Football leads the recovery effort in Japan

Football leads the recovery effort in Japan

The banner on the half way said it all – Football Saves Japan.

It might be a little strong to say that Football has “saved” Japan, but Football is playing a leading role in the recovery effort currently underway in Japan.

Players pause for a monents silence before the game

At the forefront of that is the Charity Match between the Japanese national team and a J. League XI, appropriately named ‘Team as One’.

The match was the first significant entertainment event put on since the March 11 disaster and allowed the grieving nation an opportunity to put to one side the heartache of the previous two weeks and enjoy a game of Football.

Of course, given the occasion, the disaster wasn’t far from the minds of everyone at Nagai Stadium that night, but nevertheless it was an important milestone for the people of Japan.

The match and its associated fundraising efforts raised over ¥21,500,000 for the disaster relief fund, an outstanding achievement.

‘Team as One’ was an appropriate term for the J. League side given that since the disaster struck, the J. League and all its clubs have been just that.

No sooner had people started to get a handle of the disaster than the J.League clubs started fundraising efforts and organising charity matches and public appearances to raise much needed funds.

Urawa Reds started out with a donation of ¥2,000,000, Sanfrecce Hiroshima through a Charity Game and fundraising efforts had raised ¥3,200,000 in the first few days and continue to raise money.

Defending J. League champion Nagoya Grampus, who were on their way to Sendai for a Round 2 clash with Vegalta Sendai when the quake struck, hit the streets and raised over ¥3,000,000 from donations.

FC Tokyo players in the community seeking donations

FC Tokyo held a Charity Game at Ajinomoto Stadium against JFL side Yokogawa Musashino, with over 9000 people attending, raising more than ¥8,000,000 through donations and an extra ¥2,000,000 from a charity auction.

One of the more touching moments came at the charity game between Kyoto Sanga and Cerezo Osaka.

Before the game both sets of supporters got together and decided that they would watch the game in silence as a tribute to those affected by the quake.

Hiroki Yoshida, the leader of the Sanga supporters said: “Today it was not about the result, so we and Cerezo’s fans talked before the game and decided just to watch it quietly.”

“Sport embraces a huge chunk of Japanese society,” added Yoshida. “So through football we and the players want to send a message of hope, and that’s why we were here today and we are planning more events.”

It’s an attitude replicated right across Japan, with everyone, regardless of their stature, doing what they can to help out.

One fantastic example comes from a Japanese player that would be unknown to most, toiling away in the lower leagues of England.

Tamuki Ake, who plays his club Football for Chelmsford City in the Conference, was left horrified by the footage he witnessed on TV. He knew he had to do something.

Tamuki Ake (third from right) with volunteers raising money for 'Tako's Fund' in Chelmsford

“Since the earthquake happened I’ve been thinking about which ways I can help Japan. After Saturday’s game I spoke to the Manager and the Chairman and they said they were happy to help me. Since then the members of the Supporters Club have organised everything. I’m just fortunate enough to play football in this difficult time. Everyone’s behind me and it’s an absolutely amazing feeling,” he told Chelmsford’s official website.

Chelmsford’s Chairman, Mansell Wallace, kick-started the fundraising by allowing a bucket to be taken around at their home clash with Dover, with the original target of £1000 smashed after the first night.

At the time of writing this, over £3500 has been raised for ‘Tako’s Fund’, an amazing sign of how the football community right across the globe has come together to support Japan in this time of need.

Jun Nagata, a humble service industry worker from Osaka summed it up best when, on Tuesday night, he said: “Football may be a small thing in the grand scheme of things but it’s these little things that become the first step to build into something bigger.”

Football might not have “saved” Japan, but it has certainly helped set it on the course to recovery.

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