The sunburn, the threat of rain, the sweat, the cheers, and the beer are all part of kaleidoscope that is The ALT Soccer Tournament.
Twice a year, the fantastic Chris Moore puts together the Eastern Japan ALT Soccer Tournament at the scenic soccer pitches of Sugadaira, Nagano. An open invitation is extended to the teams from Gifu and Fukui, and up to Hokkaido. There are men’s and women’s leagues and plenty of space for supporters (who are occasionally persuaded to play at the last minute). Both regulars and ‘newbies’ are in attendance and the outcome of the games is usually dependent on the rotation of new and old ALTs. All players are proud to represent their prefecture, and happy for the chance to mingle with fellow gaijin during the party on Saturday night!
This year’s Spring tournament was a perfect balance of social and soccer for the Gunma teams. After some online rallying from our leaders, Simon Creane and Brooke Brown, we gathered a record of 39 people. For the first time in a very long time (at least 3 years), we had enough players and substitutes for almost a full team switch. A couple other women’s teams had only the minimal six members, and one team had only five after a player was forced to drop out. Having suffered through sub-less games in the past, a couple Gunma girls stepped up and switched shirts to play a few extra games. Maybe because of these and other gestures of good-will, or maybe just because we were all feeling good about playing the game, this year’s outbursts regarding unsatisfactory referee calls and the usual flak that come with this almost full-contact sport were at a minimal this year. At least, that is what went down on the women’s pitches.
The timing of the spring tournament worked hand-in-hand with the South Africa 2010 World Cup. With the game in the minds of many ALTs, the chatter regarding the World Cup on Facebook had been on the forefront. Some of the conversations have commented on the ‘drama’ of the professionals when a player throws a kick or body check. The circumstances surrounding a pro soccer player are much more dependent on their ability to play, but there have been a few online eye-rolls at the over-the-top injury reactions. Perhaps because the ALT tournament is only twice a year, we ‘amateur’ players are more willing to throw ourselves body and soul into the line of fire. Leaving Nagano with bruises, Ace bandages, and ice packs is like a badge of honor that says to the world, ‘I held nothing back.’ If we get knocked off our feet, we hit the ground rolling and come back running (if we are able).
The intensity and ability of prefecture teams may shift slightly from year to year, but what doesn’t seem to change is the struggles of playing as a team for the first time. Rarely do the Gunma ALTs successfully manage to coordinate group practices of more than a handful of people. Regardless, what holds us together is our cooperation and camaraderie. Half of the women’s team had never kicked a soccer ball. The others were veterans of the tournament, but could hardly call themselves ‘experts’. We know the routine, what injuries to expect, and what teams will give us a serious battle, but that does not mean we are the best players on the grass – far from it, actually. What makes Gunma’s players a true contender is that we are there to play the game – win or loose!
So this Fall, on October 2nd and 3rd, join the league of extraordinary Gunmanians and sign up to play!
Check out the tournament website for more information.