Christmas Confessions

I have man-envy…envy? The opposite of man-crush at John Duerden. He’s the one to write Asian football in Korea, or Japan, or Southeast Asia, or Australia. And he’s living the life.

In fact, I have man-envy…ok, envy, at all Westerner living in East Asia or making regular trips around the region to cover Asian football. Not because I cannot be like them, but because there’s lack of role models – a Chinese, Korean, or Japanese man of any nationality covering football for mainstream international media. It’s back to John, or Patrick Johnston, or well, the only Asian around is Sudipto Ganguly. Like I said, no Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. Fox Sports Asia (and its predecessor ESPN) even has no Asian male pundit or newscaster (Steve Lai has moved to Channel News Asia).

And as always, my education on what’s going on in Asia comes from a Westerner. Like John Duerden. He told us that A-League players and fans found it’s uncomfortable to sit an away match in Asia. And not only because Australians are not Asian and that stuff, but because Asian clubs dislike the AFC Champions League. J-League’s terrible performance in the ACL is blamed on lack of their enthusiasm for continental competition, but I was surprised to read that it also happens to K-League teams.

Suits in Japan and Korea say that the Champions League is not profitable. I don’t buy it. It’s expensive but they have the money. The real reason is because they loath making overseas trips, leaving the boxes of their Korean and Japanese worlds (and ditto to several other nations). Australians love to travel but they know that Asia is an acquired taste, unlike Europe or South America. But while the ACL can be a sobering and painful experience for A-League teams and supporters (with the final score), the bigger faults lie in the insular football culture in Asia.

Insular is a funny word. From Japan to Indonesia, people wear MU and Barcelona colors with pride. Children can recite the whole Liverpool formation by heart. They also talk with pride (before match) and despair (after match) about their national teams. But they give no damn about what’s going on next door.  The usual excuse is that European football is good while Asian football is boring. But the real issue is that they don’t have enough positive feeling for fellow Asian nations. Of course, this is not only in football but also in several other respects – pop culture, social, and language. That’s another thing I envy – Europeans can breezily interact with each other in several language, talking about their food, holiday spots, and X-Factor stars. Asians can, but they don’t want too.

Take the mid-week UEFA Champions League schedule. Europeans are eager to see their city team beating those pesky foreigners (or just owning some cute Czech or Norwegian team) on a Wednesday night, with the fanfare of glorious orchestral anthem. For all their venom for their neighbors over things that happened 100 or 200 years ago, Japanese and Koreans could not bring the whole family to see their club kick butt. Daddy still has to work (but it’s 8 pm!), Mommy prefers to see soap opera at home or Thor in cinema, and the kids are still in cram schools (but it’s 8 pm!). Plus, those Aussie or Japanese foreigners are not interesting – and it’s nauseating to see their supporters. It’s a different story with those hicks from neighboring province/prefecture that we will face on Saturday. We will come in full force and chanting without cease for 90 minutes. And cleaning up our trashes afterward.

More proof of this insularity? I got Winning Eleven/Pro Evo Soccer 14 for Christmas. Yay, Asian Champions League. Shall I play Guangzhou or Sanfrecce (I have enough K-League and A-League from FIFA, thank you). But first, let’s play FIFA Confederations Cup 2013!

Eh? What the hell? I scoured Internet and found it – the international version of PES 14 is not an official product of the Japan Football Association. But there’s no official press release. Just posts in fora (that’s forums). O God, I don’t believe this. Konami wants to become the official video game maker for UEFA Champions League, Copa Libertadores, and AFC Champions League. But the JFA doesn’t want foreigners to support Japan. I guess that’s the reason. I realize that now many football hipsters support Japan and discuss Kagawa, Yoshida, Honda, and Kakitani as if they are African players, but JFA does not want this.

I had two options: assembling a Japanese team composed of Hiroshima, Kashiwa, Urawa, and Sendai players plus the Europeans, or renamed the fictional players according to the Confed Cup lineups. I chose the latter and recalled my basic katakana reading skill to locate all the commentary sound files (I have the Asian version with Japanese audio option). Got them all – Kawashima, the Sakais, and Maeda. I just let the jersey to be red. Dear God, this is terrible, JFA. It’s not enough that you always refuse to provide J-League and refuse FIFA to obtain the J-League or Japan license. Now you have to discourage foreigners from playing Japan.

Then just now I caught up with an old friend and talking about Yakuza 5, which had been released in Japan last year. And Sega representatives were not happy when Westerners were asking them. Sega made limited comments that the localization (i.e. text translation) cost is too high and the fan base is too small. Konami can make the same excuse for J-League and JFA licensing. I think the real excuse is similar – Sega does not want foreigners to enjoy the virtual Kabukicho and other red light districts in Japan (in my Yakuza 4 guide I explain aspects of Japanese culture surrounding the game. Sega might have read it and unhappy that this Chinese Indonesian tells all. Who knows). Many Japanophiles enjoy Yakuza as they can become virtual tourists – and who knows, this is what actually irks Sega or some other parties in Japan.

So, ACL 14? More preliminaries? Good. Guangzhou as the big red tiger? Good. Western Sydney looks forward for the Asian away trip with caution? Fine. But I have also to brace for the possibility that both J. League and K-League teams might put on worse half-ass effort for the competition.

And what I’m sure is, I won’t buy another PES. Unless Japan win AFC Asian Cup 2015, in which I have to play PES 16. Better bet on the Socceroos then.

Three Stories+

It’s been a month. Let’s say that I’m experiencing the Kagawa Situation (it’s the title of a Robert Ludlum novel). Well, he’s back into action last Wednesday, so I expect to be like him soon (Kagawa, not Ludlum).

O yeah, unfortunately I don’t think I can do better than Kagawa in helping Japan winning the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. That’s because I heard that Pro Evo Soccer 14 is terrible. Good points: it has Japan and AFC Champions League. Bad points: As always, JFA and J. League and Konami refuse to release J. League Division 1 outside Japan. The presentation always makes me wonder what has gone wrong with Japanese aesthetic. The chance to play ACL is tempting, but PES has let me down too many times before.
What really pisses me off is it’s licensing Argentine and Chilean leagues but not Japanese. At least with FIFA I can play K-League Classic, A-League, Kagawa, Honda, and Son.

Which brings me to the main topic and the supposed sole topic of this entry: Asian-European footballers. I had noticed that FIFA rated Nagatomo at the same score with Austrian and Munich sideback David Alaba. Just few days ago, after he kept Austria’s hope for Brazil 14 alive by scoring against Ireland, that I knew that his mother is Filipina.

The next day, I learned that a Hamburger SV player named Lam scored. I thought “OK, a German like Phillip Lahm.” German alright, but his surname is Cantonese, a variation of Lin/Lim. Zhi Gin Lam joined the first team squad since 2011 and this week’s goal against Dortmund was his first.

And of course, Indonesians are really proud of Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan. Both Alaba and Nainggolan have already played for their European national teams – otherwise you can bet the Philippines’ and Indonesian football associations will ask them to migrate to Southeast Asia (Nainggolan has appeared in an Indonesian cigarette advertisement with the Becks. But of course, it’s football media ad, not cigarette).

As for Lam, well, at this point I think the competition to be in the German national team is tough, so let’s see if the Hong Kong FA approaches him like they have with English-born Sean Tse (er, actually he hasn’t played for Hong Kong) and James Ha (for HK U-23).

Anyway, none of the name I mentioned has Asian father and mother. Alaba’s father is Nigerian while the other names have European mothers. Just wondering if it’s really helping to be half-white/black when you are becoming an athlete – and why don’t more fully Asian men don’t/can’t/won’t become athletes.

That’s all about Europe. I certainly have neglected Japanese and Korean leagues for sometime, in which is a promising year for my supported team Yokohama Marinos (and another meh for Busan. At least, again, they are better than Jeju and Seongnam). Even I was just aware of the Asian Champions League’s results tonight, because of Lekhwiya’s crappy shooting skills (1. they hit the bar accurately and 2. they have Nam Tae-hee). And to my surprise, it was a great arrangement – Korea, China, and Japan all go to the semi finals. Feisty semi finals, in which a Korea team (Seoul) must travel to Iran and Japan (Kashiwa) meet China (Guangzhou). Hopefully they won’t be too ugly.

Maybe I’m just happy that Qatar again learns the lesson that money doesn’t equal to wins if they don’t invest it to grassroot football and local players the way Japan and Korea do.

Of course, Qatar has no history of land reform, heavy industry, and indigenous population holding professional skills and experiences. That’s why the government has more money than Japan and even Australia do.

O yeah, the Singaporean police has arrested Dan Tan. Hooray.

The ballad of a jersey hunter

My love, my darling, I want you, so much

In April 2006, I bought a replica of Japan home shirt for the 2006 World Cup. The Adidas shirt was available earlier in a sports chain, some kind of Foot Locker if you will, than in Adidas official outlet. Nike also stocked South Korean away and home shirts and even shorts, although I chose to save my money. As every Japanese fan knows, the 2006 kit was a big shame (get used to it, said Italian and French fans in 2010. Maybe that’s why England stick with Umbro, haw haw).

In 2010, I was expecting for both Adidas and Nike Indonesia to stock the merchandise of my favorite teams. I didn’t live in Jakarta so when I found that the outlets supplied only kits for Brazil, France, Spain and so on, and when a national sports chain sold Puma t-shirts featuring African teams, I asked friends in Jakarta to check out Nike there. My priority was for Korea since I had registered myself as a South Korean fan (not only heartbreak of 2006, but because five English blokes had registered themselves as Japanese fans). They said the result in Jakarta was zilch.

Google yielded result of random trade forums where some dudes claimed to have that royal/deep deep blue Japanese shirt, pictured in less royal fashion – hung with a plastic coat hanger on a housing door, rather than folded neatly on table’s top. I hesitated to call them so I let it go. At the end of the day, I bought a generic blue polo with knitted fake JFA logo. It wasn’t an official polo. It is a fan polo shirt. And I struck luck – I found an official 2010 World Cup t-shirt featuring South Korea.

Hmm…sometimes I’m wondering about Korean expats. How did they get their Reds stuff? Straight from Korea? Or something from Singapore? Didn’t know since every match they stayed inside Korean restaurants rather in public bars like Western expats do.

On Easter Holiday I went to Bali and hoped to find better luck in a place populated by Western and Asian consumers. First of all, what I found was that Nike and Adidas stores in Bali focus more on selling swimming and running gears rather than football stuff. I literally fumed when I found a sports warehouse and found ADIDAS’ MEXICO AND PARAGUAY HOME SHIRTS. WTF, I yelled. Anyway, since it’s the time for Euro 2012, so Adidas stocks kits for second rate European teams like um, Scotland (have to appreciate their sympathy for Japan), Denmark (Japan beat ’em 3-1. That’s second rate stuff), and hosts Ukraine. I did found a large mug with a picture of a football wearing hanbok, with texts “South Korea” under it and “Chukbae!” on the other side. A leftover of summer 2010.

Now I’m comfortable with online purchase of PC games, I thought it comes to this – look for online sellers of Japan and South Korea kits. And maybe Singapore and HK and everything. Even twice in Singapore I refrained from buying their merchandises – and when both teams’ shirts were not available, I thought it was because it was already out of stock (on second thought, I went to Singapore months BEFORE AND AFTER the Asian Cup 11. Shouldn’t they were still on stock along with Australian shirts I used to hate?)

And yes, I’m a little bit late. Most online stores, usually based in the UK, say that Japan 2010-11 home are out of stock, and only XL size is left for the nice white away shirt. Based on experience, you should wear only fitting clothes, not clothes that, in a word of a teenage girl, makes you look like a dumpling. Right, what about t-shirts? Many stores sell $20 shirts which is nothing more than plain white t-shirt printed with flag and name of a country. That’s why every imaginable nation, including East Timor and Afghanistan, are in stock. There are indeed not many alternative merchandises for Japan and South Korea – I was looking for more fashionable stuff like hoodie, cap, jacket etc. A sport jersey has many drags – you don’t wear it for first dates and in Western countries, it’s forbidden in many pubs. It’s a very expensive item which is less usable than a t-shirt. So I guess people wear it to stadium, in the mall, when playing football on the park…and what else?

I settled for an home t-shirt with “Okazaki 9” on the backside. Dude scored the goal against Denmark and hattrick against Saudi in the Asian Cup. I couldn’t make credit card purchase so I signed up with PayPal. And had to wait for a couple of days before they verified my credit card account. I ordered that Okazaki jersey, and then came the reply – turned out it was out of stock. My money was refunded and as sign of apology, I got free airmail coupon for my next purchase. So I bought that away white shirt, which was only available in XL. Maybe I could treat it like an ice hockey shirt or something. But then, same – it’s out of stock.

What now? Buying that ugly 12-13 pajama shirt (which I will if they do great in Road to Brazil 14 and the Olympics), or settling for t-shirts? Even on my further quest, I was almost scammed by a Chinese website claiming to have 2010-11 Japan home shirt for $60, which fortunately had a very questionable checkout page.  Finally I went to a United States shop and bought Adidas’ Korea t-shirt for $5 (I know, KFA uses Nike, but as the official kit supplier of FIFA World Cup, Adidas is entitled to produce other merchandises) and a plain blue t-shirt printed with text and image “Japan – 2011 Champions”. It’s a plain blue shirt, but since maybe Adidas and JFA don’t sell something outside Japan to celebrate the Asian Champions and the Women World Cup champions, I have to appreciate some guys in Alabama for doing so.

The shipping and duties etc. cost more than the goods, but it’s still under $100 for two items. After waiting for about ten days, I got the shirts yesterday. Which I could wear to many places in pride.