If you are reading this blog, then you have either stumbled across it by accident (which may be a good thing as Japanese football is great) or you are a fan of Japanese football, and more specifically, I hope, a fan of Gamba Osaka. Really, I want to tell you about my story and how I got interested and now involved in Japanese football, as well as my aims in regards to this blog and what I hope to achieve by writing about the team that I so passionately love more than my other team, Manchester United (who I have supported since I can remember), and how I hope I can influence someone else to give the J.League a try, even if you decide that Gamba Osaka is not for you.
So when did I start being a fan of Gamba Osaka? Well, I first encountered them through watching said Red Devils play them in the Club World Cup in 2008. Yet, I did not focus on them until 2010. By then, I had developed my interest in Japan a lot, with rock music, literature, manga, animé, culture, and tradition etc. (you get the idea). But football was missing, so I did some research as I had long forgotten about Gamba Osaka. Given that my favourite place in Japan was Kansai, I had a choice of four teams: Kyoto Sanga, Gamba Osaka, Cerezo Osaka and Vissel Kobe. At the time, I completely ignored Kobe, Kyoto was stuck right at the bottom of J1 and Cerezo wore pink. So, Gamba it was.
What made it better though was that a certain Yasuhito Endo, the man who fooled van der Sar with his “Korokoro PK”, was part of the team. His displays in the World Cup (and not least that free-kick against Denmark) were enough to sway me to the blue, and better, part of Osaka.
Nevertheless, I did not start watching Gamba Osaka matches until the season just gone (2012). I bit the bullet and decided to give them a chance to surprise me (but only after that ugly Serrao had gone). Did they? Yes! They lost to Sanfreece Hiroshima 4-1. That woeful defence proved to be the downfall in this game and the whole season, but there was promise when the team got back to 2-1. They won a penalty after a period of prolonged pressure, but Terada missed (I was dumbfounded that Endo did not take it) which swayed the game back to Hiroshima. But I was hooked.
And how last season could have been so different if Nishino was still manager, if the board and management had got their heads banged together and if Gamba could have just tided that shocking defence up. The team was great at giving hope and then ruining it. How many points were lost in the last five minutes of matches? The team was a real rollercoaster until the end; the toughness of the situation and the unreality of the change in position from 2011 to 2012 were frightening. Yet it was their never defend and never say die attitude that won me over.
The highlights of the season? 5-0 away wins against Nagoya Grampus and Urawa Reds, coupled with two high-scoring victories against dire Consadole Sapporo (4-0 and 7-2). And how about all those times Leandro dug us out of a hole?
The lowlights of the season? Where to begin? The decisions the board made, Serrao’s disgusting face, 5-0 defeat away to Kashima, all those late goals we conceded in the middle of the season, Fujigaya’s awful goalkeeping, waking up as early as 5:30am and our inability to replicate that symbolic attitude of “you score 3, we score 5”.
Last but not least, that day in Iwata where all these negatives came to a head. The tears of defeat, relegation, disbelief and fear took a hold. Yet one thing is clear for me – it was all worth it. In the end, we were relegated but it did not matter so much in a sense because this team had won over my heart and my footballing life (and my wallet). This was the team for me, no matter what. There is no other side in Japan that is as entertaining and as unpredictable as Gamba Osaka. They encapsulated everything positive on the pitch and worthy of the word “entertainment”. It is hard to describe what they mean to me and how I feel about them, but one thing is for sure – their relegation only confirmed my true love for them, and even in J2, I will be there (in spirit), every step of the way.
Watching the games was only one part of the past season. You also have to find out information, talk to people about the team you love, spread the passion and feel a part of something. Without the help of Alan Gibson, owner of JSoccer Magazine, I would not be as enthusiastic as I am now. Thanks to Sebastiano Mereu, Lionel Piquet and Dan Jasnowski, three Gamba fans who I have never met but hope to one day at Banpaku, as well as the website http://www.since-1991.com. Also to non-Gamba fans on twitter like the J-Talk Podcast, J2 Kanto Bites, Sean Carroll, On the Gas, Patrick Fraleux, Dave Phillips, Japanfooty, Nippon-Ganbare, Clément Delestrade, Barry Valder, Cesare Polenghi, Dan Orlowitz and to anyone else who has made a contribution to making Japanese football accessible to non-Japanese people. Your work is highly appreciated and I hope I will not be taking up any of your space when writing this blog. I recommend you follow all these people on Twitter and please buy JSoccer Magazine!
So what I hope and plan to do is allow fans to keep up to date with the ins and outs at Gamba Osaka. I want to provide match previews, reports and analysis, data, fact, figures, statistics, news, league standings and anything else I can get my hands on. It will also be a way to get my thoughts out there and to keep the passion burning. It is not so important to me if I do not influence anybody, but I sure hope that someone will read what I have to write and maybe give the J.League a try.
Thank you for reading the first ever post on this blog, and I will be keeping you up to date with news about Gamba Osaka for the 2013 season onwards. Please follow me on Twitter at Gamba Osaka Pride.