We woke up bright and breezy in our hotel room in Shizuoka on Saturday morning. The hotel was old school, but lovely and the staff, as usual, simply wonderful. The breakfast was sublime with so much choice on show we could have dined for a week and not been bored. I suddenly remembered that BBC Radio 5 Live had asked if I could get some interviews with rugby fans for their show Wake Up To Money. That focused my mind, we needed to get to work.
We had to get a wriggle on as we needed to get to Tokyo, check in at yet another hotel and dump our bags off. I also wanted to get some RWC2019 merchandise, specifically a Japanese rugby shirt and one of the wonderful ‘Brave Blossoms’ T-shirts. As always, there was never any need to panic. Everything works, everything is smooth and plans are not only best laid, but best realised.
Our hotel was the first achingly cool one we had been to and it just didn’t feel right. It was in the Ginza district of Tokyo so we decided to walk with our bags from the Shinkansen station. It was another bright day, clear blue skies and a lovely warm sun on our backs. A quick turnaround and we were on our way back to Shibuya station where the official RWC2019 store was. We bumped into our mate Kevin the badge seller from Manchester who was plotted up outside with a few of his mates selling badges and match tickets. The clash of British and Japanese culture was right there!
Predictably the store was pretty much sold out of everything anyone actually wanted. Japanese kit of any sort was gone all bar female super small sizes. In fact anything medium, large or extra large was sold out. There were loads of kids stuff, plush toys and the like, but nothing much else. And it was not even the knock out stages of the tournament! This reminded me of how Japanese videogames companies run things. Clearly the people responsible for stock levels of official merchandise had undercooked the levels of interest that non Japanese fans would have in Japanese memorabilia. They most likely worried about being overstocked on stock lines. We know that these Japanese lines would be amongst the most popular and such is the body size difference between most of the visiting nationals and the Japanese, you would have thought that the M, L, XL and beyond would have been more generously stocked.
Needless to say, I could see exactly what had happened and when we got in there, I said to Kirsty ‘get what you can and don’t delay. Go for anything Japanese’. The only two items we could find were hoodies and track suit tops. My theory was there was still ‘some’ stock because no one thought about heavier items of clothing in that heat. We got a couple of garments and then decided to head to the Tokyo Stadium, which true to form was about a 40 min train ride out of town.
On the way out I saw Kev the badge seller and said to him that he should try and get some merch made up to sell ASAP. There was, for example, no official RWC2019 pin badge available anywhere!
On the train to the stadium I met a couple of lads from the Black Country who had, like us, really enjoyed Japan, the place, the culture and the people. One of the lads did add that he was looking forward to only one thing back home, which we ‘crusts’ in his bread. Most of the England fans were pretty quiet and relaxed, unlike the many Argentinians who were singing and bouncing reminding me of Boca Juniors fans before a big game. Unlike football, there was no bad feeling and only courtesy and smiles from all. This is rugby.
Orderly queues as always
When we came out of the station we decided to plot up outside a shop selling cold Asahis and soak up the atmosphere. It was here we met Carl and his friend Jim and Andrew and David in amongst the carnival atmosphere. It turned out Carl had been to the 1986 football World Cup in Mexico, and we agreed we must have been standing next to each other that fateful day when Maradona punched the ball into Peter Shilton’s net. Small world. I interviewed Carl too for Radio 5 Live and was happy when his piece was used on the show later the following week.
We had a great drink, met a Japanese fan wearing a West Ham shirt with Di Carnio. (Sic yes I know it should be Di Canio) and then moved on to the stadium to meet up with our friends James and Angela who had been in Japan a few days and as we were to find out were super excited by the whole shebang.
I had been to the Tokyo Stadium before, again in 2002 to see England draw 1-1 with Sweden in the football World Cup. It was good to be back and the atmosphere was simply incredible.
Kirsty and I saw a line out face off between a bunch of England and Argentinian fans, where the ball was being thrown in over a moat style piece of no man’s land. It was hilarious watching lads who were slightly heaved than they would like execute their line out moves to a pretty good standard considering how much beer they had drunk!
Eventually we met up with Angela and James at exactly the same time as we bumped into Victor Ubogu who we’ve got to know over the years. James was brilliant, he’s one of the world’s really happy people as well as being hugely tall. He grabbed me and said, ‘Andy, I can’t believe it, we’re here at the World Cup, in Japan, it’s sunny, we’re playing Argentina, we’ve got loads of beers and we’re having a drink with Victor’. From there on in, we knew the day was set well and we knew victory would be ours.
And it was. Another crazy red card did assist England, but I felt we were never in doubt and we ran out 39-10 winners. As the day went on, so it got more blurred, but we had the best time. We got some crazy Bento box as part of our seat ticket, which came in a lovely bag with a RWC poncho, seat cushion, water bottle and a match programme. It was all good.
When we got back to Tokyo and walked to Ginza, we managed to find a bar which was showing the Japan vs Samoa game. We had desperately wanted to see this game and for some reason it wasn’t being shown at the stadium after our game, which was a shame.
We managed to catch the 2nd half and witness another amazing victory for Japan against a team physically so much bigger than them. The Japanese played with their now signature pace and verve and duly delivered another famous result. The atmosphere in the bar, well outside actually, was just wonderful with all ages thoroughly enjoying the match. It was tense for a very long time, but the Japanese ran out 38-19 victors and added the scalps of Samoa to Russia and our beloved Ireland . After the heat of the day we got some rain. Tomorrow we were headed off to Oita right down in the south of Japan. The prospect of more than one night in a hotel really was rather appealing. And on Wednesday we would see Wales take on Fiji with our Welsh (and Irish) and South African friends.