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Gamba meets FC Ryukyu

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are all keeping well, it is with great excitement that I write this article. Geoff Osborne (@OkinawaOzzy) has put together a tremendous series of get-to-know-you chats with some of the biggest names in the JLeague English scene…Michael Master, Frontale Rabbit Blog, Nagasaki Blue and Orange Blog, FC Tokyo Kai Guys and Tokyo Verdy Unofficial. I was the first interviewee of the series and I thought I’d repay the compliment by sitting down and interviewing Geoff in what will be the final installment before thankfully JLeague returns to action next week.

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The new logo for fcryukyublog.com


In this Interview, my words will be in bold and Geoff’s will appear in normal font.

Hi Geoff,

Q. It’s been a few months since we last talked, obviously the COVID-19 situation has evolved rapidly since then. I’d like to start by asking how things are over in Okinawa? How are you and your family dealing with the crisis?
Hey brother! Great to chat with you again. Well, the family and I are adjusting to what we perceive as the “new normal.” We try to follow a meticulous routine when we leave or enter the house, always using hand sanitizer when touching anything outside of our house, wiping down all products we buy in a store and always wearing a mask in public areas. We are by no means perfect and there are definitely times when you become complacent, flat out forget, or the kids get you rattled, but we firmly believe in doing as much as we can to limit our exposure to COVID-19 as well as the rest of society.

As far as Okinawa is concerned, there have been zero reported cases here in over 40 days, but there has also been very limited testing (less than 10 a day it seems) and we are expecting an uptick in tourism soon. They were expecting around 13 million visitors to Okinawa this year and it remains to be seen if they will allow travelers from those countries that frequently come to Okinawa to resume travel. No one should be under the impression that we’ve turned the corner on CV-19 and we should all expect several waves of the virus over the next few years.

That will impact Okinawa particularly hard as the economy is built on tourism, and to a lesser degree the employment offered on the military installations around Okinawa. It has already begun to affect those industries as well as the restaurants (izakaya) and shops that thrive on tourism dollars which may in turn have a direct impact on FC Ryukyu.

How about you? Osaka was one of the last areas to be released from a State of Emergency correct?

Yes, I believe we were the last ones outside of the prefectures in Kanto to exit the lockdown. I’m actually still working from home and as I live by myself, social distancing is not such a big problem for me. Like you, and I’m sure all of the readers, I’m looking forward to getting back to a bit of normality, the return of JLeague from 27 June will definitely help with that.

Q. Thanks again for putting this series of interviews together, the feedback on Twitter seems to have been overwhelmingly positive. What inspired you to do it?
I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to speak to so many great people that I follow on twitter with this series. It was a great getting to know them and their teams on a much deeper level. The inspiration came from a couple of different areas. First, I wanted others to become aware of the rich English content that covers the J-League that so many people pour their hearts and soul into for little more than recognition. I think we can all agree that English language coverage for the J-League is not that great which makes the herculean efforts by the lads over at the J-Talk Pod, J-Talk Extra Time Pod and J-Soccer magazine so special.

Second, after I wrote an article for the J-Soccer Magazine I wanted to know the story behind the authors of the J-League English blogs and Twitter accounts. I enjoyed writing my story and think that all should have a chance to tell their story.

Finally, I cannot recall where I heard or read this point but I think English bloggers/writers for the K-League came together under one entity and that idea really excited me. I thought that was awesome and wonder if we could replicate that here in Japan. Well, that would require each team in the J-League having an English blogger or unofficial twitter account and after doing some research, I found that we are a long way off from that goal. Doesn’t mean we can’t hope for that one day. I cannot recall where I heard/read that? Possibly on the J-Talk Pod with Paul Neat (@NeatPaul)?

Indeed, I’ve been following the K League quite a bit in the absence of JLeague football and have been casting envious glances at the work the K League United crew are doing and the fact their efforts are recognised by the K League itself.

Q. As we speak, J2 and J3 are set to kick off on the weekend of 27/28 June with J1 starting the following week. Of course, this means you’ll get to see your beloved FC Ryukyu on TV a week before I can watch Gamba, you must be pretty psyched for the league’s restart, right?
Buzzing! I’ve never experienced such a long break in sports in my lifetime and I am itching to watch some matches that count as well as seeing the boys from Oki back in action. I was traveling for work when the opening fixture kicked off so I didn’t get to see their first match way back on February 23rd (119 days ago!).

While we are excited for the return of sports, I am not sure what to expect this year. No relegation is good for us but at what cost? Stuart and Jon did a great job breaking down the revenue streams for the J2 clubs a few weeks back on their pod and it was evident that ticket sales were not the largest source of income for the clubs so we can see how important it is for the J-League to conduct a season based on sponsorship dollars.

I think we can all agree that the players and staff are professionals and super competitive – how else would they’ve gotten to this level in their career – but what will the product look like on the pitch? Players trying to avoid injury, experimental lineups, mass substitutions, and then there is the reality that a player will pop hot for CV-19 and then what?

What do you think? What will football look like for 2020 and beyond?

It’s really tough to say, I actually sent some questions over to the J-Talk pod guys a few weeks ago and they were kind enough to discuss them on the show. I really agreed with Sean Carroll’s point that games played behind closed doors or with few fans in the stadium should favour the stronger of the 2 teams, more so than if it were played with fans. But, there are so many things we don’t know, nothing would really surprise me at this stage.

Q. I’d like to come back and talk more about your predictions and aspirations for FC Ryukyu later on, but first I want to know about your journey. How did you come to be in Japan? And specifically, why Okinawa?
I accepted an offer for a job that initially was supposed to be in California but the company asked if I wished to take a similar position in Okinawa, Japan. I didn’t even hesitate as I was living with my brother in Jacksonville, FL after we had both finished our service in the U.S. Marine Corps which also happened to coincide with the US economy falling apart in 2008 and that meant finding a job proved to be difficult.

I landed in Okinawa in July of 2009 and got a rude awakening to the heat and humidity that I thought I was accustomed to while living in Florida. I was wrong. But I do love it here in Okinawa as a place to raise a family and work. I do think I’ll head back to the U.S. one day but I hope that is after my young kids are through High School.

Q. What made you take up blogging in English for FC Ryukyu? What’s the response to your blog been like?
The response has been absolutely phenomenal. The blog has allowed me to develop a much deeper relationship with FC Ryukyu as well as meet so many great people involved in the world of football and for that I am so grateful. The inspiration for the blog came after the Omiya match when the head of the FC Ryukyu Supporters club suggested I do one in English. It was a win-win as I finally had a venue to voice my displeasures or spout my opinions on the club.

It is funny, shortly after I started the blog I was asked to appear on the J-Talk Pod with Ben. I was excited but also a bit nervous as I am by no means someone who has played or studied football extensively so I have no idea on the technical or tactical part of football. As I said, I really started the blog to voice both my displeasures and pleasure with the club based on what I was seeing on the pitch every week as well as during transfer windows year in and year out.

But, while you may not be able to pick out the tactics, if you’ve watched enough football like we all have, then you can pick up on certain things and get to see parts of the game you may have otherwise missed while just sitting there ball watching.

Since that first entry, I’ve tried to continue to evolve the match day previews, reports and content as well as find something to talk about surrounding the club. As you know, there are some pretty dry times in blogging and if this season turns into match days every 3 or 4 days well there won’t be too many op-ed pieces with all of the aforementioned previews and recaps.

I know exactly what you mean, with many weeks containing 3 games, my match previews are going to contain more graphics and less writing. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have lined up.

Q. I know a lot of us are very active on Twitter, but we live busy lives in different corners of Japan, have you met any of the Twitter Japanese soccer community in person?
Actually yes. I linked up with @frontalerabbit for the “Tamagawa Derby” (is that right?) when FC Tokyo and Kawasaki Frontale locked horns last summer. That was awesome and I’ve written about that day many times.

I have met Stuart @stuartcw at an FC Ryukyu match last year as he is a fan of FC Ryukyu, as well as Yokohoma F Marinos.

I also met a member of English J-League royalty when I had a coffee and chat with no other than Jon Steele @J2KantoBites when he visited Okinawa this past spring with his family. I even tried bribing his young son with some FC Ryukyu schwag in a rather thinly veiled attempt at swaying this young man’s allegiances over to FC Ryukyu. To no avail though.

Finally, @frontalerabbit, @sushi_football, @tpen18, @BenitoWill and I are getting together periodically on Zoom for some rather nice, and rather expensive, craft beer parties.

I was thinking it would be great to do some live commentary on the matches over Zoom, to which I can record, and then upload them to YouTube. Would love to do it with supporters of the opponents. What do you think?

Yeah that sounds awesome, I know V-Varen Nagasaki, Tochigi SC and Zweigen Kanazawa (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone) have pretty passionate online bloggers, would be great to hear you guys duelling it out! I also liked Stuart’s idea for a J-Talk Live once COVID-19 finally disappears.

Q. I’ve been living in Japan for over 7 years now, but have yet to visit Okinawa. If someone like myself was to visit for an FC Ryukyu game, what other attractions does the place have to offer?
For sake of this question, let’s assume that all the attractions are open and running. First, it will depend largely on what time of the year you’re visiting. The beaches, both paid and free access, are great. Second, the aquarium is spectacular but slightly far removed depending on your accommodation location.

Third, I would recommend taking the ferry to either Ie Island or the Kerama Islands. Each has something unique to offer and is a nice way to spend a few days or evening at a resort or hotel on the many smaller islands. A word of advice, if you intend on climbing Mt Gusuku with young children, I hope you’re in excellent shape when you need to carry them up and down after the novelty of walking up steep stairs wears off. This is based on first hand knowledge. When I reached “base camp” after the descent I went to the shaded area dripping in sweat and drank a gallon of water/Pocari sweat and then went to the car to cry out of sight of the family.

Finally, if you are football fan than you must visit the head of the FC Ryukyu supporters club, Hiro, at his bar/izakaya, Café Camp Nou just off the famous Kokusai-dori (street) in Naha. He has quite a collection of football paraphernalia and loves meeting fans of football teams from all over the world. (https://tabelog.com/okinawa/A4701/A470101/47000704/)

As a huge tourist destination, you really cannot go wrong with whatever you decide to do here in Okinawa. The food is great and if you want some eclectic stuff, try the area they call “American Village.”

It’s always great to get a local’s perspective on things. Thanks a lot, I really hope to make it down there some day!

Q. I know you’ve mentioned before your father is from England and you support Arsenal in the Premier League, also you’re a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. Do you have an interest in any other sports? Or any other teams in particular?
Other than following the local Pittsburgh teams of the Penguins and Pirates not really. According to my wife, I spend way too much time focusing on Fantasy Football for the NFL but I am involved in dozens of Fantasy Football leagues every year and that is one of my true passions. That leaves little time outside of FC Ryukyu, Arsenal and the Steelers for much else.

And despite playing baseball in college, I cannot watch baseball these days. If I were forced to choose an NPB team it would be the Chunichi Dragons as that was the team that Tom Selleck played for the in the iconic movie, “Mr. Baseball.” Which also so happened to be the main source for how I should conduct myself in Japan prior to meeting my wife.

Q. Osaka is a huge city and when I go to Gamba games, although Osaka people are known for their friendliness, the sheer scale of Panasonic Stadium makes it difficult for me to get chatting with other fans. How do you find things when you attend FC Ryukyu matches? Do you have a group of supporters you always go to games with? How do local people react when they see you at the stadium?
I envy you my friend. It is well known that FC Ryukyu don’t pack the Tapista in large numbers outside of very special occasions. Therefore, it is easy to interact with many fans as well as meet people in and around the grounds.

I used to have a nice group that would attend matches semi-regularly when FC Ryukyu were back in J3 but they have since moved on. I usually end up going solo but I do go early enough to hang my flags with the FC Ryukyu supporters’ group. We always chat pre-match when meeting up several hours before kickoff but then usually go our separate ways. To be honest, Hiro’s English is getting much better since I’ve been speaking only English at him the past 5 years.

I am a bit conflicted when it comes to sitting in the supporter section, and still to this day, I never understood the chants that they sing. I made a concerted effort this year to translate them into English and put them into a supporter’s guide in English for anyone who wanted to join in. I also enjoy being near, but not in that section, as I have met many more fans and can experience the matches in my own special way away from the supporter’s section. But make no mistake, I stand should to shoulder with them when I attend away games.

As far as how the locals react, its been great! I’ve been pulled into many little tailgating parties outside the stadium, photo bombed some twitter and IG accounts and met some awesome people. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with a dude dressed in a templar tunic with chainmail?

Honestly I’m not sure how to answer that, but yeah, FC Ryukyu are almost everyone’s second club, so it’s great to hear they’ve got a good bunch of supporters.

Q. I know you’ve spoken very passionately before about ideas that FC Ryukyu should consider to broaden their fanbase and appeal, have you ever spoken to anyone at the club about implementing some of your suggestions?
I met the former President of the club, Subaru Mikami, last year and we had a lengthy conversation on several issues pertaining to the marketing of the club. I listed out near, mid and long-term goals that I though the club could achieve, some of which would come at little to no cost for the club in the hopes that the atmosphere in and around the stadium would improve.

It was an eye-opening experience, and one that I am grateful for, as I never truly understood the constraints that a club can face when they do not own their own stadium. I can say that at least two of the ideas were enacted as we finally got hand soap inside the bathrooms at the stadium and there was definitely more signage in the form of flags around and inside the grounds.

I have also met Kei Hirosaki, who is now the acting President of FC Ryukyu, at Haneda Airport after the final game against Kofu last season as well as at the fan event at the end of last season. I didn’t push any ideas on him and simply passed him a business card I made up that listed my blog and contact info and I hope to have some more conversations with him this year.

Awesome, it’s good to hear the club is at least willing to listen to suggestions.

Q. It’s quite common in J1 for clubs to have ageing marquee foreign or Japanese talents in their ranks such as Iniesta at Kobe of Shunsuke Nakamura at Yokohama FC. FC Ryukyu have the legendary Shinji Ono in their midfield now, what kind of impact has he had on and off the field?
The quick answer is he has made a massive impact at the club and community. I should also note that he joined the team late in the summer transfer window last season and we’ve seen a huge disruption in the schedule for this year so we will need more time to make an honest and accurate assessment.

His first ever match in the Bengara red drew the largest crowd in the history of the club when 12,019 people packed a stadium that was supposed to only hold 10,189 (though it could supposedly surge to 25,000). Unfortunately, Shinji didn’t score that game, or all year for the club, and eventually succumbed to an injury that ended his season.

I don’t think getting on the score sheet would have made the biggest impact for the club. In fact, I believe it was his presence in the locker room and training grounds that halted the slide that FC Ryukyu were in the middle of when he arrived.

He has been a marketing dream for the club as he constantly appears on television programs and I hope that his presence continues to bring people to the stadium but I am cautiously optimistic. History showed us last season, in his second and third games – which were massive for FC Ryukyu as they desperately needed points- less than half (6,000) and then less than one-sixth (2,000) of his first game attendees showed up to see him and the team.

Solving the great mystery of local attendance at matches is a very complex problem here in Okinawa.

Q. I think we both enjoyed the recent J-Talk Extra Time Podcast Stuart and Jon did on the state of finances in J2. FC Ryukyu were one of the great overachievers in J2 last year according to the numbers. Stuart did a great job of fleshing out the raw data for all clubs, but talking with you I’d like to zero in on FC Ryukyu. Basically, in your opinion, why have FC Ryukyu been able to punch well above their weight over the past few years?
That’s a good question and definitely not an easy one to answer as I only have extensive knowledge on FC Ryukyu and not the other 53 or so clubs in the J-League tiers. I will say that the club has pulled in some serious talent – and then shipped it out- over the years. Park Il-gyu, Nakagawa, Yuta Togashi, Satoki Uejo are just a few that jump right off the page. But the players would be nothing without the coaches and the system. Kim Jong Sung came in and gave this team an attacking identity and Keita Tanaka flourished in that system. So much so that he signed for Mito after 2016 and then returned for a loan spell before coming back fully last season. I think that we have got the most out of the players over the years and that speaks volumes on the level of coaching and scouting the team conducts.

I am not sure how they manage to sign talented players, on what I am assuming are relatively affordable contracts, when it is obvious that many of these players are talented and either have a lot left in the tank or are emerging stars. Maybe they convinced these guys that they will be playing versus rotting on the bench somewhere for a larger club.

There is also a bit of an interesting relationship between Mito HollyHock and FC Ryukyu as they initially loaned us Tanaka in 2017, signed DF Shuhei Takizawa away from us in the 2018 offseason, but then we signed Dany Carvajal and Keita on permanent (if that term even applies out here in Japan) deals, while also receiving Ryo Ishii on a year long loan deal last year that proved vital for us at the end of the season. Then FC Ryukyu signed a player that everyone raves about in Shunsuke Motegi this offseason. Maybe it was because Subaru Mikami once worked at Mito HollyHock and we have a good connection with the club, in either case, I am glad we do as we’ve poached several good players from their roster the past few years.

But until there is a monumental shift in the finances of this club, we’ll never be able to get to, or compete at, the level of the larger clubs. We will always feed the more financially stronger clubs talented players and I just hope the owner and management staff can get us to the point of being able to offer a player double his current wages, like Fagiano Okayama did with Uejo. Only then we can build up some serious staying power for a push to the top.

I rambled a bit there but to answer your original question, I think they’ve had some serious luck when it comes to the timing of their signings and then the coaches and staff have leveraged talent to its maximum extent. Not a recipe that will provide long term success, but will provide some exciting football right now.

The expectations must be tougher with a club like Gamba who are expected to compete for titles every year.

For anyone willing to listen to my extensive ramblings on Gamba’s transfer strategy in recent years, let me take this opportunity to point you in the direction of some previous entries on this blog.

Q. You’ve written an excellent piece in the latest JSoccer Magazine (Issue 29) and you talk about some of the away day trips you’ve done (I also thoroughly enjoyed your Twitter updates from the match at Kofu at the tail end of last year). I’ve only really done Gamba away games at Kanto clubs when I lived in Machida, how would you describe the away day experience in Japan?
Thank you for the kind words. Away games are simply great times, and away games are something that every fan should try to do. I understand that sometimes it is not financially feasible or even harder to convince your spouse and family that your headed off on a mini-vacation to go watch football. But the experience is well worth the sacrifices. Not only are you getting to see your club play, you get to experience another part of Japan that you may have otherwise never considered visiting.

I would tell anyone that before you book tickets and lodging, you need to consult Chris’s (@LiFJapan) Lost in Football Japan website. There is plenty of good information and advice there that me simply putting the link here doesn’t do it justice. (https://lostinfootballjapan.com/)

Q. Now to this upcoming campaign, I was wondering if you could tell us, which already established first-team member do you think will be most pivotal to FC Ryukyu’s success this year? And who is a largely unheard-of future star we should look out for?
This one caught me off-guard, which makes it a great question. Damn, this is really hard! I’m looking at the roster on the FC Ryukyu website and I can make an argument for each of the starting 11 as to why they matter the most. Damn you man!

I am going to say that a defender will be the most pivotal player for the squad this year, I am just not sure which one. CB Lee Yong Jick may be the one but I think it may actually be Daisei Suzuki, but that will largely depend on whether or not Higuchi sticks with the man we initially received on loan from Vortis and then just signed to a permanent deal during the CV-19 break. I watched him in a training match and was impressed by his presence and as everyone witnessed last year, we need to put a stop to the massive bleeding at the back for Ryukyu.

FC Ryukyu only have 2 healthy strikers at this point, and both are over 30 years of age, so it seems we’ll rely heavily on our MFs to score goals. That probably isn’t a great idea and that is why we need a solid defense so we can see out 0-0 and 1-0 score lines this season.

The relatively unheard-of star could go in several different directions as well. MF Shuto Kawai came out of nowhere last year and his speed is lethal. There are indications that Urawa is interested in acquiring his services this year which would suck as there is no way we are going to stop that move. Ren Ikeda, a college signee, impressed Higuchi enough during camp to earn the starting CAM slot behind our lone striker but I don’t think he had the greatest of opening matches back in February so we’ll see if he is in there in 2 weeks.

The one I am going with is Yoshio Koizumi. He is a name that not many will know or care to know. He hasn’t registered any stats that would indicate he is someone that people need to be made aware of or even cracked the reserves in a consistent manner. But his time is coming.

This dude jumped off the screen in his limited action against Tokyo Verdy last year and I think he could challenge Ren for the #10 role sooner rather than later.

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New FC Ryukyu signing, #24 Daisei Suzuki, and
up and comer #28 Yoshio Koizumi.


Sorry, I didn’t realize that one would be so tough for you. Maybe the quick fire round later on will also prove harder than I thought. Also I didn’t know Suzuki had signed permanently, let’s hope it’s a good move for all parties.

Q. Obviously last year you guys got off to a flier before eventually settling for 14th. I’m guessing you would have taken that position at the start of the year? How do you see things panning out this time round?
Had you asked me this prior to the CV-19 break I would have said around the same place we finished last year. And you are right, I would have gladly taken 14th at the start of last season as FC Ryukyu were a newly promoted club which always seem to be one of the favorites to go right back down each year.

FC Ryukyu have shifted their approach to squad construction this year by moving on from youthful exuberance to more of a seasoned veteran approach. Not having the data in front of me, I’d like to see where FC Ryukyu rank as far as the average age of the squad compared to the other J2 teams. (maybe @ConDrei can help out with that?)

We already talked about the fact that defense was a major issue that needed addressed in the offseason and I think they did quite well there. With that said, we conceded a goal within the first 40 seconds of the campaign this year. I know that wasn’t the ideal start to the season but they did choke out that attack the rest of the game and that is the only data point we can operate off of for now.

Since there is no concern over relegation, and that games may look more like training sessions than actual competitive matches, I am not expecting much this year other than a break in the boredom of no sports.

I am more concerned for 2021 when there will be an actual season and what the squad will look like then. One last point, I don’t think our squad is large enough to survive a decent amount of injuries or CV-19 cases with the fixtures piling up. Glad there is nothing really at stake this year, outside of promotion, so we can suffer through whatever happens and then get right for 2021.

Q. I know we discussed last time that I support a small team in Scotland called Ayr United. When one of our players moves on to a clearly bigger side, most fans wish them all the best. However, there have been times when a player has moved on to a bigger spending divisional rival and this has soured the relationship with the fans. With that in mind, how do members of the FC Ryukyu support feel about the diaspora forming at Fagiano Okayama? (Satoki Uejo, Kosuke Masutani and Shuhei Tokumoto)
Probably the same as Mito feel about us at FC Ryukyu! The only person that is soured on these moves is me but I understand that the transfer system is broke here in Japan and these guys are looking out for themselves and their families as basically independent contractors.

Guys would be foolish to turn down larger sums of money for the sake of loyalty to a club and fan base when the system doesn’t support that way of thinking. I love seeing former players flourish at other clubs, especially in the J1, and until FC Ryukyu become a serious player in the financial market, this type of reality will continue.

As far as the other FC Ryukyu fans, nothing I’ve seen on Twitter would indicate any hostility to former players. In fact, the opposite is true. I watched many FC Ryukyu fans purchase Uejo and Tokumoto kits this year as well as visit them at the training camps in Okinawa this past winter.

The Japanese supporters are certainly a very different breed to Scottish ones. I’m not sure many Ayr fans bought Lawrence Shankland or Liam Smith jerseys when they moved to Dundee United last summer (I know absolutely no-one reading this has any idea who these players are!)

Q. Finally, before we move onto the quick fire round, I know the big European Leagues have all the stars, glitz and glamour, what would your sales pitch be to fans to try to make them become interested in JLeague?
Oh Boy. The league as a whole? That’s tough. The fact that we are doing these interviews shows that the league needs a massive overhaul in the way they produce and market their content to the outside world, especially when it comes to content in English.

Seeing how it is unlikely that any leagues should try and compete with the larger leagues head on, maybe taking the approach of the league as a way to start your day with football is one way to go. I think games come on around 4am in England and I recall being able to get up early each morning in the U.S. and get my fix of the Bundesliga and then EPL before the NFL kicked off. I loved those days filled with sports from the time I woke up until I went to bed.

Doing tours to Europe for training camps and friendlies, similar to how the larger European clubs come out this way each year, may garner a little more exposure to the league as well.

And you? What would you institute?

The K League United guys offer a template that it’d be good to follow initially, I know from my Gamba blog that there is decent demand out there for English language content, and also a lot of my followers are not native English speakers (I’m making an assumption here based on the location of their views), so there’s got to be other languages which are thirsty for content, German, Indonesian or Spanish for example.

OK, now to the quick fire round…

Best player you’ve ever seen pull on an FC Ryukyu shirt?
Kazaki Nakagawa, with Keita Tanaka a very, very close second thanks in part to his extensive service to the club. But Nakagawa’s 2018 season was insane from a statistical standpoint and his start of 2019 was even more blistering, that is, before he left after Match Day 3 and all the wind was taken out of the Ryukyu sails.

Best opposition player you’ve seen?
Cristiano from Kashiwa Reysol. I watched that dude when Reysol were in the ACL years ago and I am always impressed at his work rate and motor. He never tires and is relentless. Plus, he is a lethal finisher to go along with his ability to set up other players. I’d love him for 1-2 seasons down here but that will not happen when he is still in his J-League prime.

Favorite ever FC Ryukyu player?
Keita Tanaka with Yu Tomidokoro a close second in this race. Tanaka was great to watch in 2015-2016 and that made for a great viewing experience after some pretty harsh opening years for me. Yu is masterful at dead ball kicks and considered to be “Mr. Ryukyu” but Keita was scoring at will in his first season with us.

Ex-player you’d most like to see back at the club?
I hate you for this! Nakagawa. (Sorry!!)

Best FC Ryukyu game you’ve seen?
I think you all may be aware that I walked out early during the historic 3-2 comeback win against Nagasaki last season when we were down 2-1 to attend a Moai event. I deeply regret that as that is something that I never do. With that in mind, the answer is the first away match of the 2019 season at Omiya, which was also the first away match I ever attended. With so many unknowns and the way the game transpired I cannot think of a better game other than maybe the title lifting match in 2018 vs Thespakusatsu Gunma. 4-3 score line with goals galore, great saves and the celebrations were awesome that day in Omiya.

Best individual performance you’ve seen by an FC Ryukyu player?
Yuta Togashi’s 4 goal outburst against SC Sagamihara back in 2018 comes to mind and though I think Dany’s performance against Omiya on the road in 2019 allowed us to walk out of there with all 3 points that day. It has to be Nakagawa’s 3 assist performance against Omiya that same match.

Best (non FC Ryukyu) JLeague uniform this year?
Shonan Bellmare

Dream signing (if FC Ryukyu were the richest club in the world)?
Zinedine Zidane as Manager; Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the antics; Ronaldo for the publicity and Mbappe for the talent.

Dream signing (realistic)?
Cristiano, Olunga or Goya from Reysol would be nice. Though you never know. Maybe we could get Ryo Miyaichi from FC St. Pauli one day.

Away ground you’d most like to visit? Why?
Giravanz Kitakyushu’s Mikuni World Stadium. The view looks spectacular.

Best manager currently in Japan (J1, J2 or J3)?
Most might say Ange Postecoglou but we’ll see how Yokohama F.Marinos gets on without Cklamovski. Toss up between Ricardo Rodriguez at Tokushima or Baptista at Reysol.

And finally….best team in Osaka?
Cerezo of course! They have Koji Suzuki. But I prefer Gamba’s uniforms and I do like watching Usami.

Wrong….the correct answer is…….(drum roll)…….FC Osaka

Lastly Geoff, I know you’ve given myself and the other participants in this series the chance to point people in the direction of those in the know in the English speaking Japanese soccer world…is there anyone we’ve forgotten or anyone you’d like to give a shout out to…the floor is yours.
First off, all of us collectively have done an amazing job when it comes to presenting info about the J-League in English to the world. This pertains to everyone who writes a blog, tweets a tweet or conducts a podcast. I think through all of the interviews we have named just about everyone there is in the small J-League English coverage community. And we strongly encourage more people to get involved so we can have an English-speaking representative for each club in the J-League.

Second, I’d like to thank everyone that has been part of my J-League experience to date. While I cannot name everyone, 2019 was a turning point for me as I became a part of a larger community of fans in the J-League and have made some great friends along the way.

Finally, as recent events have shown us, we all need to be working together for common goals and using whatever platform we have to promote these causes. That includes stamping out racism and CV-19. There is no telling what is in store for the future but I am glad to know so many great people that will make the best of whatever lies ahead.

Well said brother, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Just a final shout out to @vegalta_blog (https://vegaltasendaienglishblog.wordpress.com/ ) the JLeague’s newest English blog. Please give it a follow on Twitter.

Thanks again Geoff and I look forward to your contributions on all things FC Ryukyu during this crazy 2020 season.



One reply on “Gamba meets FC Ryukyu”

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