JAPAN CUP, October 9th 2011

By Jonathan Cooper

The guys from Osaka arrived at Yodobashi Camera in Osaka in dribs and drabs. Genki had hired the biggest van that he could get, and all the boys piled in ready for what would ultimately be one of the most painful nights of many of our lives. The van had no suspension, and Jun a late inclusion, didn’t seem to think it was necessary to slow down for corners. That said though, a special thanks to Jun, Genki and Hosomi who shared the driving for the journey.

We arrived up north very early on Saturday morning and after breakfast at Jonathan’s and Sukiya in some backwater part of Chiba, a few guys had a sleep and a few others went walking looking for food. After arriving at the ground we all waited with baited breath to see if all the others would turn up in time. Our contingent was ready to go, but word was that Snowy was lost and the Nagoya boys were still on their way. Eventually though, much to everybody’s relief, almost everyone on our list turned up. And with that, the Dingbacks were one and ready to attack the cup with full force.

We had to wait until three games had been completed before we played our first game of the tournament. We faced a weakened Goannas team, but with some gun players still in their squad, we made sure nobody underestimated them. They put up a strong showing, but had already played one game and the Dingbacks quickly pulled away to a five goal lead. The Goannas fought back strongly in the second half though, and the final margin was a respectable three goals. Pretty soon after this game, a few Goanna boys were seen kicking back in the sun drinking beer. At this stage a few beers would have hit the spot, but we had a tournament to win. This game was the first time that many of us had played together and will go down in the history books as the emergence of the Dingbacks. We showed in patches what we were capable of, and team chemistry was evident from the get go. Chad (The American) Dykehouse even managed to kick his first goal in football.

The final score was:
Dingbacks 10.4:64
Goannas 7.4:46

Our next game was a battle for top spot in our division against the Komazawa Magpies. The Magpies led by Ken Sato are always a formidable opponent and sensing that Ken was ready to tear the game apart, we gave Snowy (or the Blizzard as he is now referred to) the job of shutting him down. He ran hard all game and and followed Ken up forward and down back. Ken kicked four goals on Brett, but Snowy kicked four goals on Ken including the match winner moments before the siren. Down by three with one minute to play, Snowy marked about 40 metres out and pounded it home. The siren went whilst the ball was in flight and the ball sailed through the big sticks. The rest is history. Paul and Louis fought hard in the middle, big Sam G was too tall down back and Jun showed the young kids what he was capable of. The rotating run off the bench was very important to our success.

The final score was
Dingbacks 5.5:35
Magpies 5.1:31

Surprisingly, the Power had disposed of the much heralded Hawks to finish top of their group after some shocking kicking for goal from the Hawks, so we had a horror semi-final clash against a fired up Hawks team who were fighting for survival and pride. In the other games, there was a tomorrow no matter what the results, and this was the first game that we really had to win. Being the third game, everyone was starting to get a bit sore and tired too, so it became a bit of a slog. The game ended up being a very even affair. Each team traded blows throughout the game and big hits were dished out each way in the middle. The Hawks had a longer break than us going into this game and seemed to have more legs when it counted. Fortunately though, whatever gods exist or don’t exist were on our side again. In the last minute of the game, trailing by five points the ball somehow found its way down to our forward line and into the arms of Jun who slotted it through to put us 1 point up with only seconds to play. The emotional roller coaster involved with this win can best be summed up through the words of the captain.

“I cramped up in both calves with about two minutes to go in the last quarter with my team down by five points. I managed to drag myself off the ground realizing that I would take no further part in the game. Just like that, after all we’d been through together, I thought it was over and there was nothing I could do to change things. A few Japanese guys would have learnt a few new English words as I cursed and threw my mouth guard around on the boundary. But, against all odds, we kicked a goal in the dying stages and won by a point, and just like that, we were in the grand final. I had gone in the blink of an eye from the pits of despair to absolute jubilation. It was game on.”

Nobody could believe how close our last two wins had been, and lady luck must have been smiling on us, but nobody was complaining. A few people suggested that the Irishman on our team might have had something to do with it. That said, people began prepping for what would for many of us be the first grand final of our careers. Guys lined up for massages, got into the deep heat, and Louis even found time for a bit of a sleep on the sideline. Nobody has seen a photo as yet, but sleeping Louis was a hit with the Japanese cameramen.

We expected the Senshu boys to come out hard and that they did. Everyone was sore, but battled on. Both teams were desperate to take the cup and threw everything they had at every contest. The Power went into the quarter time break leading two goals to one goal, three behinds.

In the second quarter, Paul (James Kelly) Welsh and Jun (I don’t need sleep) Oikawa carved up the middle and our tactic of bash it forward to the twin towers of Jonno (No longer able to run or jump) Cooper and Juri (Point to Prove) Nozaki was paying dividends. Brett (The Blizzard) Snowdon was making minced meat out of the Senshu ruckmen. What was amazing was that with our large bench, we had no shortage of fresh players and the run of guys like Chad, Takeya and Darrell was very important. Ashley was doing a good job of running the bench and pinch hitting in the forward line to great effect. Hosomi was getting to contests and Aoyama was showing everybody just how much he had improved as a result of his involvement in the International Cup.

We went into the half time break three goals clear, but knew that there was work still to be done. The Power wanted this as much as we did, and they weren’t going to give up without a fight. The third quarter as we kept reminding ourselves is the premiership quarter and we needed to assert our authority on the game once again. Another tight battle ensued, but once again we seemed to be able to control the pace of the game and bash the ball forward through the middle of the ground. Our backline worked superbly to stem the tide as the Power launched a desperate assault on the game. At three quarter time we were four and a half goals clear and the game looked all but done. The Power had fought back from a long way behind to almost steal a game from us earlier in the year though, so we knew that we couldn’t drop our guard.

The final quarter was a bit of a stalemate, neither side really dominated, but both showed amazing courage to throw themselves into every contest until the last second of play. Several players from both teams came off injured, including the sleeping man Louis Patterson, who received a cut to his head which would later require stitches. As a symbol of the way the guys played all day, with the game well and truly over and only one minute remaining, Louis slid into a contest at full speed and copped a knee to the head. Louis was sent off with the blood rule, but complained bitterly that he was not allowed to take his kick. Nozaki and the Captain Cooper each finished with three and the rest of the goals were shared amongst Snowdon, Oikawa and Aoyama.

The final score was:
Dingbacks 10.6:66
Powers 6.3:39

From the moment the siren went, every player was ecstatic. Some people struggled to let go of the cup, but eventually everyone got a chance to drink beer from it and get their photo taken with the spoils of victory. Big Ashley oozed passion and labeled the day as the greatest football experience he had ever had. “Finally,” he said, “the West has taken some silverware!” The presentation saw the Captain fail at Japanese, but provided a bit of light hearted entertainment for the crowd. Close to a million photos were taken of different groups of players over the next thirty minutes, but eventually the mob dispersed and we were left standing on our tarpaulin, alone in the dark and still in shock as to how the day had eventuated. The Dingbacks had come together from all corners of the country to fight as one. Together we stood, together we fought, and together we conquered. 14 guys with one purpose came together on the 9th October and showed Japan what it meant to stand by your mates. Well done Dingbacks. Be proud of yourselves, and never forget the glory that was 8/10/11.

A special mention must go to Takeya from the Redbacks who had to leave to return to Nagoya part way through the grand final. Hopefully Ashley got round you after his return to the White City.