Japan and the Rise of Responsible Football Fans.

 In Game, Sustainability

Hooligan.noun: hooligan; plural: hooligans. Meaning; a violent young troublemaker, typically one of a gang. Use in a sentence; “Two groups of football hooligans clashed outside the stadium after the match ended in a draw”.

For the better part of the last three decades, a hooligan was the common term used to describe rowdy football fans, especially of the English variety. While not all football fans engaged in violence; through the nineties, violence and clashes between rival fan groups were pretty much standard all through Europe. The English had their notorious ‘Firms’ and the rest of European clubs had ‘Ultra’s’. After a slew of football related deaths and damage to public property started hurting the reputation of the game, FIFA and most national Football Associations started taking a zero tolerance stance against the radical fan groups.

Football hooligans were identified and banned from traveling or entering stadiums, clubs stopped associating themselves with Ultra groups that indulged in violence, and strong security measures were put in place at international events to ensure safety of fans.

While all these measures made the sport much safer for fans and for the public, it didn’t really change the general perception of football fans and fan culture. Fans were still looked upon as a boisterous bunch that have a slight affinity for alcohol consumption. Post matches, football viewing areas such as stadiums, bars and public squares mostly resemble a site that was smacked with a moderate level hurricane.

And that’s where the Japanese come in.

Japan are not really known for their footballing pedigree. I mean, they’re certainly one of the finest sides in Asia but they don’t really stand out at tournaments nor create lasting football legacies like the Brazilians did with their Joga Bonito or Spain did with their Tiki Taka philosophy. They come, participate, play hard and leave.

But now, they’re leaving a lasting legacy in footballing culture with their attitude and behavior off the pitch. It started in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where after Japan’s match against Ivory Coast, Japanese fans were spotted clearing paper cups and other litter at the stadium. The photos and videos quickly went viral and people all over lauded the Japanese for the act.

In Japan it is considered appropriate to clean up after yourself at public events such as concerts, sporting events, and festivals. You’re even expected to take the trash home if there is no place to dispose of it on the spot. Cleanliness is an integral part of Japanese culture and that’s what the fans brought to the tournaments.

And that is one of the most beautiful aspects of football. It allows countries and cultures to come together and share and learn from each other. Soon, fans from other countries started following Japan’s lead. Senegalese fans stayed back after every game at this World Cup and cleared up their section of the stadium. The Japanese team too, took a leaf out of their fans actions and cleaned up the dressing room after their last game.

It did not take long for football fans right here at home too, to take inspiration after the Japanese. In that very year of the Brazil World Cup, in the 2014 edition of the ISL, FC Goa fans stayed back after a game with Delhi Dynamos and helped stadium staff clear up the stands. Now, after every home game, this group of fans stay on and clear their section of the stadium.

In a country and planet that is suffering with the weight of trash, it’s brilliant to see football fans move away from old habits and shine the light on responsible actions!

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