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Hooligans Japan World Cup

Leave it to the Japanese to show us the meaning of panic. For months prior to the World Cup of 2002, the word hooligan sent shivers through the nation. Japan feared an invasion of thugs not seen since the Mongols.

Leave it to the Japanese to show us the meaning of panic. For months prior to the World Cup of 2002, the word hooligan sent shivers through the nation. Japan feared an invasion of thugs not seen since the Mongols.

Rumors circulated about various hooligan tricks to evade the stringent security measures set up to nab known troublemakers. One involved a bar in Thailand run by two old hooligans whose devious plan was to supply labelled hooligans with new identities. Another rumor was that some hooligans had entered Japan months before and were eking out a living as waiters, bartenders, and bouncers in the less congenial parts of Tokyo a sleeping menace ready to awaken and unleash itself.

Japan didn’t take these rumors or the potential threat of hooligans lying down. In fact some people took it bolt upright, wide-eyed and paranoid. One well-meaning xenophobic politician warned that Japan must prepare itself for the waves of unwanted babies that were sure to be born as result of the hooligan’s visit.

In Sapporo, where the England/Argentina game was expected to bring in the hordes, the stones around the stadium were glued down. Yes, glued down. Around all of the stadiums, many restaurants, bars, and shops were closed.

Today, given the rather peaceful games of the 2002 World Cup, it seems the fears of hooligans might have been just a tad bit exaggerated. Still the threat lingers – if not today then someday in the future. However, following my suggestion, Japan should be able to effectively deal with this menace should it ever again materialize.

Japan went about the hooligan problem all the wrong way. For months I watched and read the news about Japanese police methods on how they would handle these potential ruffians. These methods were typically Japanese but one wonders what would have happened if the hooligans had actually shown up.

Among the ingenius tools for controlling these international thugs, troops of police carried signs through Tokyo that said “Please move”. While others drove along the streets in trucks with large electronic messages that said: “Please be Quiet. Please stay calm”.

For those die-hard hooligans undeterred by this, the police also had riot shields, batons, tear gas, water cannons, ankle lassoes and net guns – the last two sounding suspiciously as though they had been lifted off of Batman’s utility belt.

One major problem the Japanese police force faced is that the police in Japan look the same as police from any other country, only shorter. Your average hooligan has no doubt had his fair share of run-ins with the authorities back home and abroad so the sight of another policeman in riot gear would not give him much pause – especially if that policeman is significantly shorter than him. A hooligan’s first impression of a Japanese policeman might be: “Right! Game on!” as he charges full on into a group of them.

What the Japanese police should have done instead of wearing standard riot gear, is to have adhered to their ancestors, the samurai, and be-decked themselves in the traditional armor of feudal Japan complete with helmets and swords (wooden ones if they felt like being nice). To add to this effect, some of the younger, more spry policemen could have dressed as ninjas armed with Nunchakus and staffs.

Imagine your average hooligan in a Japanese stadium engaged in his or her favorite sport of knocking a few heads in, when all of a sudden from the all sides, armored samurai spring up swinging swords and screaming “Banzai!” at the top of their lungs before swooping down into the midst of the hooligans.

It would have to be a brave hooligan soul indeed for them not to pause from their sport and shout out a loud: “Oi! What the bloody hell is this shite?”

Such a pause would have been all the Japanese police needed to take advantage of the stunned hooligans and quickly subdue them. Granted, there’s the chance of a slight stampede as frightened hooligans, not too mention fans, would flee in panic but then the police could use those net-guns.

I can just imagine a hooligan back home in his local pub telling his mates about his experience in Japan. “So there we were, me and a few of the lads, just doing the usual: bashing a few blokes, when out of nowhere came this ‘orrible screaming! I’ll tell ya, I’ve never heard nothin’ like it before. Sent the chills down me spine, it did! Then alls a sudden, all these freakin’ samurais and ninjas and shite come outta the ground and start waving bloody swords at us! They were fucking everywhere, mate! I thought I was done for, for sure. The Chelsea was going be a headhunter short, I thought as these screaming banshees came for us. I tell you I won’t be going back there anytime soon, boys. Bollocks to Japan! It just aint civilized!”

David Weber

David Weber is a historian who lives in Japan.