Saturday 29 April 2017

My thoughts on the Suwon game mess

As I am sure you have heard, Tuesday’s game against Suwon was notable as much for activities that occurred in the stands as it was for being our first win in the ACL this year and our first win for what seems like ages. In my blog post on the game, I said I would write something separate about these events and now I find myself sitting down to do just that. I was hoping that the situation might have become a bit more clear by the time I wrote this, but it seems that the issue will be dragging on for a while whilst various decisions are made. I should say before I continue, that plenty of things about these incidents remain unclear. To a certain extent we are having to rely on what various sources are saying, many of which contradict each other. In any case, I’ll try to explain what we experienced at the game and how I feel about these things. Perhaps it isn’t necessary for me to add to the ever-growing pile of words written about this subject, but I haven’t seen much in English and I feel that I should at least address the matters rather than sweeping them under the carpet and hoping they go away.

There weren’t too many Frontale fans at the game on Tuesday. There weren’t many more Suwon fans to be honest and we were all rattling around in what is a pretty nice stadium. The 100 or so Frontale fans were spread across the stand with the majority congregating behind the goal but not particularly close together. I took this photo coming back from the toilet and you can see that we weren’t exactly packed together.

Consequently, the Kazoku tried to encourage us to group together a bit more. This encouragement was politely acknowledged and half-followed. By the time the game started we were mostly in a loose group behind the goal. There were a few other small groups of fans spread across the stand to the left too, and this is where the rising sun flag was displayed. I only found this out later, as for the whole of the game and right up until we were on the bus back to Seoul, many of us were unaware of why things had happened. Judging by the two photos of the flag I have seen, the two ‘students’ as they have been described, were to the right of the main group of fans as you look at the stand. I don’t know if they joined the group when asked to, or whether they remained by themselves for the whole game. Both of these photos look like they were taken a while before the game and quite close to each other time wise. The story I have heard from twitter is that the flag was displayed before the game, spotted by someone with the club (either a staff member or fan, I’m not sure) and they were told to remove it and did so. I have been in contact with a fellow blogger who I wrote a pre-match preview with and he says that from the Suwon end of the stadium, he saw the flag before the game but didn’t see it again later on. Some of the Suwon fans have apparently said that it was displayed again towards the end of the game. Unfortunately, we don’t really have any proof of this either way.

After the final whistle as we were celebrating a rare victory we first became aware of Suwon fans breaking in to our section. There were initially not many of them but their numbers were gradually growing, many of them masked and shouting. As I am (possibly) a bit of a coward and also a British person who is aware of the scourge of football hooliganism from the 80’s, this made me pretty uneasy. There were a few security guards who came in with them, or probably I should say pursuing them, but they didn’t really seem to be trying very hard to stop them approaching the area where the majority of us were gathered. In fact they didn’t seem to do anything really. The fact that they headed straight for the main group of us is a little confusing for me, as the flag was earlier displayed in a very different area. Apparently their intention was not to come in and fight but to come and take the flag. All the same it did look like something could kick off at any stage. There was then a slight withdrawal with the Suwon fans being removed to the top of the stand (near the exit…) where they continued to shout at the Kazoku and seemed to be growing in numbers. Many of us moved away from this area and eventually sneaked out of the stadium behind where they had gathered. Like I said, at this stage I had no idea why they had broken in. True, we had sneaked a win in what was a pretty even game, they hadn’t been too pleased with Kengo’s long injury treatment and then him jogging back on to the pitch and they had just been denied by a wonder save, right in front of them by their former keeper, so I guess emotions were running high. But it still seemed like a bit of an over-reaction. That was until we saw the news on the bus and our bewilderment at the behaviour of their fans became directed instead at the two idiots who had brought the rising sun flag to the game.

I have only lived in Japan for five years and I don’t have a great deal of in depth knowledge of Japanese history, but even I know that this flag is a big no no. I cringe when I see opposition fans using it in the J League and it always brings with it a feeling of horrible nationalism and wannabe hooliganism. I don’t think I have ever seen Frontale fans displaying it at the Todoroki or at an away game. But as I alluded to above, you don’t really see these things in your own section as you're facing the same direction as the flags. I can’t even really remember seeing that many Japanese hinomaru flags to be honest. We usually just wave the Brazilian and Korean flags for the foreign players. This makes it even more annoying and ridiculous that someone should decide to bring it to this game. It either suggests complete ignorance or worse an intention to offend and cause trouble. Whilst the former is better I guess, it’s still no excuse. It’s hugely reckless behaviour for a number of reasons. Firstly and most obviously, it’s offensive. Because of this, they put the other fans at the game in danger. If it wasn’t for the large amount of Frontale peacemaker fans I think it could easily have escalated, as the security didn’t seem to be doing any kind of security job. I take my hat off to everyone who got involved to try to keep trouble from happening. I’m not particularly sure it’s a good idea to keep waving the hinomaru as opposition fans storm your end though. The Kazoku member who did should probably have known better than to do that. The second big problem is the potential fallout which we are only starting to become aware of. The AFC has formally charged us for discrimination which carries a minimum punishment of a fine of at least $15,000 and the penalty of having to play two home matches in an empty stadium. This will mean a significant loss of revenue for the club and more significantly the loss of some of the home advantage that you might get from having the majority of the stadium behind your team. Finally, there is the matter of the reputation of the club and its fans. I have always been happy that Frontale fans are generally nice people and have no problems with opposition fans. Before the game we were praised on our forum by a Korean fan who said we had treated them so well at the game at Todoroki that they would be happy to help out in any way if any of us needed. Last season we had a taste of reputation damage at the debacle that was the away game against Omiya and it was a major embarrassment. After what was a hugely frustrating game, some of the Kazoku took it upon themselves to surround the Omiya team bus and scrap with Omiya fans. This is pretty shameful behaviour and tarnished our reputation. Now that reputation has taken another hit with the wide reporting of this idiotic incident. It’s pretty difficult to regain a clean reputation when it gets stained like this.

So I’m not really sure what my intentions were in writing this. I guess I wanted to apologize to the Suwon fans for the fact that a tiny minority of idiots in our end showed this offensive flag. However short a time it was shown for, it was still too long. What with the rise of nationalism in many countries recently, I’d hate to see this become part of the Frontale experience. I would hope that people don’t feel the need to hate someone or try to offend them just because of where they are from or who they support. After all, we were all in the stadium for the same reason. We wanted to support our football team and hopefully see them win. I also wanted to say thank you to some people who will probably never read this, those who intervened and calmed the situation down. Thank you to the lady on our tour with the Abe shirt and all of the others who didn’t want to shout, posture or fight but just wanted to regain some kind of peace. I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t do anything myself and admire you all for doing the right thing. The club will have a chance to put their case to the AFC and I believe a decision will be made on our punishment before the next ACL match. It’s all left a bad taste in the mouth though and we’ll have to do our best to get rid of that in the next few weeks by accepting any punishment we get and not giving anyone any reason to comment negatively on our behaviour. Depending on any evidence that is around that we might not have seen, I think we have a fair case to say that the two culprits had their flag removed pretty quickly and are in no way representative of the fans or the club. I’m not denying what happened in any way, but I think short of searching everybody fully on the way into the stadium, there’s not much more we could have done. But like I said, I think I’m maybe just clutching at straws. We’re not a bad group of fans. In fact, I think we’re a pretty reasonable bunch. I have really enjoyed football in Japan as unlike in the UK, it seems to be generally free from the idiotic posturing and naked aggression that saturates the game there. We should in no way deny what happened, but at the same time, I hope the Suwon fans, other J League fans and in fact everyone I guess, realises that the majority of us condemn the flag wavers and that we’re not all like that.

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