|Football, Take Me Home|
Written by Newingtonblue on Tuesday, 26th Feb 2013 18:06
A couple of years ago I received an email from a great mate of mine, Doug, who is married to a Japanese girl, which I turned into this TWTD blog about a couple of their football mad mates who came over from Sendai not long after the Japanese earthquake and paid a visit to Portman Road. Doug recently wrote to me again and told me about Football, Take Me Home, the feature-length documentary which came about as a result.
After our trip to Portman Road and meeting [former Town media and public relations officer] Camilla [Haycock], I started researching the Vegalta Sendai story and pretty much fell in love with the whole thing. It was amazing and reminded me in my jaded 24/7 rolling Sky Sports News coverage life that football is all about community and passion.
The long and the short is that, after the earthquake, the government decided that normality needed to return as quickly as possible so the resumption of the football season was seen as a priority.
That was easier for some than others and none more so than Vegalta Sendai. Newly promoted to J1 and everyone's relegation favourites, their city had borne the brunt of the earthquake and tsunami.
The stadium was badly damaged and the training ground literally washed away, yet they had only a couple of short weeks to prepare for what would normally have been the toughest season in their history anyway.
What the club weren't expecting is what happened next. With no power, water, gas, communication and with the roads in tatters and the trains re-routed, several thousand of the club's amazing fans made the 500-mile round trip to Kawasaki to be at the first game of the season.
They literally didn't know until they got to the game which of their friends were dead or alive and sadly, in many cases, it was the former rather than the latter, given that a huge part of their fan base was centred around the coast.
With the players pretty unprepared and not focused on football, they could have taken a hiding. But, as they walked out onto the pitch, they were confronted by the sound of their fans in full voice, singing the club anthem Take Me Home, Country Road.
More than that, the fans unfurled a huge banner which said “For our friends, we do not lose a game until we regain our hometown”. It was a stirring battle cry that brooked no argument and the players performed out of their skins to win 2-1 on an emotional rain-soaked day.
Drawing on the power of their fans, Vegalta surged up the table and despite a mid-season blip as the enormity of the devastation set in, they ended the league season fourth, their highest ever finish.
Not content with that, however, the fans once again challenged the side to push on. They firmly believe that everything they do is for their city and that the city deserves the best from both them and their club.
At the end of the season, they once again sent out a banner, this time extolling the side to “Never stop trying for the city”. Again, the team responded and they pushed for the title throughout the whole season, narrowly missing out but qualifying for the Asian Champions League.
All this has been achieved with no investment, no star players (none of the Vegalta team are even in the national squad) and no big money transfers. It is a case of pure determination, inspired by a community and driven by passion.
But the story doesn't end there. In a country where baseball dominates the sporting landscape, the city has now caught the mood of the team and the talk is now of rebirth and regeneration. Of Sendai being bigger and better than before. The players adorn bus shelters and the sides of buildings while national (and international) press talk of Vegalta inspiring a nation.
We've made two trips out to Sendai now and filmed some great material, there's a trailer online of what we've found so far but hopefully we'll be back out in late March to interview the players and the coach about their amazing journey.
We've even been to Portman Road and interviewed Camilla! She's not with the club any more but she was so influential in the start of the story that it seemed the only place to start. If all goes well, we're hoping that we'll have the film finished by the end of the year.
If you can spread the word online, it would be much appreciated. This has all been self-funded so far but the trips back and forth are doing serious damage to the plastic, so we've set up a Kickstarter page for people who want to get involved. Donations are from as low as £1 and we have some nice rewards we're offering. Not least of which, everyone gets to send a message to Sendai in the fans’ book we are putting together.
Thanks for your help in telling this story. Like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter (#FootballTakeMeHome) if you can, visit our website, it all helps, but keep spreading the word. Who knows, we might be able to get a screening going in Ipswich!
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