Celtic fans will be amazed by the matchday experience in Japan

In these times, barely a day goes by where I don’t read about some kind of ridiculous treatment meted out to football fans somewhere in Scotland. Whether it’s fans being kettled by police, filmed without their consent, or sometimes even having their houses raided, Scottish football continues to do all it can to discourage people from attending games.

In Japan, it is the polar opposite. It is a completely different experience altogether.

The frustrating part is, with just a little bit of better management from organizers, some respect for fans from the authorities and perhaps a tad more care and attention from the clubs themselves, we could have it as good as Japan does now.

Going to the football in Japan is a thoroughly enjoyable, family-friendly, yet still highly energetic experience. Here are a few reasons why.

Stadium Access, Minimal Policing

Japanese police have the same approach to football crowds as they do the public in general. In short, the line is “don’t make problems for us, and we won’t make problems for you”.

To say police presence at J-League matches is minimal would be an understatement. In 10-plus years of attending games on a semi-regular basis, I have yet to actually see a police officer. Now, of course they are there, I am sure, but there is no need for them to be “up in the faces of the fans” so to speak. Stewards are clearly visible, but their role is only to guide fans to and from seats, and ensure prompt help for anyone who is taken ill.

On the subject of access, larger stadiums like Nissan Stadium (where Celtic will play Yokohama F-Marinos) has a train station just around the corner and is a little over a 10 minute walk from the high speed “shinkansen” rail network, connecting Yokohama with most of Japan.

The Celtic Way is a spectacular display, but it pales in comparison to the areas around the Nissan Stadium. For about half a mile or so around the stadium, the entire area is pedestrianized, with food stalls, merchandise shops and regular seating for fans to take respite from the heat and humidity of the Japanese summer.

There’s an overall feeling that you are there as a paying customer first, and a fan second.

A Different Approach to Alcohol

The last time I visited the Nissan Stadium was in 2019, to see Manchester City play a friendly match there. I met a couple of friends near Yokohama Station beforehand. My friend, who is also from Scotland, had the idea of going for the customary “Pre-match pint”. It was mid-July after all, and a very hot day.

Then our Japanese companion reminded us: “Eh, guys, just get beers at the stadium, it’s more convenient.”

So ingrained had the idea that you can’t drink alcohol inside a football stadium been in our minds that it never even occurred to us that we didn’t need a pre-match drink.

And here’s the funny thing. Because there wasn’t this urgency to drink pre and post-match, I actually drank far less that day than I would back in the days when I had a Celtic season ticket. I still enjoyed a few cold beers, but the lack of time pressure, or the sudden rush to the stadium afterwards made it so much more relaxed. If you need a top-up during the game, staff actually move through the terraces selling beers during the match as well. Everyone was refreshed, relaxed and not a single drunkard in sight.

This is the nuance that I think authorities in Scotland either can’t see because of their own myopia, or refuse to see on account of their own biases. They say that allowing alcohol in stadiums would lead to drunkenness and violence in the stands. When, in fact, in my opinion, the primary cause of trouble at games in Scotland is people getting absolutely hammered before games, because they try to cram in as much as they can before kick-off. Remove that pressure valve of a time constraint and you defuse the whole situation. Rugby and cricket matches, as well as the majority of football games in England show that this is not only feasible, it’s the norm.

There is no reason why fans shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy a pint or two at the game, beyond the need for authorities to feel in control.

Proper Food and Drink Options

One of the main gripes a lot of fans in Scotland have beyond not being able to enjoy a beer at the game is the lack of decent food, at reasonable prices.

Anyone who has studied economics for 10 minutes will tell you, monopolies discourage innovation and are bad for consumers. Every football stadium in Scotland is, in essence, a self-contained monopoly. No matter where you go in the standard seating areas of the stadium, the catering options are exactly the same. Usually, a lukewarm hotdog, a burnt scotch pie, or if you’re particularly lucky, a bag of chips harder than depleted uranium.

Japan navigates this by having multiple food franchises operate in each stadium concourse.

Fancy some fried chicken, it’s there. Maybe you’re rather have a curry, or a hotdog, or perhaps some sushi? All of these different types of food are on offer. The same goes for drinks too, both soft and alcoholic.

Visitors will also be surprised at the, admittedly still slightly high, but far more reasonable pricing. Because, guess what, when you eliminate a monopoly, suddenly you have competition, and competition is good for consumers. It keeps prices low, but ensures quality is maintained. Again, this is another facet of the simple change in attitude. I feel like a customer, not a fan. The Scottish notion of “you’ll take what we give you and like it” just wouldn’t fly here.

Standardized Pricing Across the Entire League

This point is one which, though initially it would damage Celtic’s bottom line, would ultimately benefit Scottish football in the medium to long term.

Whoever you support in the J-League, whether it’s a high-flyer like Vissel Kobe or a third-tier minnow like my local team Matsumoto Yamaga, prices are the same.

Tickets vary from 3,500 yen (19 pounds) yen up to 9,000 yen (50 pounds). Season tickets start from just 30,000 yen (165 pounds). Of course this means bigger clubs don’t make quite as much, but, it also prevents price gouging of their own fans when they visit smaller stadia.

Most importantly, it keeps football as a sport truly accessible to all. Families, the elderly, everyone can afford to take in a game from time to time with these prices.

Bigger clubs will naturally generate more revenue than smaller clubs, through merchandise and higher attendances.


Zero Tolerance of Racism and Bigotry

Even in a nation as outwardly peaceful as Japan, prejudice still exists. It has in recent times reared its ugly head in the J-League. However, unlike Scotland, where certain fans spout sectarian bile and glorify genocide on a weekly basis with impunity, it’s only happened once in the J-League in recent memory.

There was no repeat, because the Japan Football Association took quick, decisive and genuinely punitive action against the offending club.

Urawa Reds are a team I don’t have time for. You’ll often hear me on Celtic Down Under and ACSOM referring to them as “The Rangers of Japan”. Their fans have a small, but expectedly vocal minority of ultra-nationalist Japanese neo-fascists among them.

In Early 2014, they unfurled a “Japanese Only” banner, apparently aimed at some foreign fans among their own support at the stadium entrance.

Unlike in Scotland, the club president took ownership of the issue, opted to forego 3 months’ salary, apologised publicly and banned the 20 or so fans responsible for life.

However, despite this the JFA still clamped down hard on Urawa. They were fined, and ordered to play their next game behind closed doors. Additionally, all advertising boards for the game were replaced with UN anti-racism promotional material.

Funnily enough, despite this element in their support still flaring up occasionally, they haven’t dared repeat that banner display in the near decade that has followed.

Imagine what would happen in Scotland if our own governing body had the courage to hold a certain young club to those same standards.

Liam Carrigan


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