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Ultra Nippon: How Japan Reinvented Football Hardcover – 4 May 2000
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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
About the Author
Jonathan Birchall has been BBC correspondent in the Far East for more than a decade and has written on sport and politics for the Financial Times, Guardian and many other publications. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Jonathan Birchall, an English journalist formerly based in Japan, has written a passionate account of his year following the J-League. Amidst the rigid and formal structure of Japanese society, there is a niche culture that surrounds the clubs that play in the J-League. Birchall does a fine job in immersing himself and exploring that culture in "Ultra Nippon: How Japan Reinvented Football". In preparing this book, Birchall has not only talked to the fans, but also to the players and managers. In this way, the reader gains a perspective of the life of a journeyman football player, those who leave their own shores to seek a better life offshore, as well as the personalities of the fans and supporters. Like most professional leagues, the J-League has its fair share of Brazilian players, three of which feature in the team Birchall follows, the Shimizu S-Pulse. The team is managed by former Tottenham player Steve Perryman, who adds some insight on the Japanese game from the point of view of an English former professional player. Although serving partially as a very informal history of the J-League, including a commentary on some of the more famous players and managers that have graced the J-League, as well as the bizarre club names and past controversies, "Ultra Nippon" is really an engaging tale of the travels and troubles of Shimizu S-Pulse during the 1999 J-League season, and the club's supporters, with a bit of insight on Japanese culture meshing with professional football thrown in for good measure.
Relatively dated now as it was published in 2000, prior to Japan co-hosting with South Korea the 2002 World Cup, "Ultra Nippon: How Japan Reinvented Football" is still an interesting insight into an ex-pat's experience of a foreign football league. I didn't quite get the sense that Japan "reinvented" football as per the subtitle of this book, but more reinvigorated it. Still, "Ultra Nippon" is well worth a space on the bookshelf, especially if you have an interest in East Asian football.
Read this book before you go to Japan to watch the World Cup and you will get an insight into how football became the life for many fans of one of the World Cup host nations.
This book follows the season of one Japanese team and its ultra-loyal fans. It is written with rare sympathy and great deal of humour. You may find yourself wondering maybe we should try follow our teams the same way.
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