Almanac Soccer: You’ll never walk alone, even in Japan!

Art: Brazil v Spain at Goonengerry byJohn Campbell



Growing up a blue-eyed Anglo from inner Sydney, I knew nothing of soccer. Rugby League was my passion, Aussie Rules the anarchic game they played down south and Union was strictly for tweed jacketed knobs who enjoyed watching referees set and re-set scrum after scrum. Soccer – and  in deference to the entirely admirable Craig Foster, I’ll happily refer to it as football in this piece – was a complete mystery to me.


At my old school, Enmore Boys’ High, alma mater of Jeff ‘I love youse all’ Fenech, half the kids were sons of Mediterranean migrants, some of them shaving more regularly at sixteen than I still do now. And they were all obsessed with the unfathomable round-ball game.


What little knowledge I had of football was gleaned from watching BBC TV highlights in the era when Brian Clough’s Derby County were storming up the First Division ladder.


Out of curiosity, soon after arriving in London in 1974, I found my way to Stamford Bridge and paid a scalper ten pounds to see Chelsea at home to Manchester United. It was a full-house and, more than the game itself, what I remember most clearly about the experience was the passion of the crowd and the language that I heard all around me – ‘f…ing’ was never used so freely where I had come from. Man U were victorious 3-1, but I was none the wiser as to how football ‘worked’. Over the years, I ventured to Highbury (Arsenal v Newcastle), White Hart Lane (Spurs v Southampton) and on one memorable occasion I smoked a joint with a mate of mine at Wembley Stadium as Johann Cruyff’s Holland side took apart Kevin Keegan’s Poms.


But despite its glamour and celebrity and genuine internationalism, I remained a non-convert. Being a league bloke, the idea of watching any contest that could go for ninety minutes and end in a nil-all draw just didn’t do it for me (a five-day Test Match draw is a different kettle of fish altogether).


Eventually I came to realise that what football lacks for me – I am only a little bit embarrassed to admit this – is violence, and I suspect Aussie Rules tragics feel the same way. Though not belonging to the ‘bring back the biff’ brigade, I was not in the least bit shocked and outraged when Paul Gallen landed one on the odious Nate Myles’s jaw in Origin a while back, but I am seriously offended when a footballer takes a Shakespearean dive in the penalty area. Our codes are not so much body contact as body collision sports, and we love it, even if we must consequently cope with the unfair correlation that football, being less openly aggressive is therefore more brainy.


Unarguably, football has created a star status among its big names, a blinding bling that is gold in an age that makes a cult of celebrity. Nobody in League or Aussie Rules can ever hope to attract the money, adulation and world-wide recognition of a David Beckham or Lionel Messi (you can buy Barcelona shirts with Messi’s name emblazoned on them in a village market in Tamil Nadu!). In crossing all borders, football has established itself as ‘the world game’ (just as a Big Mac is the ‘world food’), but being not culturally specific betrays a dull homogeneity.


A few years ago, I negotiated the maniacally punctual labyrinth of Tokyo’s metro to find my way to Ajinimoto Stadium where, for 2,700 Yen ($36 at the time), I saw FC Tokyo take on Vegalta Sendai in the J-League. It wasn’t hard finding the ground – getting off the train I just went with the flow, immersing myself in that volatile river of anticipation and anxiety that supporters of all teams are swept along by.


Not being an aficionado, I am unwilling to comment on the quality of the contest (1-0 to the home side), but what I will never forget was the singing of the crowd – in English.


“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart … ”


Even more staggering, the words were projected on the giant scoreboard – also in English!


I could have been anywhere, which is not how I feel when I see the Rabbitohs run onto the field.



Inter v Arsenal with St Jerome at Urbino


To enjoy more of John Campbell’s artwork as you read his recent article about the 1965 NSWRL Grand Final, click here.


The artworks above are original works by John Campbell himself and appear here with his permission. Now based in Byron Bay, John has lived in the UK, Greece and the USA at various times. He is also a cricket tragic! You can view more of John’s art on his Instagram page by clicking here.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. John, I envy your attendance at some of those iconic London grounds. My experience has been limited to Fulham’s modest Cravan Cottage. In this PC world, are the Japanese fans guilty of ‘cultural misappropriation’ by singing the Merseyside anthem? Hopefully we’re bigger and better than such guff. Love the artwork!

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