There’s nothing more legendary than seeing something becoming a worldwide attraction, 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 a good job in spreading the word for J.League). Sixteen episodes are done, and in the last one – published roughly last Summer – we talked with Hannah (@hannah_0012kf) about how she fell in love with J.League from Scotland.
And if you can read here her interview with us, for Episode number 17, we move a little South, still staying in the UK. This time, though, it’s an English fan speaking with us. The land of the Premier League, the championship where both Japanese stars Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kaoru Mitoma are shining this year, respectively with Arsenal and Brighton Hove & Albion.
He’s from the region of Birmingham, a fan of Aston Villa, and an avid follower of the Japanese championship. His name is Harry Brooks and he agreed to answer a few questions for the 17th installment of this special column.
Where are you from and when you first started following J. League?
I am from a small town outside Birmingham in the UK, and I have been following the J.League since April 2021. I got into the J.League by playing a fantasy football game called “Sorare”. Eventually, I ended up enjoying the football and chaos in the J.League more than Sorare itself, so I decided to stop playing that and start watching and writing about the J.League at JLeagueWatch.com.
Do you have a favorite team or player?
Recently I have started to follow Kashiwa Reysol. I love the atmosphere you can witness with their fans at the Kashiwa Stadium: it looks incredible on the night games with all the crowd wearing yellow, illuminating the stadium.
In terms of players, I love watching good dribblers so Koya Yuruki at Vissel Kobe, Matheus Sávio at Reysol, Mateus at Nagoya, Makoto Mitsuta with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and even Kazuya Konno at FC Tokyo are players I have enjoyed watching in the last year. Special shout out to Ataru Esaka as well, who caught my eye until being dropped to the bench this season.
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?
For J.League-related news, there are a ton of really good Twitter accounts I follow to keep on top of things. I try to follow fans from all J1 teams alongside all of the transfer rumor accounts. I also listen to the J-Talk Pod and The Asian Game podcasts and watch J.League Journeys and Lost In Football Japan: these content creators do a great job of creating content around Japanese football.
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 haven’t been to Japan to watch a J.League game yet. I am planning to fly to Tokyo in April next year and will try to get tickets to as many matches as possible for the two weeks that I am over there. I did however go to my first Samurai Blue game in the last international break when they played against the USA in Düsseldorf. It was like a home game with a high density and representation of Japanese people living in that area of Germany.
The quality of the game was good: Mitoma played excellently, while the Japanese fans created an amazing atmosphere in the cheering section. It was interesting to see the demographic of people at the game with it being a lot more family-friendly with more women and children. When I’ll travel to Japan, I’m most looking forward to the atmosphere of the matches.
One of the most overrated in Europe and underrated aspects of football in Japan is the fans and atmosphere they create with the singing and displays. I’m yet to witness J.League games at full capacity with no restrictions as I have been following the league post-Covid. Some J.League teams create better atmospheres than some European teams with the restrictions, so I can’t wait to see them at their full potential.
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 around the world, just like they’re trying to do?
In my opinion, unless you are a fantasy football player, a FIFA player (before the J.League’s removal), or very passionate about global football, most football fans in the UK know little to nothing about the J.League. Since Ange Postecoglou arrived at Celtic, the exposure may have grown due to the talent they have been able to bring in. I’m surprised this hasn’t caused a ripple effect across UK clubs when they realize the value that is there in the J.League.
In terms of football fans in general, there are loads of issues that are negatively impacting growth in the UK. The lack of broadcasting is the biggest issue: my only option to watch games is catching highlights after games, streaming illegally or watching through a betting app. It would not be difficult for the J.League to be able to implement a game pass subscription (similar to the NBA) where people would pay a fee and have access to the games.
I for one would be willing to pay each month which would provide extra revenue for clubs and the league. Shirts are another issue, there aren’t any clubs in Japan that offer worldwide shipping so buying into a club that is on the other side of the world and creating that connection is very difficult. In terms of where the league could position itself going forward, they should really sell the point of how competitive and unpredictable the league is.
If you look across the Top 5 European leagues, the gulf between the top and bottom teams is getting bigger which negatively impacts the product. In the J.League top can beat the bottom and for most of the season 10-18th all have had a chance of being relegated with some of these teams being the top spenders (e.g. Vissel Kobe). This makes the league so much more entertaining instead of watching Man City, Bayern, Juventus, and PSG win the league every year.
We want to thank Harry for the time he’s given us. It’s been nice to talk with him over the journey he went through to appreciate Japan more and more. He’s been pretty active about Japanese football, an avid follower of J.League, as you can witness from his Twitter account. And remember his editorial project @JLeagueWatch! Give him a follow: there’s always space on the J.League-bandwagon.
Episode 18 should come next month, so stay tuned!