Sport culture: watching

This post was inspired by seeing my first ever baseball match.

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Hiroshima Carp vs Hanshin Tigers at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium, Hiroshima

Australia is a sports-mad country. I noticed this growing up as a kid who wasn’t naturally talented at ball sports. My remaining impressions of PE at school: the feeling of waiting to be chosen for a team and knowing I’d be one of the last standing (is this still going on in Australia’s schools?); and the beep test which was actually kind of horribly satisfying. Apart from the beep test, my experience of PE wasn’t a positive one overall and I didn’t like sports in general. I made friends in the music department at school and hung out with friends from there or from language/media-type classes. This helped me notice that sport gets a lot more attention than most of the arts in the Australian media. As a young nation (in its current guise!) with relatively little history to speak of, a lot of Australia’s identity seems to be in sports and drinking.

Australia is also one of the most overweight countries in the world at the moment. Maybe some of the enthusiasm for sport has moved from playing it in the backyard to watching it on TV with a beer. That being said, plenty of people do play regular weeknight or Saturday cricket, footy, tennis or netball.

Being from Melbourne, the most popular sports were footy (Australian Rules football – no, not rugby) and cricket. These sports are loved by many including what you might call the jocks of southern Australia. When you get further north it’s rugby and cricket. There are two kinds of rugby: union and league; and I know how to play neither of them. As of this year, I think, (AFL) Grand Final day now gets its own public holiday, which falls on the day before the match, not on Grand Final day, which is always a Saturday anyway.

What it looks like to spectate at an AFL match. Image: George Salpigtidis @ news.com.au

What it looks like to spectate at an AFL match. Image: George Salpigtidis, news.com.au

The big footy and cricket matches in Melbourne are played at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). When people go to the footy they often wear team hats and scarves and maybe jumpers. I never did because I wasn’t interested enough to stick to a team to support – I was one of few Melburnians I knew who didn’t follow a team. I nominally went for Essendon one time because some of my friends did. By the way, in Australia we ‘go for’ a team or we ‘barrack for’ a team, but we don’t ‘root for’ a team because ‘to root’ has another meaning in Australia.

The beer vendors at the baseball have kegs on their backs. There are Kirin and Asahi both.

The beer vendors at the baseball have kegs on their backs. There are Kirin and Asahi vendors both.

Footy teams have anthems and uniforms. Fans wear/carry amounts of merchandise corresponding to their enthusiasm for the sport: the bigger the fan, the more costume they wear, in general. Fans seem to shout a lot, including belting out the anthem if their team wins, but there are no organised chants that I recall. People eat things like chips (hot) or (meat) pies and drink soft drinks (in Australia this means sweet fizzy drinks) or beer. I think there are pie vendors who go around the audience, but I don’t know what else they sell these days. There are lots of people in the audience and if you’re in free seating that means cold concrete bleachers, next to some older pot-bellied man constantly screaming CARN THE TOMMIES! in my memory.

A sport that I got a bit more into was tennis, because my family watches the Australian Open every summer (January). I’ve been a few times. The atmosphere is quite different, and some people get dressed up, and there are organised cheer groups who come to support their chosen players so some other fans join in with their chants – but not during play.

Soccer at Edeon Stadium, Hiroshima. Purple=San Frecce=Hiroshima

Soccer at Edion Stadium, Hiroshima. Purple=San Frecce=Hiroshima

I’ve now been to both the soccer and the baseball in Hiroshima, and it is massive. Kind of like footy in Melbourne, you don’t have to be a massive fan to go to the soccer, or especially the baseball. Baseball is like the unofficial national sport of Japan. (The official one is sumo, which is less practiced and watched by most people.) The whole country watches the national high school baseball competition during the summer, and every school has a baseball club. Fans have all the paraphernalia for their team, which differs in that nobody has a jumper, they have a jersey, and instead of a scarf they have a towel and/or maybe a hat. Then there’s the other stuff: bags, little things to clap for you, stationery, socks, I don’t know. But I think more people get more into dressing up for it in Japan than in Australia.

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You can use this handy thing to clap if you don’t want to use your hands. Or you can get these little plastic bats to bang together instead, which is what most people have.

There are a lot of set chants in Japan, and for both baseball and soccer there is constant cheering throughout the game. Most of the baseball chants are quite simple, but there is the odd song that you have to actually know to be able to join in. The soccer is quite complex in the number of chants and songs there are. You can get a lyric sheet for all the different ones for SAN FRECCE (Hiroshima’s soccer team) when you go to a match and it comes in handy. I already knew the baseball theme song for Hiroshima Carp because all the supermarkets have been playing it on repeat recently.

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There is a certain point of the match – I think it’s after the 6th or 7th changeover? when all the fans blow up these balloons, and the team’s song comes on the speakers, and everyone sings the song and waves the balloons around, and then lets them fly into the air at the end of the song. It was quite fun. I guess the ushers clean them up later and throw them out.

Of course, Japanese sport teams also have mascots, which I never saw so much of in Australia. I’m not sure what Carp’s mascot Slyly is supposed to be… a dragon?

 

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