To my considerable surprise, this post is coming to you from the media centre, deep in the bowels of the Toyota Stadium, in Toyota City. Sponsorship taken to its logical conclusion, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’ve got my press pass, I’ve got my match ticket, and I’m ready to cheer on Auckland City against Ahly Sporting Club this evening.
Last night it was time to meet the bosses, whose idea of getting to know us was to take us to a Japanese restaurant and throw cold fish, hot fish, asparagus, meat and booze down our necks until I started arguing about why, at the time, it looked as if Tottenham had done a brilliant bit of business by signing Sergei Rebrov rather than Thierry Henry. Restless after everyone else had gone to bed, I wandered into town on my own and ended up watching the Manchester derby and Liverpool vs Fulham with a TEFL teacher from Yeovil. At one point, an Englishman walked in and asked breathlessly, “does anyone know how Ipswich got on today?”, but we didn’t. There had been no mention on the television of anybody playing below the Premiership. They don’t know what they’re missing out on.
This afternoon, we left for Toyota City on the Bullet Train. Whilst impressive to look at (it looks about twice the length of a standard British train), which didn’t feel like it was going like a bullet. It took us an hour and three-quarters to reach Nagoya, and a further forty minutes on Nagoya’s impressively baffling Metro system to reach the stadium itself. The Toyota Stadium is an impressive sight. Barely half a mile from the city centre, it was built in 2001 for the World Cup the following year, and is now the home of Gary Lineker’s old mob, Nagoya Grampus 8. Having got my press pass and set up the laptop, I took the time to have a wander around the “Fan Festa”, taking place in a car park outside the ground.
The perimeter of it was largely taken up with people selling food and drink, but at the end was a stage, upon which a large crowd was watching two people, one male and one female, talking about Brazil (I only knew this because I distinctly heard them mention “Ronaldihno” and “Ronaldo”). Now, I don’t know if the Japanese are exceptionally easily pleased, or whether there was some hidden context that was missing to me, but it seemed like an awfully big crowd to be watching two people just sit and talk. If there had been dancing girls, or if they’d performed an impromptu “Kick Racism Out Of Football” song called “Da Doo Ron Atkinson” or something, then perhaps my interest in it could have been sustained for a little longer. As it was, two very cold looking people sitting on a stage didn’t really do it for me, so I wandered back up here (taking time out en route to eat a taco and dribble approximately two-thirds of the content of it down my front) to write this.
One final memo to anybody that happens to be reading this from FIFA: if you’re going to run a two page interview with somebody from Barcelona, can you use someone other than Carles Puyol? Not only is he dreadfully dull (sample: “You’ve spent a long time at FC Barcelona, beginning with your days at the cantera. What is it about FC Barcelona that fascinates? I can say with all confidence that FC Barcelona are the number club in the world”, but he is also quite staggeringly ugly. Honestly – the guy’s face could make milk curdle at fifty paces.