Thursday, December 14, 2006

What I've Learnt This Week

We're in Yokohama this evening for Barcelona vs Club Mexico. The Japanese fans are really out in force this evening, and they're all supporting Barca. It's going to be a home match for them this evening. The arrival of the Catalans in Japan has caused more excitement than I thought it might. The hacks are all here this evening, and my excitement has reached fever pitch by spotting former Anglia TV commentator Gerry Harrison sitting not ten yards away from me. I might go over and ask him whether he remembers when my junior school knitted the world's longest football scarf and paraded it on the pitch at Kenilworth Road before a match between Luton Town and West Bromwich Albion that he was covering in 1983. How could he conceivably have forgotten that?

By half-time this evening, we'll have reached the halfway point in the competition, so I thought that now would be a good time to stop and have a look back over the last few days. What have I learnt since I've been in Japan? Perhaps surprisingly, I think I've actually learnt a lot. This is obviously a very good thing. My candidacy for a post with FIFA was already strong, but I feel that I'm at the point now of being able to launch an almost completely watertight case for a place amongst the game's great and good. So, let's have a look back and see what I've learnt.

1. Playing matches in a stadium with the roof on it when it's half empty is a really bad idea. Everything echoes too much, and it ends up sounding like it's being played in a car park. I'm not a fan of keeping the roof on ever, but this is really beyond the pale.

2. The current format of the World Club Cup is flawed. Sorry, but there is just so much room for improvement here. Even if it was two groups of three with the Europeans and South Americans playing as group seeds, this would be better than what we have now.

3. The music that is played while the teams line up before kick-off is terrible. Awful. FIFA should have it's own anthem, with words and everything that everyone has to sing before these matches. Something like "God Save The Sepp", perhaps. Or "The Star Spangled Blatter".

4. There's aren't as many "duck" puns as I had originally thought there would be. I've got three days left to think of some more, and I can't help but think that I've already used by best ones.

5. Japanese fans care about the Premiership and nothing else. On Saturday night, I sat up and watched the Manchester derby and Liverpool vs Fulham. Not even the most cursory of glances was made towards the Football League. The Japanese must wonder where the promoted sides come from.

6. Gerry Harrison is much, much taller than I thought he would be.

7. No-one wants press conferences. The managers and coaches don't, and respond by spouting out the most banal things that they can think of. The press aren't interested in what they have to say, and often don't even ask questions at all (sample "question" from the press conference after last night's match between Internacional and Ahly SC to the Ahly coach from an Egyptian journalist: "You presented Egyptian football very well. We are very proud of you.".

8. Whether this competition is a success or not will be judged almost entirely on whether Ronaldinho plays. Some of the people around here are so excited that they're almost weeing themselves.

9. The Brazilian fans are complete and utter mentalists. Their almost deranged devotion to their club is almost infectious. They are, on their own, worth the admission fee. And they are all massively, massively drunk.

10. The "smaller" clubs are massively unhappy with the format of this tournament. Here are the Ahly SC coach's thoughts on the matter from after last night's match: "The competition is not fair, giving a seeded place to the Brazilian team. Maybe we have to have a fairer system. Maybe it is always set so that the European and American teams get to the final. It would be more interesting if everyone was drawn equally, and would be fairer to the other continents. It is important, though, for the organisers to think of the money."." Harsh words indeed.

Right then. There's just over an hour to kick-off this evening and, due to the fact that we apparently have internet connections at our desks inside the stadium this evening, I'm planning a live commentary from inside the bowels of the Nissan Stadium here in Yokohama. It would be lovely to see you there. Otherwise, my noodlings will be up here later on.


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