Yokohama Fc Vs Sun Pegasus, Mong Kok Stadium, April 2014.
If a British football team were bought out as a franchise of a foreign club, and had their name and their very identity changed, then there would be uproar. Uproar from fans, from the media and from everyone convinced that this was the final rusting nail in the coffin of the people’s game. But, a couple of years ago this very thing happened in Hong Kong and nobody, it seems, batted an eyelid.
To be fair, Fourways Athletic were only formed in 2008 and thus didn’t have the history typical to a British team. They also had a name that hinted at racy goings-on in the changing rooms, which perhaps explains why they quickly and consistently changed it: to Fourways Rangers (not much better), to Biu Chun Rangers (as part of a watch-maker sponsorship deal!) and finally to Yokohama FC Hong Kong. Yokohama FC (Japan) simply borrowed their membership to the HKFA, and that was that.
The local league in Hong Kong isn’t that big a deal: attendances are around 1000 per game and most football fans here follow the more glamorous European leagues. Perhaps this explains the lack of fuss over the name-change. Or maybe it’s to do with the city’s obsession with the ‘new’: as in “these apartments are 20 years old… let’s knock them down and build ‘new’ ones! Or rather, not ‘knock-down’; but ‘redevelop’. And by ‘redevelop’ I mean throw up some swanky apartments with a shopping centre underneath. You can never have enough shopping centres…”. But perhaps they were on to something – tapping in to the local Japanese community for a ready made, small but noisy fan base.
The differences between your average British and Japanese football fan are immediately apparent. The Japanese fans, led by a drummer, keep up their constant and unflagging chant of ‘Yokohama FC’, despite their favourites managing to put every chance that comes their way miserably off target. Back in the UK, however, while watching my local team, Dunfermline Athletic, it’s not unusual for old men to stand up very early in the game (let’s say 90 seconds in, or even, as on one memorable occasion, while the teams walk on to the pitch) and exclaim: “Jesus Christ Dunfermline! This. Is. Shite!”
Despite the support, Yokohama lost 2-0. They finished the season 3rd from bottom, and may well have been relegated had the two teams below them not been disqualified from match-fixing. The project continues…