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 eighth 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). Seven episodes are already in and the last one – who was published a few months ago – brought us to Italy, having chat with Danilo, founder of J. League Italia and proud Nagoya fan (@DaniloServadei).
And if you can read here his interview with us, for Episode number 7, it’s now time to move to North America. It’s time for USA, who feature now probably the only other national championship – alongside J. League – which could grow significantly in terms of exposure over the next decade: Major League Soccer. And our guest today comes right from there.
Today’s interview features one of the most affectionate fans in Okinawa, who are really enjoying what FC Ryukyu have done in the last four years: first the promotion from J3 with a triumphant campaign, then two good J2 seasons and 2021, when the club is competing at the top. Our guest, Geoff Osborne, has the privilege of following all of it and falling in love with Japanese soccer from there.
- Where are you from and when you first started following J. League?
I am from the United States. I started following the J. League in earnest starting with FC Ryukyu’s inaugural year in the J3 in 2014.
- Do you have a favorite team or player? (about the team, the question has basically the answer included, but still…)
FC Ryukyu of course. I’ve always loved Keita Tanaka since he came to FC Ryukyu in 2016. But I do like Kazaki Nakagawa a lot: he was sensational in 2018, but he has barely featured this season.
- We’re used to see a lot of coverage around football here in Europe or South America. A tendency growing as well in North America and Asia. How do you keep up with the news regarding the league?
It’s not easy, that’s for sure… as most of the coverage is in Japanese, so you need to be tied into many sources.
I started following many Twitter accounts as the years have progressed so that’s one way to see what the Japanese are saying about the game. Then, of course, there are so many excellent resources in English surrounding the league, such as the J-Talk and J-Talk Extra Time podcasts.
- From what I’ve understood, you’re currently staying in Okinawa. How do you feel about living in Japan? And how it was the first impact to matches there?
I enjoy Japan very much and the first set of matches back in 2014 was a rough introduction to the Japanese game, as matches were played between 12 and 2 p.m. here in the heat and Ryukyu were not that good. But it has paid off sticking with them in the years, since I’ve made a few trips to mainland Japan to attend Ryukyu away games as well as J1 and ACL games.
- From your point of view, 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 around the world, just like they’re trying to do?
I cannot speak accurately for how the J. League is perceived in America as it has been some time since I’ve been back there. I know the J. League International Channel on YouTube has made a concerted effort to broadcast games for free: that’s a good start, but it will ultimately come down to broadcasting and covering the games with an English language feed if they wish it to take off. Furthermore, the kickoff times are a hurdle hard to overcome, since there is a time difference between the two countries (from 13 to 16 hours).
I know the J. League, for the J1 at least, has a lot of broadcasting rights in other countries so that’s an immense help to promote the image of the league. Short of the National Teams winning some international competitions or Kawasaki Frontale winning the FIFA Club World Cup, I am not sure there is much more they can do. International exhibition matches would be nice, but with COVID-19 that seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.
We wanna thank Geoff for the time he conceded us and I’m sure he’ll enjoy the season Yasuhiro Higuchi and his boys are gifting to their fans. He’s managing a blog about FC Ryukyu’s heroics and he’s active member of Twitter with the nickname of @OkinawaOzzy. Episode 9 won’t be too late, so stay tuned!