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A skinhead in a bomber jacket, rolled- up jeans and red Doc Martens rushed towards me. “Hi, we’re upstairs, let’s go” he said. His name was Yamada, and he was my hooligan friend for the afternoon.
I first met Yamada when he was working at a kushikatsu (deep fried meat and vegetable) bar near my home in west Tokyo. He served me a deep fried tomato and we began talking. He loved English football, blasting out for my benefit Coventry and Millwall terrace chants on his iPod.
Now, he had invited me to come and support his team Yokogawa Musashino, a local amateur team in the 3rd tier of Japanese football. I sat with Yamada amongst his friends, a group of about 50 hardcore Musashino supporters. They were like family, he even called the pissed woman next to him O-nesan, big sister. Immediately offering me takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and a can of beer, Yamada made me feel very welcome.
The football was pretty to watch. Far too pretty for someone raised watching lower division football in England. The lack of aimless lumps forward, bone-breaking challenges and woeful ball control was disappointing. There wasn’t enough incompetence for my liking. The opposition were granted respect rather than ridicule. Their chubby right-back was certainly fat enough to merit a taunt of ‘Who ate all the takoyakis?’, but his considerable gut escaped comment. The pony-tailed opposition striker never got a round of ‘Where’s your caravan?’.
Instead of abuse, some fans tried coaching. A drunk and deluded supporter sat to my left kept screaming at Musashino’s defenders to mark their men when the opposition had a corner. As if the defenders might suddenly ignore their years of intense instruction from professional coaches and start taking advice from a pissed bloke sitting 100 yards away.
Apart from a slight ringing in my left ear, I felt no pain during my afternoon with the Musashino hardcore. Yamada’s shaved head, beer can and Doc Martens give him the look of a potential trouble-maker. But, there is no rage there. He’s a hooligan in dress not in heart. His most aggressive act of the afternoon was to persuade me to have a second takoyaki ball. And because he was no nice, and because I like takoyaki, I hope he will invite me again.