Soccer insanity as Green Army gears up
開幕まで50日を切った日韓ワールドカップ。3度目のＷ杯出場となるアイルランド代表チームは、出雲市と千葉市をキャンプ地とし、新潟、茨城、横浜でリーグ戦を戦います。アイルランド人サポーターも3,000人以上が来日する予定。来日組も、残って TV 観戦するファンも、喜々として観戦準備を進めています。
In terms of soccer, the Irish national team has had a very successful year to date in 2002. Undoubtedly, the highlight so far has been in qualifying for the World Cup to be held in Japan and Korea this summer. It is only the third occasion in history that we have qualified for the World Cup. Soccer is an extremely popular sport in Ireland, and so for the Irish people it is a momentous event.
Ireland will begin their bid for football's ultimate prize with a battle against Cameroon, the reigning African Nations Cup champions, in Niigata on June 1. Four days later they will play Germany in Ibaraki, and their final qualifier against Saudi Arabia will be held in Yokohama on June 11.
One Irish supporter, Mark Caslin, 28, will travel to Japan in June with four friends. He admits, "The trip is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Sure, it's really expensive, but the bank manager thinks I'm getting a new car."
The average cost for an Irish supporter to travel to Japan, including tickets for the first three Irish matches, is approximately 5,900 Euros (¥690,300). Mark isn't alone in making dubious bank loan applications. When Ireland qualified for the World Cup in 1990 for the first time, a record number of bank loan applications for new cars and housing extensions were made to all Irish banks. Hardly any new cars were sold but travel agents reported a bumper year for sales. The official ticket allocation to Ireland is 3,000 and most estimates agree that at least this number will travel to Japan to lend their support to the Irish soccer team.
What kind of creature is the garden-variety Irish football fan? The typical traveling Irish soccer fan is a peculiarly friendly specimen. They are predominantly male, and although they call themselves the Green Army, they have the reputation for being the most amicable traveling supporters in the world. Their oufits may look outlandish with their green jerseys, green face paint and green wigs. Waving Irish flags, they will converge on all stadia with unrestrained fervor.
Innocent Japanese bystanders may need earplugs as loud and out-of-tune singing is unavoidable — the chant of "OLE, OLE, OLE" will be heard at every Irish match. Yet the average Japanese citizen can rest assured that the only thing threatened by their presence will be the local beer supply.
The Irish team have already picked their training camps in Japan. They will start in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture. Izumo believes that hosting the Irish team will result in an economic windfall of approximately ¥950 million, and that local tourism will also be boosted by the publicity surrounding the presence of the Irish team.
However, they will not be the first famous Irishmen to visit Izumo. Lafcadio Hearn (Yakumo Koizumi), the famous writer of Irish-Greek parents, certainly loved Izumo and Shimane, and brought both to the attention of the world through his writings.
As part of their preparations, the Irish will play a warm-up match against Hiroshima on May 25. Our star player would have to be Roy Keane (nicknamed Keano) who currently plays for Manchester United and is seen by many as the heart of the team.
Gerry Davitt, a 36-year-old self-employed builder, will attend a course on Japanese culture before going to Japan. He acknowledges, "My wife thinks I'm insane traveling so far, but I'm doing the course next week and dying to go." This course is part of a series of cultural seminars organized by the Football Association of Ireland for Irish supporters to inform them a little about Japanese culture, customs and cuisine as well as give them crash courses in the Japanese language.
Japan is seen as too far, too foreign and too expensive by most Irish supporters. For those left at home, there are a different set of problems: The majority of Ireland's matches will take place in the early morning as Japanese time is 9 1/2 hours ahead of Ireland. In February the Irish government received an e-mail petition from 3,500 supporters requesting the Irish government to abandon GMT and adopt Japanese time for the month of June. Naturally, even the most optimistic lunatic could not expect the government to accede to such a request.
However, there is a strong rumor that the Irish general election will be held and finalized by mid-May 2002 to ensure that the Irish taoiseach will have enough time to attend all of Ireland's games in Japan. Employers and schools are already planning to make special arrangements to televise all matches in order to avoid huge levels of staff and pupil absenteeism on match days.
A famous soccer manager was once asked if the game of soccer was a matter of life and death. He replied, "No, it's more important than that." Most people would concede that this is an extreme viewpoint. Nonetheless, you can be certain of one thing: On the morning of any Irish match, this country will be at a virtual standstill as Irish eyes focus on Japan like never before.
Shukan ST: April 19, 2002
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