【English Report】FC Gifu vs Tokyo Verdy by Stuart Smith.
This was a very busy day with lots of different events happening, as well as a very important game at the end of it!
Our very special guest on this day was Italian football legend Alessandro Del Piero, and the first event of the day was his football clinic, in which he took part in some small sided games with some local youngsters. Del Piero really enjoyed his time on the pitch with the youngsters, and the kids made him work hard as he showed some of his trademark skills he worked up quite a sweat in the warm temperatures.
After this, Del Piero was one of the members of a J.League VIP talk show in the stadium alongside vice chairman of the J.League Hiromi Hara and J.League fan, commentator, and writer Keiji Hirahata. Del Piero talked about his previous experiences in Japan with Juventus and the warm welcome he always gets in the country. He also spoke about how he grew up watching Captain Tsubasa and the effect it had on him as a player and he touched on FC Gifu’s current difficult situation on the pitch. He was most excited about meeting Giffy, and when the two finally met they shared a big hug in front of the main stand.
Anybody that knows anything about football knows that Alessandro Del Piero, in his playing days, was one of the best free-kick takers in the world and one of the main highlights of the day was watching him take part in a free-kick challenge, with Giffy in goal. In the three free kick challenge, Del Piero curled his first free kick into the bottom corner but his second one was brilliantly saved by Giffy. The third and final one - the decider - was blasted into the back of the net by Del Piero, meaning he won the challenge 2-1. After,
Giffy presented a personalised FC Gifu shirt to Del Piero as a souvenir of his day.
As the build up to kick-off continued, Del Piero did our traditional “Centre circle support message” with ex-FC Gifu player Hirofumi Moriyasu acting as his translator, and ‘Hiro' did an excellent translation job. Del Piero got the crowd in a good mood in readiness for the kick off.
After the teams came out, it was left to our VIP guest to perform the ‘kick in ceremony’ when the match ball is ceremonially passed to the referee.
On this day, Del Piero was accompanied by Mr. Shinichi Odo - president of our principal sponsor NGK Spark Plugs Co.Ltd. We’ve had many people do the kick in ceremony in the past, but I don’t think any of them have been as famous as Alessandro Del Piero!
After all the pre-match excitement, it was time for the game to get underway, and Gifu played well in the first half, creating a few chances before Koya Kazama’s 45th minute goal gave the home side a half time lead.
At half time, local band Cinema Staff performed a live version of their song ‘Hyper Chant’ -The song is good, but the live version of it was exceptional and was the perfect welcome for Del Piero, who made another appearance as he made a lap of the stadium.
The second half didn’t go quite as well for Gifu, and Douglas Vieira equalised for Verdy when he squeezed a left foot shot past Victor in Gifu’s goal. Both teams went for the win, but ultimately Gifu had to settle for just one point as the game finished 1-1.
Over 12,000 supporters came to this game and associated events and although most of them will have frustrated to only have taken one point from the game, they must have been happy with the variety of experiences that FC Gifu offered on this day.
Del Piero and Cormorant fishing viewing on the Nagara River
After the excitement of all the events during the day, Alessandro Del Piero was invited on to one of the elegant wooden boats on the Nagara river to see the ancient art of Cormorant fishing.
Cormorant fishing - or ‘Ukai’ as it is known in Japanese - has been practiced for nearly 1300 years in Gifu, and is one of the highlights of the summer season in the city, and so it was only natural that he got to experience it. It is widely known across Japan, and it attracts lots of visitors to the city during ‘Ukai’ season. ’Usho’ fisherman take the boats out on to the river, and the Cormorants, guided by torchlight, dive into the river in order to grab fish. The main local fish caught by the birds is ‘Ayu’ or (Sweetfish in English). The practice of Cormorant fishing has been awarded the status “an important intangible folk cultural asset of Gifu prefecture” and was recognight UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
The fishing takes place on the river that runs just behind FC Gifu’s Nagaragawa Memorial Centre stadium, and so Del Piero and friends didn’t have to travel far to get his first experience of the most famous Gifu summer pastime.
Del Piero joined local dignitaries and FC Gifu president Hiroyuki Miyata on the boat and was treated to the spectacle once the day turned to night, because Cormorant fishing always takes place in dark conditions. The birds caught their share of Ayu, and Del Piero caught the full spectacle of it, seemingly enjoying his taste of Gifu culture. After dining on Hida beef (the high class beef from the north of Gifu) the previous night, it was another chance to try some famous Gifu cuisine. With the good weather and calm waters, it was an excellent, and very traditional, way to round off a fine day in Gifu.