FC Ryukyu Kick-Off
As a lifelong fan of football (or soccer, as it’s better known here) I have always supported my local team and made a point of going along to the games wherever I’ve been living. So while my first allegiance has always been to my hometown English team Norwich City, at various times I’ve also been a regular on the terraces at Northampton Town, at Vissel Kobe, and at Iga FC Kunoichi in Mie. So it was natural for me to start going to see FC Ryukyu once I moved to Okinawa last year.
Unfortunately, I have never been able to support one of football’s powerhouse sides and the move to Okinawa definitely hasn’t changed that. FC Ryukyu, the island’s team, play in the JFL which is the equivalent of the 3rd Division in Japan. The Ryukyu club finished 16th out of the 18 teams last season and only just avoided relegation. But they represent the island’s hopes for one day establishing a Ryukyu island team among the top ranks and there seems to be no shortage of ambition and optimism at the club. They also have a celebrity manager in Frenchman Philippe Troussier, who managed Japan at the 2002 World Cup finals. Troussier also had a long coaching career in Africa which included managing the national teams of South Africa and Morocco. Just why he’s managing in Okinawa at all is a bit of mystery but his role seems to be more as a general manager or talisman for the team, while day to day team affairs are handled by Hiroyuki Shinzato.
On Saturday afternoon I was invited to the Southern Beach Hotel in Itoman for the FC Ryukyu Kick-Off Party which was attended by officials, players and supporters of the club. The new squad was introduced and I was able to meet Philippe Troussier who was very friendly and approachable. It also happened to be his birthday and a large cake was wheeled onto the stage at one point and presented to him by the club. I also made sure that he was given a copy of my book ‘The Power of Okinawa’, so I hope he will soon be listening to Okinawan roots music while he plots the rise of FC Ryukyu. In fact, among the various entertainments put on for guests at the party was a performance of Okinawan eisa drumming by some of the players themselves. In my brief meeting with Troussier I was pleased to learn that he had at least heard of Norwich City, but his main conversation concerned a trip he had made to Stamford Bridge a few days earlier to see the Chelsea v Inter Milan European Champions League match.
FC Ryukyu drew their first home match of the season at Chatan the following day, where it ended 1-1 against Gainare Tottori, but with 4 points from their opening 2 games have made a much brighter start than last year.