The live Olympic football experience is certainly different from what you may be used to in your forthnightly league excursions. Instead of drunken men in too-tight replica strips, there are hundreds of children quietly sipping fizzy juice (thus indirectly sponsoring the on-field entertainment). Instead of grizzled pensioners wading through a 90-minute moan, worn down by decades of viewing the same disappointments from the same seat, there are smiling families checking the players’ names in the programme and generally enjoying the collective bonhomie of 30,000 people taking an afternoon off work. Maybe it was the neutrality of the crowd, maybe the attacking naivety of the young teams, or even perhaps the double-bill of games that gave the afternoon a ‘slumped in front of the telly’ vibe – but Thursday’s Olympic session at Hampden Park was a football experience more charming and civilised than any I have ever had before. That description might sound patronising to the connoisseur of the cynical and unruly game, but I loved every second of it, not least because it fit so neatly with my experience as a distant but committed fan of the Japanese national team.
The decision to support a football team is, even at the best of times, a fairly irrational one. Any accident of location, family history or having a favourite colour when you first turn on the TV to see balls slapping into nets can result in a lifelong attachment that would be as difficult and inadvisable to change as the number of lungs you currently have. In that context, my infatuation with Japan – based largely on the contributions that Shigeru Miyamoto, Osama Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki and their countrymen have made to my desperately nerdy life – makes as much sense as any other
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