Twice a year, ALTs from across Japan gather to compete in the All Japan ALT Soccer Tournament. The eastern division of the tournament is held at Sania Sports Park in Sugadaira, Nagano. This year’s autumn tournament was held on October 5th and 6th across verdant pitches nestled in between the mountains: there was more than just soccer drawing people out.
Every year, Fukushima attends the autumn tournament, where our reputation precedes us. While the Lucky Islanders aren’t always the strongest team on the field, Teams Akabeko and Akabekette are always the champions of the cheering and partying divisions of the tournament. This year, team Fukushima converged in Aizu to form a massive football convoy down to Nagano, eventually arriving at the hotel with enough time to grab at least a bit of sleep before the heated competition.
On Saturday, each team played three or four games (fifteen minute halves) in a league style tournament. On Sunday morning, the teams played their remaining competitors, after which the teams were ranked and entered into a knock-out cup competition.
This is my third time playing on team Akabekette (and first time co-captaining with the gorgeous Duchess, Madame Katherine Middleton) and while the tournament sounds fairly simple and straightforward it is anything but. Not only are you playing against your opponent, but you’re playing against your own bodily limits, pushing yourself to make just one more sprint to the ball. On Saturday, the Akabekettes only had one sub and fought each game as though it was the last. And, when we weren’t playing, half of the team would have to be refereeing for the other teams. It was a full-on day but our efforts were rewarded: the Akabekettes walked away without a loss on Saturday (one tie) and placed fairly high in the team rankings.
Unfortunately, do to reffing obligations, I was unable to personally witness most the glory that was team Akabeko, I did manage to watch half of one of their games. I must say that I was thoroughly impressed with the Akabeko’s teamwork, led by veteran captain and Scotsman, Mister Alan Inkster. The ten minutes of the game that I watched was invigorating and I was able to watch FuJET co-president, Rokan, impeccably set up the ball for our fiery-soccer-loving-coastie-first-year, Mister Tony Villa to score an impressive goal (I do believe that the goal made the opposing keeper cry). The games that I didn’t get to witness were relayed to be in full dramatic detail by the rest of the boys’ team in full, gory detail.
This soccer tournament isn’t completely dedicated to your footie prowess. In the evening, after dinner, there is a pub quiz in the lobby. Fukushima formed two teams- Team Sempai and Team Kohai. Not surprisingly (read: surprisingly), Team Sempai won first place after a nail-biting tie breaking question, foreshadowing tomorrow’s competition. After the trivia, the dance party started and Fukushima kept with tradition: we were the first on the dance floor and the last off.
Sunday morning comes and everyone trudged to their respective pitches, a little slower than they had the day before. The Akabekettes fought hard and won against the last teams before the play-offs. Blessedly, we had 2 subs to lead us into the second day of the tournament. When the points were all added up, we were ecstatic (and mortified: we were tired) to discover that Team Akabekette was in first place and would play the Saitama Psychoborgs for the first place trophy! Last year, Akabekettes went home with a third place trophy. Could we actually go home with first?
Long story short, after a gruelling game filled with janken-ing, arguments, heckling/cheering from the sidelines, the game boiled down to penalty kicks. My heart was in my throat as I watched my teammates line up to take their kicks (hey, I was co-captain for my genki and janken-ing skills, I never claimed that I am worth anything actually on the pitch. I left that up to the Duchess!) I swear that the Akabekettes had their legs replaced with cannons and that our fabulous goalies have robot hands because seriously– the entire team rocked it all weekend long. Rachel, Emi, Kylie, Kath, Judy, Xan, Michelle– we all kicked some serious tail ladies! The guys, they were something else too. It’s a bit of highway robbery that team Akabeko ONLY walked away with third place in the men’s division. Seriously though, did the guys’ team completely rock it or what? Oh yeah– one last thing– did I mention that our girls totally kicked ass, blew away the Psychoborgs at the penalty kicks, and we walked away with a case of Chu-Hai, a trophy, and the first Fukushima championship victory (men’s OR women’s) in the 13-year tournament history? Yeah, we are pretty fabulous. FUKU! SHIMA!
I would love to give a special shout-out to Saitama and all the other teams that competed over the course of this unforgettable weekend, Chris and the tournament organisers, and most importantly to Rokan and FuJET for organising this whole affair for us!