members also go to away matches too and we often travel together.
## 3. What has been the reaction of other F.Marinos supporters to you?
At first most people just left me alone. As I made friends my circle of friends grew and I think most of the core supporters know me by now. As is typical in Japan, most people will wait until they see you talking to someone they know and once you seem to be known by others more people will feel free to come over and talk.
However, sitting close to the core supporters does have it’s pitfalls. The area that we sit in is fairly close to the core ultra supporter area and is difficult to get seats there unless you are a season ticket holder. Since we bring visitors there too we have to make sure that the visitors know how people around them expect to behave. i.e simple things like concentrating on match and not lining people up for a picture during the match, for them not to drink too much and to clean up after the match. In the past, if the team is doing well then usually everything is fine but if the team is doing badly and the atmosphere sours then supporters around us may complain if people we have brought in that area haven’t behaved themselves. This is not so much because we are foreign but because we stand out. We bring garbage bags and usually tidy several rows around our seats after the match to make sure we catch everything.
Having said that, the regular members have made many friends especially when travelling away from home. We are on good terms with the leaders of the other groups in the stadium. I have even been invited to ultra support weddings which were a sight to behold.
Initially, one the biggest things that brought us to the attention of other supporters was making a large flag with the Tricolore Pride logo and having group scarves made. Other supporters wanted our scarves and somehow it demonstrated that we were serious.
## 4. What are the differences, if any, between how people support & follow their team in Japan as opposed to in your home country of the UK?
Actually my only experience of being a supporter in the UK is limited to the Alliance Premier League (5th Division) in the late 70s and early 80s.
I guess that one of the main differences, is that support in our stadium in Yokohama is a family affair we have kids who are just walking and many junior school kids in our group. Since we support close to the main area it is still loud and lively but far enough away from goal area so that the kids do not to get in the way. For all it’s bad points, Nissan Stadium is very family friendly.
I’m not sure if drink is allowed in many European stadiums anymore. We drink beer in the stadium, calling over the beer sellers with their portable back mounted kegs for a refill. The ultra-supporters sometimes chide us that we can’t support if we drink at all! Some of them are only allowed to drink after the match – if the team wins! No wonder they are angry when the team looses.
In Japan security is very low key at our matches, heads turn if a policeman is spotted in the stadium. Stewards are few and far between as there is almost never any trouble. Also, there is no restriction on flags, poles etc so the atmosphere is quite colourful compared to most UK stadiums.
Also in Japan the support is more regimented until the auspices of the “Call Leader”. Once a supporter from Liverpool, a season ticket holder on the Kop came and he was impressed by the organized support. He enjoyed it but some others from abroad have lamented on not being able to kick off a chant against the opposition and have the rest of the fans join in.
## 5. What goals do you have for the future of the group? I hear there is change afoot to make it more inclusive & accessible.
Since the stadium group is getting so big we need to set down some guidelines about who actually is a member of the group. We have logistical problems securing seats unless there are more people helping out so we need to be more organised. Traditionally Tricolore Pride has always been a small group of friends who are friends inside and outside the stadium who have a light hearted web presence”.
So as a result, we decided to make a larger group that people can join if they want to join us regularly in the stadium. The original Tricolore Pride members in Japan will be members of new group and those in Tricolore Pride who are overseas will be welcome to join when they are in Japan. The new group will recruit members, both foreign and Japanese who will follow it’s aims. The big danger of forming a group, as we have seen in Yokohama with the “Banana Incident” is that groups are subject to collective punishment if something goes awry. So if you accidentally form what looks like a group ,as we did you, really need set down some rules to prevent things getting out of control. Since we do have a large group of foreigners we are very noticeable so if anything were to happen then we would be easily noticed. One of our friends got banned by accident because of the “Banana Incident” and it took months to get his name cleared.
As a group, we want to put down non discrimination as key principle so anyone feels welcome to join to should be tolerant towards other nationalities, religions, style of living etc in a similar spirit as some Celtic & St Pauli FC supporter groups. This is already in line with the other supporter groups at Marinos but we will have it more prominently stated in our group’s raison d’être and will be known as an international group.
## 6. What do you think of this season’s version of Yokohama F.Marinos? Is it just more of the inconsistency people have become accustomed to?
On the whole, I think we are less surprised than other people about Marinos performance as we are tracking who is injured via social media reports from the training sessions, sometimes attending training matches and reading Japanese news sources about the club. We have an active private chat group where thoughts and opinions are expressed. English speaking Japanese members fill us in about anything we can’t understand.
We know that Marinos’ big weakness is in attack and goal scoring in general. Our new Brazilian striker hasn’t settled in yet so were are withholding judgment on him. Our new Midfielder from Curacao changes the whole pace of the attack when he is on the field but we are worried that he got injured so quickly after arrival. As an away supporter I have seen a fair few victories but I feel for the home supporters who haven’t seen a win at Nissan Stadium since last year! Top team selection is always a mystery and source of frustration for us. As we have seen this year, when things go well, they can go really well but they can soon collapse. This is probably what makes it so addictive.