J. League Worldwide #11

There’s nothing more legendary than seeing something becoming worldwide, 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 eleventh 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). Ten episodes are already in and the last one – who was published a couple of months ago – made us know Emanuele, an Italian fan of the championship and a huge admirer of Japanese culture as well (@MANU1590BOLOGNA).

And if you can read here his interview with us, for Episode number 11, it’s now time to move a little bit North. It’s strange, isn’t it? When you think about football powerhouses, France surely comes to mind, but their presence in J. League has been erratic: not many French-related club names, not many coaches (besides the legendary figure of Arsène Wenger, and only two players ever featured in J. League (both in the 1990s).

Today’s interview revolves around one of the most passionate fans from France, who got closer to J. League in the mid-2000s and started following a Shizuoka-based team with massive passion. His name is Thomas Fiers, he lives in Paris and you might know him as “Tich S-Pulse”, who’s in charge of a wonderful website over the club’s uniform history.

Where are you from and when you first started following J. League?

I first started to seriously follow the J. League back in 2005, thanks to a French online forum about Japanese football called “Nippon Ganbare”, which I helped to develop afterward (author’s note: the graphic from the website is insanely good).

Do you have a favorite team or player?

My favorite team is Shimizu S-Pulse, since 2005. They’re based in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo. I have supported them for 16 years now, and I’m still waiting for them to lift a trophy! My favorite player, Ryuzo Morioka, retired back in 2008, but he became my favorite player when I saw Japan play in their home World Cup in 2002, as I’ve always been a fan of defensive players. He’s one of the reasons I started to support his club, in which he’s played most of his career.

We’re used to seeing 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?

When “Nippon Ganbare” closed in 2019, I only used Twitter to keep up with the J. League-related news. It hasn’t changed since, I have a lot of S-Pulse supporters following my account, and I follow a lot of S-Pulse-related accounts myself, in addition to other teams’ accounts. More and more J. League teams are getting their unofficial French account, which is pretty cool!

Have you ever been to Japan for some matches? If so, how was the impact? And if not, which match, and which aspect are you longing the most to?

I visited Japan twice, in 2018 and in 2019. I had the chance to go to J. League games twice during each trip, and I’ll remember each of these four games for the rest of my life. Of course, those were S-Pulse games. One game in Saitama (vs. Urawa), one game in Kawasaki (vs. Frontale), and two games in Shimizu (vs. Tokyo and Sapporo).

Three losses (including a harsh 0-8) and a draw for my team, but that doesn’t change the fact that those were great memories, in friendly atmospheres where fans from both teams come to you to take pictures with you and to ask about your reasons for following J. League. They’re always pleased to see some interest in the Japanese championship from foreigners.

Shota Kaneko giving us his MJ-esque dance in 2016.

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?

Above all, I have a feeling that French J. League lovers are curious about Japan in the first place. There is a devoted community of fans here in France, that’s why the number of French J. League-related accounts is increasing on Twitter. Sadly, though, the majority of French general football fans aren’t interested in what they see as a small football country, and they think the French Ligue 1 teams could easily destroy J. League clubs.

In my opinion, that wouldn’t be true at all, but we’ll never know! Of course, the image of the J. League championship could largely improve here, but not without getting an official broadcaster, and that hasn’t been the case ever since I started following it… games are hard to catch, so that doesn’t help. If one thing must be improved in France (as well as somewhere else) to help the J. League get more fans, it’s the availability of the games.

We want to thank Thomas for the time he conceded us: France could be a huge market for J. League, yet neither players nor coaches are headed towards Japan. Who knows… meanwhile, you can follow Thomas on Twitter @Tich_S-Pulse and we recommend again his website over the transformation of S-Pulse’s uniforms over the years! Simply fascinating.

Episode 12 will come soon, so stay tuned!

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