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England's Enviable Football Culture

Masayuki Ishii
Associate Professor of Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

To this day, I believe that England remains a footballing nation. During the research leave, I spent nine months living there. One of my friends is a fan of Manchester United, but always sheepishly justifies his allegiance: “I was born in Manchester, so I was brought up to support United since I was small.” Another Mancunian that I know exclaims with gusto, “I hate United. Most people from Manchester are City fans you know.” Another time a colleague of mine from London asked me if I knew of Leyton Orient, a local club playing in League 1 (equivalent to Japan's third tier). “I've supported them ever since I was a kid,” he says with a hint of pride.

England is a country where playoffs for qualification from the second to first tier (Premier League), and even from third to second are shown live on BBC television, and where the hallowed ground of Wembley Stadium fills to 70 or 80% of its capacity. Eventually I decided to buy myself a season ticket to my local club, and walk for 20 minutes from my house to the stadium to watch matches.

The city I live in is the birthplace of former Nagoya player, Gary Lineker, and the place where he began his professional career. One lady that I happened to get to know boasted that her son was one of Lineker's classmates, and that he would come to their house to play. “He really was a polite young boy,” she told me.

That same Lineker is now a presenter on the BBC's long-running TV program, “Match of the Day” on which he, alongside three other ex-football players, presents that day's games. Where in Japan these seats might be filled by a so-called “Tarento” (TV personality) or female announcer, here both the anchorman and the commentators are all former players. The content can be quite technical, the kind of thing that would be considered the reserve of the late-night viewer in my country. Game analysis is finely detailed and includes not only the goals, but failed attempts. The referee is shown no mercy, with blunt appraisals like, “I think that's a ridiculous judgment,” while good calls are praised with a “well done ref.” Commentators' opinions can be divided: “That should have been a penalty,” “No, the referee was right there.” While the season lasts, debates like this one are repeated week after week on television, in newspapers and in the pubs.

England's “Golden Generation” may have suffered a crushing defeat, but I can't help but envy this nations football culture. I wonder if Japan will one day be ready for a serious football program anchored by either “Kazu” (Kazuyoshi Miura) or “Gon” (Masashi Nakayama). I'm sure that it would lead to a great improvement in Japanese football.

Masayuki Ishii
Associate Professor of Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Graduated from School of Education, Waseda University, majoring in physical education.
Completed studies of cultural and regional environment in Europe at the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University.
Full-time Lecturer at Prefectural University of Hiroshima, until present post.
Specialist in sports history.
Selected papers:
“Britain's Social History Seen through Rugby” in Minzokugaku Quarterly, National Museum of Ethnology, Japan.
“Orientalism on the Field” in Sports, Minerva Publishing.