Think you've read it all when it comes to football? This book will certainly provide a new angle.
When one thinks of footballers plying their trade on foreign shores, rarely does Japan come to mind. Serie A in Italy, or Spain's Primera Liga, maybe, but the J-League? An ageing Gary Linker apart, most fans would struggle to name any European or South American footballing luminaries who have packed their boots and headed to the Far East.
Yet the surprise uncovered by Ultra Nippon is that there are many from football's first world earning a living in the J-League, playing, coaching and even refereeing.
Adding himself to the western contingent hooked up with the fortunes of the Japanese game, Jonathan Burchill has come up with a story which provides the ultimate contrast to standard football fare. For starters, you don't get teams called Grampus Eight, Shimizu S-Pulse, and Kyoto Purple Sanga just anywhere. And that's not the only contrast.
Birchall's odyssey takes in samba bands and giant parrots in a football world devoid of hooliganism. Organised dancing, not fighting, is clearly all the rage at Japanese grounds, and as the story unfolds the effect that Japan's national history, and culture and characteristics have had on the integration of the game become clear.
For much of the last few decades, the Western world has looked East with astonishment, at achievements economic and technological. In the football world, the pattern is different. Japan, with little confidence, looks West for its lead on the pitch, even if everything else surrounding the game seems from another world. Such a culture of deference appears to run right through the Japanese game.
Its influence has provided a bizarre canvas on which the author has painted a fine picture, making essential reading for the thinkers in the football fraternity. Planet football could and can easily be very different.
For any fan thinking otherwise, this should be compulsory reading. --Trevor Crowe
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.