Main Page New Clear Dreams
NUFC in Japan Part V
The fifth instalment of his
exclusive story for finds We are Nippon author Simon Moran going slowly online. 

After losing the 1998 FA Cup Final, two other significant events follow the same month. 

My girlfriend passes her test and gets her driver’s licence. A non-driver mortified at the thought of doing lessons, a written then driving test all in the local language, I’d boldly encouraged her, offering to buy a car when she passed. 

Naturally, the meagre salary of a jobbing English teacher can’t afford this, and her father stumps up the remaining necessary after my contribution of 100,000 JPY, then about £625, or two weeks’ work.

We take a ferry to Kyushu, the southern-most of the four main islands, and motor round it on a camping and adventure holiday. It’s great. I feel a freedom not experienced since a long drive up the New South Wales and Queensland coasts in 1992. 

Once more, it gives much time to ponder my lot and on my return, I again
quit my job
. Never a full-time position, at the end I feel badly done by and it was time to go. I give the promised two months’ notice but am sacked on the spot. Suddenly, I’m unemployed.

I feel a bit of a clash. I’m not sure if I should stay in Japan, or if should I go, so for the time being, I open a private English classroom in the summer setting of my living room
atop the kotatsu. I’m not sure if that’s business or entertainment, but it gets me out of a jam.

It’s quite easy to recruit students. I cobble together ad copy and have just about enough
Japanese to answer the phone. 

One student is an active member of Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist group with a political wing. A lovely lass with excellent English, she gives me book by the founder, which I ignore, but listen intently to the stories she tells of working for a Japanese football agent.

The agent aims to sell Japanese players to the Premier League and she studies English with me specifically for that reason – to be able to talk to football agents, coaches, club staff and managers. 

She tells of a conversation she recently had with an English manager.

“It was quite difficult to understand his accent, but he laughed and said, ‘A Japanese player will never play in the Premier League.’”

“Right. Who was that?” “Peter Something.”

“Which club?" “Sunderland.”

Straight from the Monkey’s Heed in 1998: “A Japanese player will never play in the Premier League.”

Otherwise, my annoyance, pride and parsimony have got in the way of common sense.
Having refused to fork out for another satellite tuner I have to trek to gaijin bars to watch games.

Gaijin bars are bars or pubs where foreigners, or gaijin, gather. While not all terrible, after missing the last train home to see midnight kick-offs, then wondering what to do next, I recall many of the reasons I left England in the first place.

Back at home, with my new PC and Internet connection, I get online via a dial-up modem at a speed of 56K. There are very few websites, it’s a bizarre place of uploaded Word documents, bulletin boards and forums where people argue. There’s a lot of pornography, apparently, but I can search via a thing called Alta Vista for information, entertainment, pictures of strange animals and suchlike.

Pages load very, very slowly at speeds that barely enable fast photograph loading; the thought of live streaming is years away.

I find a site that has live match commentary via text updates. The text comes through quickly enough and this initially seems great, but becomes even more frustrating than listening to football on the radio as connections falter. It’s difficult to punch the floor in frustration when pressing a refresh button.

Newspaper websites, updates by the BBC and others on football transfer gossip fill a gap
long left empty by Ceefax and provide a connection to the team, club and fans previously felt via hoardings, back pages and barroom banter.

One day, I stumble across a site I think must be run by the club, but on closer inspection the simple format and back-formed acronym point to an unofficial fans’ collaboration. 

This becomes my browser starting page, daily go to reference and ultimately leads to over two decades of friendship and support.

Looking back at first leaving England, the romance of distant travel, keeping in contact with friends, family and lovers via letters collected post restante, I wonder if this is all for the better. 

Surely, I left to get away and my penance was a disconnect. I feel simultaneously elated by the new proximity yet somewhat cheapened by its ease and expense.

We chop and change, flounder through the league yet make it to another final. I don’t get invited to anybody’s house to watch it, and have to journey to a pub about an hour away.

The Scotsman with a chip on his shoulder has gone, replaced by a Dutchman with a poodle on his head, but the result is the same.

Fast forward to the 1999-2000 season and I am married and living in a new apartment in
Osaka city.

Having furnished the apartment with wedding money, perusing the electrical shop opposite the house, there’s an offer on a SkyPerfect TV tuner. We’re playing Manchester United that weekend. I buy it.

Setting up the dish on our seventh-floor balcony, thankfully without needing to go up on the roof, for I, too, am a flightless bird, I get a great picture. We lose 1-5, with them scoring our goal.

The author enjoys beer and football at home

Sky still only broadcasts games featuring the top four, but that means eight live Newcastle games a season, plus the odd bonus. 

I’ve lost my principles, but I can now sit happily at home, feet up, avoiding the bars, drink from my special football glass and watch matches to my heart’s content.

I dream of the day we sign a Japanese player, and I can watch every game.


Japanese players first debuted in the Premier League in 2002. Shinji Okazaki scored for
Leicester vs. Sunderland in March 2016, the same month Peter Reid rejoined Bolton. Reid
left at the end of the season and has not been seen since. Shinji Okazaki won the Premier
League that year, the second Japanese player to do so after Shinji Kagawa.

Simon Moran caught the 308 from Whitley Bay in 1992 and settled in Japan in 1995, first Osaka, now Kyoto. Entrepreneur, publisher, former associate editor of the Kansai Time Out, and occasional freelance journalist, his byline has appeared in the Japan Times, Four Four Two, the Guardian, and Scootering. 

Simon's blog is here: 

Simon's book "We Are Nippon"
a great guide to visiting Japan, drinking beer and watching
is available for £8.99 with free P&P (UK and Japan) and £1.50 donations each to the Newcastle West End Foodbank and Wor Flags. Also available worldwide. 

Order here:

Back to Main Page

Page last updated 29 June, 2024