Sunday 12 July 2020

Vs Kashiwa Reysol (home) 11/7/20 - J League match 4

Kawasaki Frontale 3 - 1 Kashiwa Reysol

The games are coming thick and fast at the moment but obviously anything that happened in this fixture against Kashiwa was always going to be overshadowed by the fact that this was the first J1 game with fans back in the stadium, albeit in limited numbers. Kobe and Oita also played at the same time, but for some reason (possibly the fact that there is no Wednesday game next week), the majority of the fourth round of fixtures were moved to Sunday. This has given me a great platform to trumpet myself as an early experiencer of limited attendance social distancing football. I’m not sure what the situation is like in every other country that has restarted football but it seems that most leagues that have resumed have done it without any spectators. Whether getting 5000 people to come to a game of football in the middle of a pandemic is a good idea, I don’t know. I’ll leave that issue to people who write blogs solely about the administration side of the J League. Can’t recall there being any of them off hand but I’m sure the tales of plenty of meetings and fax machine hi-jinks are fascinating! To be honest, I’d probably say that the train journey to the ground (or any train journey at the moment) would have been potentially more hazardous than anything that could happen in the stadium as everything seemed to be pretty well organized. I guess the majority of this post will be reflecting on this side of yesterday’s experience, so I’d better get the limited stuff I write about the game out of the way first and then we can concentrate on the admin and organization side of things.

On the pitch Oniki rang the changes! Well to the midfield anyway. Shimoda and Morita came in for Oshima and Ao which was a bit of a surprise to be honest even though both had done well in their limited time on the pitch against FC Tokyo. Kurumaya replaced Nobori at left back too which, no offense to Nobori, was the change I might have made first. The changes in the starting line up were directly reflected on the bench with the players missing out moving to the spots the new starters had vacated on the bench. Oniki’s real rotation passion seems to be with the substitute keeper though as once again Ando and Tanno swapped for that crucial sub keeper spot. Whether Fujishima will also get involved in the rotation at some stage I’m not sure, but I’m sure it is one of the most eagerly awaited bits of team news for everyone. I thought Shimoda’s inclusion would mean he would be taking the set pieces, but they seemed to be being shared between him and the usual and slightly disappointing (in this respect) Wakizaka. As soon as I had written my confusion at this in my notes Leandro Damiao scored a beauty of a goal from a Wakizaka corner. It was almost a mirror image of his own goal against Kashima and I think it was even at the same end. During the FC Tokyo game I commented that Yamane had yet to impress fully and then he made a wondrous dribble and pass to set up Damiao. As I am a sucker for any kind of football related superstition I’d say this definitely means that next game I need to say something slightly negative about someone and magic them into laying on a goal for Damiao. It’s a great responsibility, so I’ll be sure not to use it without consideration. 

I’ve jumped ahead somewhat to the Damiao goal as once again he has scored in a game but has been denied the hero interview by a teammate scoring twice. Ienaga took his two goals with the aplomb and elan that you’d expect from someone of his experience and coolness, the header from the corner being assisted by a Kashiwa defender and then having Damiao clear some space for him to smack a shot in from outside the box for his second. This second goal caused me to accidentally grind my teeth as I tried to suppress a ‘YESSSSS!!!’ with Corona etiquette in mind. All in all, this was a pretty comfortable win for us. We missed a few more pretty straightforward chances, which would be a worry if we weren’t already scoring quite a few goals. We also conceded something of a soft goal, but it felt that it was a bit unlucky rather than anyone being particularly culpable. Since the restart we’ve scored an average of three goals per game, which is pretty satisfying, and shows that we are looking forward a bit more than we were last year. The little midfield shuffle seems to be working now, but once again, I can’t praise us too highly without feeling the need to slag off the opposition. Kashiwa were pretty ordinary, and that opening day smashing of Sapporo now looks more like a freak result than the sign that they were going to cruise to the title that some people interpreted it as. I hope I get to keep going though the season saying the opposition were poor. If this is the case, perhaps at some stage I might have to admit that we were quite good perhaps. But as far as I can see so far, we haven’t yet been made to regret our numerous missed opportunities and at the back have even had to score half of the oppositions goals ourselves. Definitely reasons to be optimistic. A reason to be pessimistic, and perhaps some people might imagine the reason I write this blog is to interminably point this out, is the ongoing appalling refereeing. My gripe today, and please skip this bit if you don’t like whinging, is the amount of cards we are getting compared to the opposition. My conspiratorial mind would say that there has been a meeting at J League HQ mentioning the fact that our fans expressed a fondness for a certain referee and now we have to be punished by all of the others. There haven’t really been any clangers yet, but it’s sometimes weird what we get yellows for and it’s even weirder what the opposition don’t get booked for. This and the FC Tokyo games saw a referee similarly unwilling to give a card to our opposition (or us on Wednesday), but in this match Ueda seemed to be deciding on when to hand out the yellows by using a magic 8 ball. All these yellows might come back to haunt us later in the season through suspensions if they continue at the same rate. Especially as if the early injury to Jesiel is serious and he missed some games, it means we’re now down to two central defenders in the squad and one of them is Kamiya who is a youngster who has never even made the bench. Of course Kurumaya and Yamamura can fill in there, but I can’t help think we’re a bit light in that department.

So now, on to the socially distanced football talk. Frontale seems to always be a pretty organized club as far as I can tell and they had clearly spent a long time preparing for this. The capacity for this game was limited to 5000, so around one fifth of our normal attendance. Clearly this meant that plenty of people had to miss out. This is particularly tough for some as although I don’t know the numbers, I believe that a significant proportion of our match day attendance is made up of season ticket holders. The area of the ground that I sit in (SG) is probably 75% season tickets judging by the relative length of the queues to get in before the game. Season ticket holders, (although that is kind of strange as all season tickets have been canceled this year, but when I say season ticket holders I mean people who had a season ticket), have priority when it comes to ticket sales and given how quickly the tickets sold out I guess that everyone who attended was one of these people, even if some were not able to be accommodated in their usual area of the ground. All seats were allocated and I don’t think there was any difference in ticket price to a normal game. The fact that the seats were allocated meant that there was no need to queue hours in advance to rush in and grab a good seat which immediately removed one potential source of contagion. Two free seats were kept in between every allocated seat and the rows were alternately occupied and unoccupied. The standing areas behind the goal also numbered and allocated spots and as far as I could see, everyone kept to their allocated seat or position. One benefit of this was that the support was spread out right round the stadium and if you blurred your eyes a bit you could imagine that there were more people there than there actually were. We were also encouraged to bring shirts or towels to put on the unoccupied seats so we could do our usual ‘paint it blue’ thing. Given the limited capacity, queues for toilets weren’t really much of a problem, but there were clearly marked gaps between toilet queue spots to deal with the half time rush. The fact that there were no alcohol sales perhaps helped ease that half time rush too. On our way in we had our temperature checked by someone standing behind a plastic screen. There were no bag checks (I’m not saying you should smuggle things in though, I’m just saying that’s another way to possibly prevent infection). I’m not sure if any paper tickets were in use. There definitely seemed more scanners than usual though, so that was another interaction which was able to be done at a distance. Of course there was loads of hand gel around too and everybody had to wear a mask, but they probably would have been doing so anyway even if this rule had not been in place.  Probably the only large gatherings of people I saw were in the main stand where the queues for the club shop and the food stand snaked around further than I’d normally expect. There seemed to be some self-enforced distancing in these queues too though. The majority of Frontale fans are quite well behaved!


There were some guidelines in place from the J League about what we could and couldn’t do in the game and this was probably the point where the strangeness of the situation were most noticeable. Towels could be held aloft but could not be twirled. Hands could be clapped, but not rhythmically to replace songs we would normally sing. This seemed a bit strange to me, but I guess the reasoning was that if we’re doing the normal ‘LET’S GO, LET’S GO *CLAP CLAP*’ some people might not be able to control themselves and have to sing along. Of course, singing and shouting were not allowed. This obviously made the biggest difference as instead of the almost constant singing we had ripples of applause which became gradually more insistent as we got closer to the goal. I think it definitely helped punctuate the game as normally we’d expect some cheers and groans as players do good or not so good stuff and the contrast between the polite applause and silence did the job in the absence of anything vocal. I was pleased that even when the stadium was empty we didn’t pipe in fake crowd noise as it’s so random and I’d imagine very difficult to make it appear anything other than completely false. We had a recording of fans singing the Kawasaki city song played before the game (towels up as usual everyone), but on this occasion they cut it off pretty abruptly, as normally it would launch into another song. We also had our goal song played after we scored. With no big celebrations with the crowd after goals it was even more evident than usual that our goal song is a bit too long. On every occasion the game had kicked off again whilst the song was still playing. Seemed a bit weird and reminded me of the very strange sensation when at a Leyton Orient game someone forgot to turn the PA off after half time and we had a brief and surreal musical accompaniment to the game. I guess all of this makes it sound like it was a bit of a sterile atmosphere. Certainly, before going to this game I thought that we’d probably only be trying to go once to a match in these weird circumstances, mainly to see how weird it was and then decide afterwards that it was probably more enjoyable to watch at home. However, I actually quite enjoyed it. Perhaps this is because we’ve all been starved of live football, but I’d definitely like to go to another match like this. To be honest if you sit in the main stand, the atmosphere was probably not so different from normal (ho ho ho). I was a little worried about being able to control myself and not shout but it was relatively easy to restrict myself to a masked and closed mouth YES! after goals and the occasional ‘oooooooh’ as exciting things happened. It was definitely interesting to hear the players talking to each other and I think I could hear Oniki shouting instructions to Hatate from the other side of the stadium. All of this makes the fact that Olunga, after being flagged offside and continuing to play on, putting the ball in the back of the net, seemed to be saying he couldn’t hear the whistle pretty funny. There was really nothing to hear except for the whistle. If he couldn’t hear it, I think he’d better book a trip to the audiologist soon. 

I guess it was an experience a little like a cricket or tennis match crossed with a firework display. When we were playing well one round of applause for a nice pass merged into the next and there was something of a blanket of claps going on. Some people even clapped when Kashiwa scored. Some might suggest this was a sign of our great sportsmanship, but I suspect it was more of an attempt to gee up the defenders who’d just conceded. That did feel a bit strange though. I heard that ‘some people online’ (a phrase that should strike fear into the hearts of anyone who doesn’t want to feel the need to smash their face into the nearest hard surface), have complained that our fans broke the rules with some semi-rhythmic clapping. I’d suggest that these people get a life and I’d expect that they aren’t really neutral if I had to guess. It does seem strange though that gradually increasing in speed and volume clapping in the style of an audience trying to get an encore at a concert is ok, but clapping in our usual let’s go style is not ok, but I appreciate that they have to make some kind of rule and there are almost certainly reasons behind it that we might not be aware of. All in all though, I think we did pretty well. I heard no singing, I saw only minimal towel movement, the rhythmic clapping was for the most part arhythmic and I enjoyed the fact that I was probably the only person in the stadium to clap one particular pass. Normally I shout handball and no-one else does, but on this occasion instead of being slightly embarrassed it actually felt quite fun to be on a compete different wavelength to everyone else around me. The one thing I really missed was being able to give the ref some abuse. Or rather I missed the fact that the referee doing his usual useless job was not made aware of how badly he was doing. Although I wouldn’t like it if Ueda came to one of my English lessons and shouted at me, I feel like this does bear some resemblance to my relationship with my ex-boss, so perhaps I have some experience of this after all.

I hope I haven’t let down anyone who was hoping for great insight in socially distanced football. I’d be happy to answer any questions if you want to email me or leave comments. As you can probably tell from what I’ve written, it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it might be. Given the circumstances in other countries, (and who knows, maybe Japan will get there in the future), I feel lucky that we can get any opportunity to experience something even slightly close to a normal match day experience. When you consider how much had to be changed from how things usually operate, I’d say this was a pretty successful first attempt and there’s not anything that I can think that would need to be changed. Of course the atmosphere is different, but if it prevents even one person from getting even slightly sick that’s a good thing. I don’t know if anyone was turned away due to their temperature being too high. I’m pretty useless with Japanese summer so I was worried that I might break the thermometer but it seems that even sweaty old me is fine. I guess the big challenge is scaling this up to the next level when we are allowed a higher attendance in a few weeks. The Corona numbers have been rising in Japan recently so maybe that date should be reviewed, but as I said above, when you consider what commuters are doing every day and the fact that plenty of people are living their lives as they were before Coronavirus, going to restaurants and bars, shopping etc., I’d say that this is probably one of the safer possible activities to do. Fingers crossed this proves to be true and that we’re not rapidly backpedaling in a few weeks time. If you want a massively sweeping conclusion about this experience here we go… It was different, it was obviously not as good, but it was much better than I expected, and it seems like it was the right way to do things.

Oh, next up Yokohama FC away next weekend. Back to DAZN for me and probably moaning at the ref via the computer. Go Frontale!


GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 13. YAMANE Miki

DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (Yellow card 44')
MF 6. MORITA Hidemasa (Yellow card 89')
MF 22. SHIMODA Hokuto 
MF 8. WAKIZAKA Yasuto (Yellow card 31')
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro

FW 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya

GK 24. ANDO Shunsuke
 (on for JESIEL 16')
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
 (on for WAKIZAKA 61')
MF 19. SAITO Manabu (on for HASEGAWA 86')
FW 20. MIYASHIRO Taisei (on for LEANDRO DAMIAO 86')
FW 30. HATATE Reo (on for IENAGA 61')

My Frontale Man Of The Match

Hey man, we're all the man of the match as we are trying to stop Coronavirus, eh? But actually in something of a slightly unfair move as I gave it to a two goal scorer last time but am not this time, I'll give it to...

SHIMODA Hokuto - something of a surprise that he's still with us as plenty of midfielders have moved on since he's been here because they have been totally blocked out of the team by undroppables but Shimoda has plugged away, got a start yesterday and looked much better slightly further forward than I think he ever has for us. His set piece delivery is a real asset!


IENAGA (Frontale) 40' 1-0
IENAGA (Frontale) 42' 2-0
LEANDRO DAMIAO (Frontale) 52' 3-0 
GOYA (Kashiwa) 56' 3-1


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