Urawa fans tear down the barrier and storm over to Gamba
So fair enough, a mob of Kashiwa Reysol hoolies attacking S-Pulse fans is never going to be headline news. Some Japanese would be hard pushed to even point out Kashiwa on a map, let alone care about any goings on there. Even for those who witness it, (the local police, for one) such incidents are quickly filed under the ignore-it-and-pretend-it-never-happened category. So when ugly scenes broke out at the home of Asian Champion's League winners and self-styled flagship side of Japan, Urawa Reds, there's clearly no avoiding the fact that hooliganism is a problem in the J. League. Well, so you might think. Since Saturday, the JFA denial machine has been working overtime to sweep another instance of supporter violence neatly under the carpet.
Fans clash after Gamba's 3-2 defeat of Urawa
The two old enemies Gamba Osaka and Urawa Red Diamonds met at the Saitama Stadium in what was always going to be a highly charged affair. To spice proceedings up further, Gamba's second goal of three came directly off the back of a refereeing cock up which saw a clear Reds throw awarded the wrong way. A quick throw in and pass later, and it was in the back of the net. Reds fans and players went ballistic as you might well expect. Fast forward to the end: Gamba complete the away victory 3-2 and understandably revel in winning away in front of a 57000 crowd. While they celebrate, Urawa players storm over and start mixing it up, which all soon spills over into the terraces. It was perpetual shit-stirrer Tulio who, after helping to start the melee in the first place, was later the one whining the loudest about a lack of fair play and respect - oh, the irony!
The official line states that Gamba fans began by throwing empty plastic bottles into the neighbouring Reds supporters. Apparently the crushing weight of a water balloon (a water balloon!!) injured a young fan so badly that Reds supporters felt justified in tearing down the dividing barrier in an effort to reach the Osaka area. As parts of the demolished plastic wall and more bottles rained down on the Gamba fans, they too rushed the barrier. When thousands of home fans blockaded the away stand exit and started tearing down and destroying Gamba flags, it took several hours before the visitors could be evacuated past the baying mob to safety. A statement from Gamba this morning apologised for their fans' provocative behaviour, and a lengthy release from Urawa said much the same. There has so far been no word from the JFA or J. League regarding punishments for either team. Will they have the balls to hit Urawa or Gamba with anything other than a nominal fine?
Whoever started it and why, and whoever retaliated and why is all academic. The fact is hooliganism in alive and well in the J. League. This isn't news for many of us, but for some this is yet another incident which needs to be talked away and quickly forgotten. It wasn't even mentioned on the national news on Monday morning, and will likely not be heard of again in the mainstream media. I very much doubt either team will be disciplined in any meaningful way, as that then admits the problem exists - something noone seems willing to do. And yet there it is, on the biggest stage of the national league: barriers being smashed up, fans charging each other and missiles raining down.
I'm often reminded in Japan of England's hooligan problem. Yes, it still sometimes happens in the UK, but I honestly can't remember the last time I saw anything like that inside an English ground. There was no real fighting, but the JFA needs to start dishing our substantial punishments now before things escalate. How many Reds hoolies are now going to be buying tickets for the return fixture in November? On the video below one supporter is seen having fallen a pretty hefty drop into the dry moat. He got away with just a broken ankle, so I guess we'll have to wait until fans start getting more seriously hurt until people start waking up and taking action. JFA - prove me wrong.
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