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Sunday 10th July 2011 ko 7.04pm

J-League Division One

SANFRECCE HIROSHIMA 1 (Lee 2) K Morisaki sent off 42

CEREZO OSAKA 3 (Kurata 33 Kiyotake 49 Komatsu 51)

Att 11,615

Entry & Programme 2,000 yen

Towel Scarf 1,575 yen

Badge (from vending machine) 200 yen

Coach ticket 8,000 yen

From Cerezo Stall

Towel Scarf 1,575 yen

Badge 635 yen

This day, a Sunday was for me at least, more than just a football trip, it also was about learning a lot about the country and its culture.

The coach left Osaka at around 10am, and I was pleased that it was a bright pink affair with the club mascot, the wolf embrazoned on it too. A volunteer took payment of 10,000 yen via a portable credit card device, and your payment included a ticket for the away end. The coach was air conditioned and spacious, and the Cerezo fans were rather fascinated by the new Gaijin, especially when Peter told them just how much football I watch!. And elderly couple practised their English on me which they’d picked up during the American occupation from watching “Bonanza.” Another elderly lady presented everyone with beautiful leaflets for the game. A real collectors item!

We stopped at service stations twice each way, and the meals available were both cheap and tasty. I also enjoyed the ice cream stalls!

For a 7.04pm kick off we arrived by British standards stupidly early, around 4.30 pm. That’s because the culture is to reserve your place by placing your bag on your chosen seat (it’s perfectly safe to do so), then go for a meal, and generally relax. Pete and I decided to explore. We soon discovered that there are 3 stadia, two smaller ones that seemed barely used and a sports field where hundreds of children were playing in a tournament. Make no mistake, the future of the Japanese game is rosy.

We made our way to the the stadium, and bought our goodies, and I took advantage of the fact that as a courtesy the away team is allowed to set up a stall. I watched the lady who’s practised her English with me, take her Cerezo-pink bicycle from the boot of the coach, and cycle up to the ground from the car park. It transpired she isn’t too fleet of foot these days so this arrangement allows her to see away games. It is a matter of course that she was able to leave the bike unattended by the away end.

The stadium is genuinely iconic (it must be, the amount of photos I took!), but I do wonder how practical it is. For a ground featured in the World Cup it does have a running track, and I do wonder how much cover the Big Arch actually provides. There was no way of knowing as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was 35 degrees! I found both sets of fans sitting happily together enjoying the catering so I joined them.

The two team buses arrived rather ceremonially, and I settled down for my first view of Peter’s favourite team. And it didn’t start well either, Tananari Lee stabbing home following a defensive howler with only 90 seconds on the clock!

The turning point was unquestionably the dismissal of Koji Morisaki on 42 minutes. It looked a little harsh, particularly the first booking, but Cerezo took full advantage and in the end won comfortably.

We strolled back to the coach early enough to watch the sets of fans waving each other goodbye as friendly as could be, and then were handed a complimentary beer to start the long drive home. We reached Osaka at 2.30am and I was on the 6.28am Shinkansen to Tokyo……

This day so far I feel represents the absolute zenith of my groundhopping career. It will take some matching!