On a blustery pre-rainy season Saturday in June, Kyoto Purple Sanga took on Montideo Yamagata in a second division (J2) match in Japan's professional soccer league.
It had poured rain only a few hours before kickoff, with great thunder and lightning. Perhaps as a result, only 5,600 fans made it to the match.
We bought seats in the home supporters section behind the south goal. Ominous clouds scudded across the sky, the dark purple Hankyu Line trains rolled by in the distance in 5-minute intervals, and Kyoto supporters chanted and sang (to listen, click on #5-8) for the entire 90 minutes of the match.
At home, it was a must win for Kyoto. Sanga was in fourth place going into the match, the visitors third. In order to have a shot at promotion to the top division of Japanese soccer, J1, at the end of the season in November a J2 club must finish in one of the top three spots.
Kyoto looked sharp in the first half and went up thanks to two early goals courtesy of Kuronuki and the tiny Brazilian Paulinho. Montideo never threatened, and a third goal late in the match sealed the win for Sanga.
The supporters club to our right consisted of people who appeared to be mainly in their 30s and 40s. A bare-chested younger man up front led chants with a bullhorn and choreographed flag waving and other movements. There were at least two large drums, which were used to keep the beat and fire up the team.
There was no hostility in the stands, and many fans brought children to the match. (The most hostile act of the day came from the players following the match: on their victory lap they perfunctorily clapped and bowed to the supporters section, and then immediately walked off the pitch ignoring the pleas for autographs or at least a handshake from the many children gathered in the stands.)
The supporters from both teams were let out at the same time after the match, police were nowhere to be seen, and the train home was packed with members of both groups but not threatening in the least.
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007