There’s nothing more legendary that seeing something becoming world-wide, property of everyone, global. J. League is trying to achieve that, but to do so, you need a global fanbase. And it’s there, although its numbers can certainly rise. In this series of pieces – which will all fall under the label “J. League Worldwide”, we’re trying to tell the personal and professional stories of Japanese football fans all over the world.
Before introducing the seventh installment of the series, I want to remind the efforts of Stuart Smith in starting this column (you can find him @Sushi_Football on Twitter, doing the good job of spreading the word for J. League). Six episodes are already in and the last one – who was published a couple of months ago – brought us to Germany, having known the fierce V-Varen-fan Daniel (a.k.a. @LakerByNature).
And if you can read here his interview with us, for Episode number 7, we move a little South. We had already several Italy-based J. League followers in our past episodes, but this doesn’t mean the love for the Japanese championship isn’t growing in this country. Sure, it’s not an easy reality to win over, but efforts must be put in place to actually achieve results if you’re an underdog.
Our protagonist from today’s interview isn’t an exception, because Danilo Servadei – who literally fell in love with Japan, you can follow him on Twitter @DaniloServadei – is fighting to bring Japanese football’s tales to Italian fans. And even if sometimes the battle is hard to cope with, the passion can make you fly over hurdles and struggles. Join us in reading his story and where this incredible love for J. League comes from.
- Where are you from and when you first started following J. League?
I’m Italian and I started following J. League from 2010. Back then, I was just a 14 years-old kid. I got hooked, since my interest increased pretty rapidly. The year after, in 2011, I even started watching some games. I remember how the first match that I ever caught was one between Nagoya Grampus and Ventforet Kofu. It ended 4-1, it was August 2011.
- Do you have a favorite team or player?
Well, given how the first complete glimpse about Japanese football featured Nagoya Grampus, then they also became my favorite team. They were the first team which made me feel something, so it became natural to follow them closely. Back then, I looked for some info regarding the club, looked through their history and I was fascinated by what they achieved throughout almost two decades.
I was also hooked by the fans, who are among one of the crowds in Japanese football. About my favorite player, I have to admit it’s a current Grampus member, Naoki Maeda.
- How you’re able to watch J. League games? And how do you keep up with the news regarding the league?
Since I started following the J. League, I’ve always done it through streaming, also due to the fact that no media outlet really acquired TV rights for J. League, if not temporarily (like it happened for DAZN Italy in 2018, but then the games magically disappeared from their schedule).
About J. League news, I tend to read J. League insiders between Japanese and foreign journalists who are covering the championship news-wise. People like Dan Orlowitz, sports editor for “The Japan Times”, are essential to be informed about pretty much everything. I also read websites like “Sponichi”, “Gekisaka” and “Soccer King”, besides Yahoo! Japan.
- Did you have the chance of visiting Japan, maybe even attending a match? If so, which kind of experience it was? And do you want to visit the country again?
At the current time, I haven’t been able yet to visit Japan, but it’s a dream I’ve cherished since a long time ago. When I’ll be able to go there, there’s no doubt I’ll visit Nagoya and join the crowd at the stadium to support my beloved Grampus.
- How do you think J. League has been perceived in your own country? And there’s a space to improve the image of the league, both in Italy and in Europe?
In Italy, J. League is really a niche championship, mostly unknown by common football fans and sometimes despised. I realize that even when I read some users using inappropriate banter towards Japanese players who play (or have played) in the Italian Serie A, like Takahiro Tomiyasu and Maya Yoshida. This is something hurtful for a Japanese football fan.
I’ve been in love with this world for nine years; the appreciation and the passion towards J. League is so much I’ve even started studying Japanese culture five years ago. I believe the branding process for J. League in a country like Italy is a rocky hill to climb, because ignorance dominates the conversation about this league. This really bums me out.
More than usual, I have to engage with this kind of football fans and I immediately realize that a real and honest conversation is not possible. They don’t care learning something about J. League and they brag about it, so it’s basically impossible to have a normal exchange of opinions.
You can see how other leagues and fans in Europe react differently: it’s not an accident if leagues like Germany’s Bundesliga or Netherlands’ Eredivisie are nurturing the growth of many Japanese players. And it’s not like the process started recently, since a club from the Netherlands brought Keisuke Honda and Maya Yoshida in Europe to start their journey abroad (VVV-Venlo).
J. League had the merit of improving their brand throughout the last years and in 2020 they have even streamed some of their games around Europe via their official YouTube channel for foreign fans. This will surely help clubs from the Old Continent to spot potential talents (for example Koki Saito, who recently joined Lommel SK, a club revolving around Manchester City).
In the end, I think there are no hopes for J. League to really break through in Italy, but I’m happy enough to know that in Europe, luckily, it’s not the same for everyone else.
I wanna thank Danilo for the time he conceded us – the interview was registered in October 2020 – and I hope he’ll put the same passion he always had. He’s so into J. League he even opened an Italian page about the championship (you can find it here on Facebook and here’s the Twitter account). Episode 8 won’t be too late, so stay tuned!